Retro Running

Written by admin on September 10, 2013 – 11:05 am -

Look out barefoot running and toe shoes, there’s a new stride in town: backwards running. That’s right, we’re talking about running…in reverse. Before you write it off for being unconventional, let’s take a look at some of the reported benefits—many supported by research—and how you may benefit from integrating retro running into your fitness routine.
Many of the advantages of backwards running are related to the altered stride pattern. Instead of the traditional heel strike followed by a roll through the midfoot and push off from the toes, backwards running involves a forefoot strike and the takeoff originating more towards the back of the foot. This biomechanical variance results in less impact stress to be absorbed by the foot and lower leg,which may help speed recovery from certain overuse injuries such as shinsplints while still allowing an individual to stay active. A study from the UK in 2012 and highlighted in this New York Times article found that the stress on the front of the knee is also reduced in backwards running, making it a potential exercise variation for those with anterior knee pain or patellofemoral syndrome.
Furthermore, the muscles involved to produce this reverse movement are challenged in a different way than they are during normal forward motion. They are unable to rely on stored elastic energy that comes from the muscles being pulled taut during landing and recoiling during take off and are thus less efficient in their contractions. Also, additional muscles that are not used during forward running are recruited. This results in a greater expenditure of calories and an increase in overall dynamic musculature of the lower extremity. It also reduces muscle imbalances between the anterior and posterior portions of the lower leg. So while it may seem that running backwards is a tricky endeavor, sensory perception and balance will improve due to the challenges presented by our anatomy.
Thinking about adding some retro running to your life? Running blogs such as this one suggest to start with short, straight distances on a flat and stable surface (i.e. track or quality expanse of grass) that is free of potential obstacles. Begin by walking and then work up to greater speeds; many first-time backwards runners reported being surprised at how quickly the initial feelings of awkwardness subsided and that the movement became much more natural after only a few sessions. You could begin by finishing your 15 minute run on a treadmill with a 1 minute retro running bout or add some backwards strides after your trail run and then workup to alternating running types at various time or distance ratios (just be careful when flipping around!). As far as form goes, experienced runners suggest having a slight bend (but not too much) in the knee and leaning a little forward to help keep your balance. Give it a try: as long as you are careful and give yourself time to find your comfortable style and pace, your body can only benefit from backwards running.

Alex Vitek is a nationally Certified, state Licensed Athletic Trainer and post-graduate Resident in training at The Galland Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine Athletic Training Residency– a 12 month immersional program allowing ATCs to maintain and hone clinical skills while developing those talents necessary to be effective in the clinical setting as an ATC/physician extender. Find out more at

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