Walking doesn’t require any special equipment or gym memberships, and best of all, it’s completely free.
For most of us, walking is something we do automatically. It doesn’t require conscious effort, which is why many of us don’t remember the health benefits of walking.
But what if we stop walking on autopilot and start challenging our brains and bodies by walking backwards? Not only does this shift in direction demand more of our attention, but it can also bring additional health benefits.
Physical activity doesn’t have to be complicated. Whether you are regularly active or not, even a daily brisk walk of ten minutes can have many health benefits and can count towards the World Health Organization’s recommended minimum of 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week.
Yet walking is more complicated than many of us realize. Standing requires coordination between our visual, vestibular (sensations related to movements such as twisting, turning or moving quickly) and proprioceptive (awareness of our body’s position in space) systems.
When we back up, it takes longer for our brain to process the additional demands of coordination from these systems. However, with this increased level of challenge comes increased health benefits.
One of the most studied benefits of walking backwards is improved stability and balance. Walking backwards can improve forward gait (how a person walks) and balance for healthy adults and those with knee osteoarthritis. Walking backwards causes us to take shorter and more frequent steps, which improves muscular endurance in the lower leg muscles while reducing the load on our joints.
Adding incline or decline changes can also alter the range of motion of joints and muscles, providing pain relief for conditions such as plantar fasciitis – one of the most common causes of pain at the heel.
The postural changes caused by walking backwards also make more use of the muscles supporting our lumbar spine – suggesting that walking backwards could be an especially beneficial exercise for people with chronic lower back pain.
Reverse walking has even been used to identify and treat balance and walking speed in patients with neurological disorders or following chronic stroke.
But the benefits of a change in direction aren’t just therapeutic — an interest in backward motion has led researchers to discover a variety of other benefits.
While normal walking can help us maintain a healthy weight, walking backwards can be even more effective. Energy expenditure when walking backwards is nearly 40% greater than walking at the same speed forward (6.0 Mets versus 4.3 Mets – a metabolic equivalent (Met) is the amount of oxygen consumed when seated at rest), with one study showing reductions in body fat for women who completed a six-week backward walking or running training program.
When we become confident to travel backwards, switching to running can further increase the demands. Although often studied as a rehabilitation tool, backward running increases the strength of the crucial muscles involved in straightening the knee, which not only affects injury prevention, but also our ability to generate energy. power and athletic performance.
Sustained backward running decreases the energy we expend when running forward. These improvements in running economy are even beneficial for experienced runners with already economical running technique.
If walking backwards seems too easy, but space limitations are affecting your ability to run backwards, another way to further increase the challenge is to start dragging weights.
The increased overall load increases knee extensor muscle recruitment while placing heavy demands on your heart and lungs in a short period of time.
Loading a sled and dragging it backwards carries a low risk of injury, as the most likely result if we are overtired is that the sled does not move. But with lighter weights, this type of exercise can produce an appropriate level of resistance to stimulate significant improvements in lower extremity power, with trailing weights as low as 10% of total body weight resulting in improved times. sprinting in young athletes.
How to start
Walking backwards is simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. So how can you add reverse walking to your exercise routine?
Walking backwards we are more likely to miss obstacles and hazards we could crash into or fall into, so in the interest of safety it is best to start indoors where you won’t crash into them. someone or outside in a flat, open Region.
Resist the urge to contort your body and look over your shoulder. Keep your head and chest straight while extending your big toe back with each step, rolling your foot from toe to heel.
Once you become more confident walking backwards, you can start to speed things up and even switch to a treadmill, making sure to use the guide rails if needed. If you’re using weights, start light. Focus on multiple sets rather than extended distances, and remember to maintain the integrity of your technique for no more than 20 yards to start.
Jack McNamara, Lecturer in Clinical Exercise Physiology, University of East London
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
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