Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Taking one step forward and 2 steps back: running backwards.

The next installment in the ‘Ask the Physical Therapist’ –

I have incorporated backwards running into my workouts for years. The benefits are well-established and may be something that may interest your readers. Barring the occasional parked truck (yeah laugh B Team—I laugh now too) you can find the activity to aid in fitness development, reduce risk of injury, and improve the biomechanics of your stride.

Running backwards utilizes the same muscles as running forwards, but in a different sequence and under different load stress. Those runners that suffer from patella femoral syndrome, commonly pain just inferior to the knee cap, suffer from bad patella tracking. The muscle attachment of the medial quadriceps is under developed relative to the lateral quadriceps. Running backwards alters the push off sequence of your foot. During the push off phase of backwards running, a greater force demand is required of the vastus medialis (medial quad). By increasing the demand on the medial quad, the muscle will hypertrophy (get bigger). This increase in muscle mass, albeit slight, can bring better muscular balance to the medial vs. lateral quad mechanism. The end result is a stronger, less painful knee. (side note: the medial quad is also responsible for bringing your knee into terminal extension. Next time you are climbing out of the saddle and forcing your knee straight, take note of where you feel it. The stronger medial quad will help get the last degrees of crank revolution.) You gotta love the activities that make you stronger, reduce risk of injury, and add to your athletic performance!


For those suffering from the woes of a tight iliotibial band (ITB); snapping hip, cyclist’s hip, snapping knee, runner’s knee; biomechanics is the culprit yet again. The steep hip flexion angle assumed when riding aggressively, ie. in aero, and also found in certain runners with muscular imbalances, places a great demand on the hip flexors. Without getting too heavily into the anatomy and biomechanics of the condition, having over developed hip flexors requires counter development of the hip extensors to reduce the strain in the hips and knees. Enter backwards running. While running backwards the leg is advanced using the gluteal muscles, the body’s strongest hip extensor.


Lastly, electrophysiologic evidence reveals that running backwards requires more muscle activity than running forwards. For this reason, the energy expenditure and thus your heart rate is far greater when running backwards. If you are short on time or planning some interval workouts, consider backward running repeats.

Backwards running is one of my favorite topics and one on which I am currently doing my own clinical research. I will keep your readers posted on my findings in the weeks ahead: powertaping for pose running and backward running to advance pose running.

**It is recommended that backwards running be performed on low traffic flat surfaces initially.

In Good Health-

Dan Lent-Koop, MPT, CHT


Dan Lent-Koop, MPT, CHT

I have given Dan a lot of grief over backwards running, not because of the health benefits but because of that truck incident!  I am glad he put that last disclaimer on the article. 

And you know what, I think I will try this out on the treadmill tomorrow – incline zero, pace easy and just walk it out.  It seems like half of us in the Blogosphere are dealing with some kind of hamstring, hip or ITB issue.  A little bit of pre-hab can go a long way!

On a side note, if you recall, Dan taped up my arm at the powertaping clinic.  Although I can not attest to improving performance it did limit the motion of my shoulder.  I believe that this allowed for my injury to heal at a faster rate.  Prior to the taping my arm was constantly being placed in compromising angles.  The taping eliminated the extreme motion.  I can say that my shoulder injury is almost completely healed.  Thanks Dan.


Matty O said...

Yeah, point made. This will be incorporated into my workout tonight. Treadmill backwards walk as well.

Man, are people going to give me looks on this one ;)

Ironically, Heather and I saw a lady running on the tow path backwards last night and I told Heather ... uhhh that doesn't seem too safe as a bike rider was coming up to her pretty fast haha.

As usual, GREAT STUFF!

Tri4Success said...

Makes perfect sense to me. Talking to someone after my duathlon the other day I started walking backwards for a bit. I immediately felt the different muscle usage - and liked it! It helped loosen me up a bit, especially in the calves.

Caratunk Girl said...

I run backwards sometimes. I should do it more I think. I should do it more. I always really feel it in my glutes.

I can't wait to make fun of Matty O.

Nelly said...

Great post, you pretty much described the problems that I've been having recently - tight IT band, weak glute muscles. I might have to start doing some backwards walking!

Lucas R. Tucker said...

We did backward running as one of our warm ups on the high school track team.

In your opinion, what is the best was to incorperate this into training. As a warm up, as a cool down, after long run, after speedwork, etc?

Big Daddy Diesel said...

Interesting, I learned somethng new today, thanks

Tri-James said...

Backward running is ideal to work into a long run or to recover your breathing after speed work. While HR will remain high, your turnover will slow and allow you to recover your breath. Start with 1/8 mile backward intervals after each mile running forward or for 60 second recovery periods between harder effort repeats. Your backward pace should be approximately that of your marathon pace. Focus on form. The entire motion, from initial contact through toe off, should happen on the forefoot. Backward running will not replace anything in your training arsenal, but rather enhance it. You still need the LSD, speedwork, and intervals. Backward running is a great way to develop functional muscular balance and minimize the risk of lower kinetic chain injury.

In Good Health-

Dan Lent-Koop, MPT, CHT

RockStarTri said...

Where did you get a picture of my butt muscle?

I don't run backwards. It just seems like it with everyone running faster than me.

Anonymous said...

good post TJ. I try to do backwards running and lateral shuffles as part of running drills or pre strength training warmup....good shtuff

Kurt @ Becoming An Ironman said...

I've always liked backwards running, but I haven't done it in a LONG time. I might just have to add that back into the mix now.