While we hope that an article on the benefits of backwards running will come in useful, it came about entirely by accident. It started with me making a dig at my much faster other half about something to which my 15-year-old daughter replied: “Mum, he could probably run faster than you backwards so be quiet”. He then took up the baton and challenged me to a race where he would run backwards and I would run forwards. It’s fair to say that over any distance he averages around 2 minutes a mile quicker than me. He figured he could still outrun me while running backwards. So the challenge was set and the more we spoke to people about it, the more we realised that people were actually interested in this and were quite happy to predict the outcome. Might I add going into this race, I had about 80% of the predicted votes to win the challenge!

Would I be faster than him if I ran forwards?

Even with so many people predicting me to win, I was a little apprehensive. I can run 6:57 a mile according to my recorded best and the UK record was exactly this time. What if he was really good at backwards running and made me look like a complete idiot? He didn’t train for it – mainly because he didn’t want to look like a weirdo running backwards along the local pavements. So, we went into the challenge on Bank Holiday Monday, 6th May 2024, not really knowing what would happen. All I knew was that I was going to have to run eyeballs out and I was not looking forward to it.

benefits of backwards running

The experiment

The day arrived, and so did the spectators. The local athletic club turned out in force to support and Darren had a guide cyclist. We chose the Weston promenade (early in the morning) before there were too many people there and off we went. For the first 100 metres or so, it was neck and neck – then it got interesting (or not if you were a spectator). I sneaked a gap and grew it. Darren reckons after 150 metres of giving it his all, his legs went to jelly and it became really hard. I finished in respectable time of 7;14 and he came in under 9 minutes (still respectable for something he had never done before and still faster than the average mile time. Mission accomplished.

@sherylselway My other half is approximately 2 mins a mile quicker than me over all distances. In fact my daughter said he would be quicker than me backwards. Challenge on – I ran a mile forwards – he ran it backwards! Watch the video for the results and the spectacular almost fall at the end #race #running #backwardsrunning #challenge ♬ Motivational – Vioo Sound

After that, I got home and started searching for videos on TikTok, Instagram, and generally devouring all the content I could find on the benefits of backwards running. You see, one of the things that Darren mentioned was the quad burn he got while running and I figured there must be some benefits to this. Would it work as a training drill, could it make me, or any of the athletes I coach? Here’s what I learned:

A brief overview of backwards running

Backwards running, also known as retro running or reverse running, involves moving in the opposite direction of traditional forward running. While it may seem unconventional, it offers numerous benefits:

The benefits of backwards running

We had seen the odd backwards running drill incorporated into warm-ups and we had heard of those who used it as part of their warm-up but we didn’t really know much about the benefits of running in reverse:

  • Firstly, it reduces the impact on joints, leading to a softer landing and potentially lower risk of injury
  • Additionally, backwards running engages different muscle groups, promoting balance, coordination, and overall strength
  • Some studies suggest it may even enhance calorie burn compared to forward running. As much as 2-3 times more calories are burned as a result of the increased effort required
  • Enhances balance, and coordination
  • Targets muscle groups that forward running might miss and serves as an effective cross-training method.
  • Research suggests backward runners enjoy an improved cardiovascular system, improving oxygenation and the increased effort required to run backwards builds up speed and stamina.
  • Backwards running can remedy recurrent issues between anterior and posterior muscles, improving posture as you are required to stand further upright without slouching the head.
  • Improves muscle strength in quads, calves and shins improving balance as the muscles strengthen.
  • Particularly beneficial for injury prevention and breaking the routine of always running in the same direction.
  • Could make you a stronger and faster runner

Incorporating backwards running into your fitness routine can provide a refreshing change of pace and help prevent overuse injuries associated with repetitive forward motion.

Backwards running technique

You could just go out and run backwards – maybe like you did when you started running conventionally but if you have been running for a while, you will no doubt understand that adopting the right running technique will help with speed and efficiency. This is no different with backwards running:

  • Do not lean with your torso – keep your shoulders over your feet
  • Keep your arms close to your body and keep them relatively low
  • Push off from the balls of your feet. Keep monitoring your form to ensure you don’t lift them too high
  • Don’t look over your shoulder – this will only slow you down – just like looking back over your shoulder when running forwards

Don’t go off too fast! Just like when you are running forward and you enter your first race, the temptation to get swept away and bomb off at the speed of light can be too alluring. You end up blowing up and struggling for the rest of the run. Instead, take it steady, start off slow and ease into it. You will soon become aware of the pace you are comfortable at and what is fast and slow.

Where to practise backwards running

Not being able to see where you are going means you won’t be aware of hazards – potholes, tree roots, lampposts, people, invisible dog leads. You are relying on having a clear road behind you. In the early days, it is a good idea to have someone running towards you or cycling to check the path ahead

Choose where you run – busy roads and pavements are full of hazards. Instead, choose an athletics or running track, a softer surface like a beach or a stretch of path or road that is not busy. The treadmill is also a good idea but if you need to slow down at any point, you are going to have to make sure you have a safe way to leave the machine.

Keep practising – it is the only way you will get better and more accomplished. It’s an act that feels counter-intuitive when you start – the more you do it, the better it feels.

If this has captured your imagination and you want to find out more, check out Aaron Yoder who is currently the world record holder for running a mile backwards alongside many other world records.

Have you tried backwards running? We would love to hear your feedback.