There are many benefits to walking, but doing the same activity over and over again, like forward walking, can put a chronic strain on the leg and back muscles that are used to propel you forward. A little variety, such as walking backwards, can be a helpful tool to keep your body in balance. Walking backwards is said to have originated in ancient China, where it was practiced for good health and used to promote balance.
An article in the Journal of Exercise Physiology studied walking backwards as a possible way to reduce lower back pain for athletes. They found that a three week intervention of athletes backward walking on a treadmill for 15 min/day, 3 days/week, freely controlling walking velocity decreased low back pain and enhanced function.
What does this mean for you? Whether you are an elite athlete, an exercise enthusiast, or someone just looking to start a workout regimen, you can add backwards walking to your routine. I have had the opportunity to spend time around a lot of great track and field coaches and every single one of them has had their athletes walk or run backwards.
Obviously, when you walk backward, one of the biggest risks is falling, tripping, or running into something. It’s best to start in a safe place, such as on a track or in an open grassy field. Also, take your time when you walk backwards, it is not about the speed that you walk, but more about the motion of walking backwards. You can also try backward walking on a treadmill, just remember to go slow (under 2.4 mph).
Coaching Tips: When you walk backwards, take smaller steps then you would when forward walking. Walk in a safe location and do not spend very much time looking over your shoulder. If you forward walk for exercise, try to spend 10% percent of the time you used to spend forward walking, backwards walking.
Dr. Travis Illian received his Ph.D. from the University of Alabama in Human Performance. He is certified nationally as a strength and conditioning coach and has published several scientific studies on Greens+ Products.
 Dufek JS, House AJ, Mangus BC, Melcher GG, Mercer JA. Backward Walking: A Possible Active Exercise for Low Back Pain Reduction and Enhanced Function in Athletes. JEPonline 2011;14(1):17-26.