Retro Walking - FIT Human Performance

Retro Walking


September 18, 2016 – retro

One of the challenges with staying fit, even if you exercise regularly, is avoiding the “plateaus” that occur as your muscles adapt to your workouts. It takes just six to eight weeks for your body to adapt to your exercise routine, according to the American Council on Exercise, which means you need to change up your program at least every couple of months or your fitness gains will level off. Good news for you guys, training with me you have not seen (or felt) the same workout twice … ever! We constantly change up the movement patterns. So…

If you’re at a loss for a new activity to try, consider walking backwards. Though it might sound a bit strange, it can be incredibly beneficial. Your cardio will like the change too. Backward walking, also known as retro walking, is said to have originated in ancient China, where it was practiced for good health. In the modern world, it’s become quite the rage in Japan, China and parts of Europe, where people use it to build muscle, improve sports performance, promote balance and more.

For starters, when you walk backwards, it puts less strain and requires less range of motion from your knee joints, making it ideal for people who have knee problems or injuries. Also, because backward walking eliminates the typical heel-strike to the ground (the toe contacts the ground first), it can lead to changes in pelvis alignment that help open up the facet joints in your spine, potentially alleviating pressure that may cause low back pain in some people.

Not to mention, walking backwards gives you a chance to work out all of those muscles in your legs, such as your quadriceps and calves, which take a backseat to your hamstrings and glutes during regular walking. It also works out your hamstrings in a different way, and walking backwards for just 10-15 minutes, four days a week for four weeks has been shown to increase flexibility in your hamstrings. So, challenge that posterior chain (low back, glutes, hamstrings, and calves) and go for it.

Interestingly, when you walk backwards, your heart rate tends to rise higher than it does when walking forward at the same pace, which suggests you can get greater cardiovascular and calorie-burning benefits in a shorter period of time. I will tell you, your body will have a significant decrease in body fat as well as improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness at the end of a retro walking plan.

There appear to be benefits for your brain, too. Researchers found that when you walk backwards, it sharpens your thinking skills and enhances cognitive control. This may be because even though backward walking is a physical activity, it’s also a “neurobic” activity, meaning it requires brain activity that may help you stay mentally sharp. Plus, since it puts your senses into overdrive as you move in an unfamiliar way, it is also known to enhance vision.

When you do any activity that challenges your senses, balance, motor control, and perception your body must work much harder … slightly stressful but very beneficial.

Special considerations for backwards walking/running

Obviously, when you walk backward one of the biggest risks is falling or tripping over potholes, parked cars, curbs, signs and other obstacles. It’s best to start out this activity in a secure location, such as on a (non-busy) track or in an open field. If you decided to walk outdoors elsewhere, consider taking a buddy with you who will walk forward and alert you to any upcoming dangers. Perhaps hold hands with that someone special and trade off? Sounds fun!

You can also try backward walking on a treadmill (being careful to start slow to
avoid tripping) or use a backward motion when using an elliptical machine. Another consideration is that your shoes will get more wear when you walk backward, so if you do it often you may need to replace them more often. Don’t forget your 10% discount on shoes at New Balance and Luke’s Locker in the month of September if you mention this article. Remember, it’s all about you and your FITness.

In good health,


“REACTIONARY: a man walking backwards with his face to the future.” –  Aneurin Bevan, Welsh Politician