To begin with, while taking a 30-minute stroll, five to eight minutes can be spent walking in reverse. Once the body gets used to it, the duration can be increased. (DC Image)
Fast. Forward. That’s exactly what most health freaks who consider walking or running as the best form of physical activity do every day to keep themselves fit. But, have you ever considered walking backwards? Well, retro walking, a term used for walking backwards, once a popular exercise, is once again attracting the attention of fitness enthusiasts across the world. Retro walking and running come with a host of health benefits. "Walking or running backward is much more demanding than running forward and requires more effort to move from point to point, which improves muscular balance," points out Dr Chandrasekhar Ramini, a marathoner and Orthopaedic surgeon.He says it is an effective way to strengthen opposing muscles groups. "It gives an enhanced sense of body awareness, increases body coordination and movement. Importantly, it helps avoid workout boredom as it keeps the mind guessing and motivates to step outside your comfort zone," he shares.
Health benefits galore
Listing the health benefits, Dr Chandrasekhar says retro walking sharpens the thought process, enhances cognitive control, puts senses into overdrive, improves vision and increases strength in lesser-used leg muscles while boosting energy levels. "It helps rehabilitate knee injuries, improves walking technique and form, helps with balance and burns calories," he says.
Further, retro walking can be an effective strategy for rehabilitation after groin, knee joint, hamstring, shin, low back and hip injuries. He explains that this is because of the differing demands when running backward versus forward. Benefits include a greater range of motion at the hip joint, a more erect posture, and greater activation of the calves and quadriceps.
Overall, it helps maintain a healthy weight while strengthening bones and muscles.
Retro in the 1970s
Marathoner Samuel Sudhakar says this form of physical activity actually started as a rehab exercise in the 70s-80s in the US. "As they gained popularity, retro walking and running were and are widely recommended as a part of training regimen for athletes," he says.
In sports like football and tennis which involve extensive moving and running, retro walking/running helps in knee conditioning, improves postures and mitigates ankle and shin injuries. "It also improves our senses as one tends to focus more on each step. Running backwards is on the rise, with many participants completing the half or full marathon distance running backwards," says Samuel, adding that the fastest a retro marathon has been completed is in 3.25 hours – timing which many forward-facing runners aspire for.
The flip side
But retro walking/running comes with some disadvantages. For one, there is an increased risk of falls.
"Reverse walking can be challenging and may increase the risk of falls or other injuries, especially for those who are new to the exercise or have balance issues. When walking backwards, it gets difficult to see obstacles or hazards in the way, which may increase the risk of accidents," says Dr Chandrasekhar.
He feels that reverse walking may not be appropriate for everyone, especially those with mobility issues or disabilities. "There is also a social stigma – reverse walking may be seen as unusual or strange by others, which may cause discomfort or embarrassment for some people," he adds.
Choosing a grassy patch or a trail free of any hazards is a must. The head and chest should be kept upright when taking up retro walking or running.
A good way to practice it is with a partner, who can keep an eye on you, and then switch roles. Those opting to go backward on a treadmill need to start slowly by holding the handrails and gradually increase the speed over the next few days.