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Running in reverse

My guess is that you saw the title of this post and chose to click on it simply because you couldn’t believe that I was being serious. Well I’m sorry to disappoint you but I am. Reverse running, also known as retro running, is not only an actual form of exercise but it is one that is growing in popularity and becoming more and more common across the globe.

Initially taking off in Japan, reverse running is now widely practised across Europe and has even found its way across to America. One day that you will be able to see a lot of this for yourself is whenever it is the London Marathon. But don’t be fooled into thinking this is just for charitable fun runs. Plenty of athletes incorporate reverse running into their training schedules to reap the overwhelming rewards.

Unsurprisingly, when reverse running started to take off people decided to investigate and that meant that the studies started pouring out. I would be lying if I said that the results didn’t shock me. Universities across the world, including those in Milan, Cardiff and Stellenbosch, all noticed similar physical benefits that can be achieved through simply changing the direction in which you run.

Some of the benefits seem completely reasonable when you think about it. For example, reverse running has been linked to a more upright posture and improved balance and that makes sense. Whenever we travel backwards we are naturally thinking harder and naturally obtain a better posture, while at the same time trying hard not to fall over. Other benefits are a little less obvious. Running in reverse restricts the impact at which your legs hit the ground and as a result there is less of an impact on your knees. This, coupled with the fact that you are training the opposite muscles to when you run forward, means that you can even argue that running in reverse is great for strengthening legs.

Then there is the issue of calories. Every article I read said that running backwards burns more calories. I still wasn’t convinced. You see, while that might be true in theory it is quite difficult to achieve in practice. Firstly, you would need to be running as far and as fast as you do forwards to notice the difference. Not to mention you would have to be doing it regularly over time for it to really have an impact. So while I will accept reverse running burns more calories in principle, in reality it is difficult to achieve.

By nature this can be a dangerous exercise. Especially when you start out, your chances of tripping and falling is a lot greater than when you are running forwards. So if you aren’t on a safe surface then you are going to hurt yourself. That being said, the local beach, park or athletics track are all suitable places where you can fine tune your reverse running skills. One point I should make is that whether you have backpedalled for years, or you are just starting out, this isn’t an exercise that should be done downhill. One little trip and you could be rolling backwards for miles!

A lot of people dismiss this as a waste of time. They are happy with their forward running and they don’t consider the supposed benefits as enough to put up with the strange looks and the constant need to explain themselves. That’s fair enough. If what you are doing is working for you then don’t feel that you need to change it just because you have read this blog!

But if you do want to see if the alleged benefits exist, or you just want to work on heightening your senses, then give it a go. Start off slowly with a backwards walk (also known as a retropedal) and speed it up as you would with running forwards. Trust me, plenty of people out there are combining the two to develop a brilliant mixed running regime. This won’t be for everyone but if nothing else it is probably going to make reversing off the driveway easier!

Ollie Lawrence