(Photo: musical photo man via Flickr)

Running Backward: Trend to Try?

My fad-loving workout partner recently started running backward, saying it was easier on his knees than running normally. Are there any proven benefits to running backward, or is this a trend I should trash?


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Don’t knock it straight away. It’s not nearly as popular as barefoot running, but reverse running still manages to get mentioned a few times a year, typically after a scientific study is published, or an intrepid journalist decides to go “retro.”  

The latest backward running study came out last June in the Journal of Biomechanics, followed by a piece in the New York Times Magazine. In the study, researchers in the UK found that backward running reduces forces acting on the front of the knee, making it a good alternative exercise for runners suffering from patellofemoral pain, or “runner’s knee.”

A 2011 study found that backward running is gentler on joints than normal running because it results in a soft landing. The same study also found that running backward burns more calories—30 percent more—because it is a less efficient movement than running forward. Along those lines, a 2005 study concluded that “backward locomotion training” improves cardiovascular fitness and helps get rid of body fat, at least in young women.

So if you’re suffering from running-related joint pain, but want to keep up your fitness and runner’s body, going in reverse may be for you. Of course, if your neon split shorts aren’t getting you the attention you deserve, retro running will also put you back in the spotlight, as it did for this D.C man who’s been running in reverse for nearly 30 years.

Want some company? It’s no surprise that the country that brought us the Ministry of Silly Walks boasts a healthy reverse running community. The fourth UK Backward Run, covering exactly one mile, will be held on August 11. To encourage participation, the race organizer has prepared a list of 100 reasons to go retro, including these gems: It will make you a better dancer (#99), and “when you hit the wall in the marathon, you won’t see it coming.” (#100)

Can’t make it to the UK? Motivate yourself to beat one of these backwards running records in distances ranging from 50 yards (7.48 seconds) to a marathon (3:42:41).

Don’t think retro running is for you? Then you’ll enjoy this snarky Runner’s World post attempting to buck the practice from becoming the next big running trend.

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