Backwards Walking

Mary Tweed
image description

Walking backwards, or retro walking, as it is sometimes called, may sound like a wonderful April Fool. However, I can promise that, although this blog is being published on April Fools’ Day (NB deliberately after 12 noon), walking backwards is a serious fitness technique, which has proven benefits for physical and mental health.

The origins of retro walking lie in ancient China, when a wise man coined the phrase that “a hundred steps backwards is worth a thousand steps forward.” In China’s ancient Mountain and Sea scripture, the exploits of an itinerant immortal were recorded. He could walk backward faster than the eye could see and walking backward has been popular for maintaining good health in China ever since. Some people believe walking backwards is akin to a karmic reverse, allowing you to correct mistakes and sins of the past.

I have recently introduced walking backwards into my classes and instantly noticed a postural improvement amongst all the walkers. Although a challenge, it was a giggle-inducing experience and at first, we were all a little uncertain and wobbly, but gradually a rhythm developed, we settled into our stride and a sense of peacefulness came over us all as we concentrated our senses on walking across an open field without tripping. At the end of the short section, everyone reported feeling a greater awareness of the space around them; an increased use of the sense of hearing, which enabled them to enjoy the birdsong; and a sense of calm, resulting from focussing the attention in the moment and really feeling the toe to heel motion against the earth.

The most obvious pitfall when walking backwards is that you can’t see behind you and run the risk of tripping over. Walking backwards in a group solves this problem, as your fellow nordic walkers can look out and warn you of potential obstacles.

In the early 20th century, several athletes incorporated backwards running into their training regimes, but it was in the 1980’s that the technique really took off. Since then studies have been conducted into the benefits of walking backwards, some of which include:

  • less strain on the knee, as the foot strikes the ground toe first, which is softer than the greater impact heel strike, thus reducing the risk of knee injuries. increased calorie burn, as your metabolic rate rises.
  • excellent cardiovascular workout, as your heart rate tends to rise higher than when walking forwards at the same speed.
  • better balance, as your other senses, particularly hearing, take over from your sight.
  • a chance to work different muscles, notably your quadriceps and calves, relieving your hamstrings and glutes, used in regular walking.
  • promotes hamstring flexibility because toe to heel foot action pre-stretches the muscles before activating them. Increased hamstring flexibility can potentially enhance the ease and efficiency of everyday activities like standing, walking and running, whereas tight hamstrings are associated with knee problems and injuries, as well as lower back pain.
  • good for the brain. Using your body in an unfamiliar manner, sharpens the senses and focusses the concentration, thus working the old grey matter.
  • corrects many postural problems, such as rounding the shoulders and hunching the back, which derive from walking forwards incorrectly. The moment you ask someone to walk backwards, they automatically lift their head, hold their shoulders backwards and open up their chest.
  • great for toning the bum. If you want to turn this into a high intensity bottom workout, then keeping the legs as stiff as possible when you walk backwards, will really work those glutes.

Don’t just take my word for it, have a go yourself and …… keep gniklaw!

Get in touch

In order to answer your enquiry more quickly, please complete this form and submit it to us. We will endeavour to respond as quickly as possible.

Stay in touch

If you would like to be kept informed of forthcoming events and classes, please sign up to our newsletter which we send out six times a year.