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Six Weird and Wonderful Benefits of Walking Backwards

Updated: Mar 28, 2023


If you’ve ever come to a “Not Yoga” class or had a 1-1 session with me, you will have been invited to take a few steps backward.


But if you haven’t met me yet, you might be scratching your head about why I would suggest walking backwards!


It sounds kinda weird, right?


Yet, walking backwards has a number of surprising benefits, including ones you might not expect, like reducing pain and helping you find your lost car keys!


Walk this way (or that way?)

Most of us walk on autopilot without much thought to how we do it. But when we walk backwards it demands our attention and challenges the body in new ways.


In other words walking backwards is a major habit disruptor. And guiding my clients to be aware of their movement habits and HOW they do what they do is a key to the work I do as a Feldenkrais Practitioner and Movement Coach.


Because when you walk in reverse, you walk with a toe / heel pattern that means you take shorter, more frequent steps and engage different muscle groups. Your legs and glutes get a real workout. You have to engage muscles in your hips and back to stabilise yourself. Your back has to lengthen. Your joints get some relief (particularly your knees). Your vestibular system has to work harder to keep your balance.


And yes, with the increased muscular endurance of walking backward, you do actually burn more calories than walking forward!


Say bye bye to pain

But the biggest benefit of walking backward and the reason I recommend it so much is that it reduces PAIN. Especially for my clients that have discomfort or difficulty walking.


After taking a few steps backward, the niggle that was there before has usually eased off, or in many cases, disappeared altogether. It's like magic.


It works with sore backs. Dodgy knees. Tight muscles. Feeling a bit wobbly.


While that’s anecdotal evidence, there are several studies that have showed walking backward is helpful for knee pain, back pain and even things like plantar fasciitis.


It really works.


And if that weren’t enough, here’s a bunch of other great reasons to walk in reverse.


Gets your creative juices flowing

Walking backwards can stimulate the brain in different ways, leading to increased creativity and problem-solving abilities. A study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness found that walking backwards improves cognitive function, particularly in areas related to creativity and problem-solving.


I also feel that walking backwards is a literal way to see things from a different perspective and watch your problems get smaller!


Happy, healthy heart

Walking backwards is a great low-impact exercise option that can increase heart rate and improve blood flow, making it a great way to boost your cardiovascular health. A study published in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine found that walking backwards can improve cardiovascular function, reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular conditions.


If you really want to up the ante on increasing your heart rate? Try dragging a weight (like a tyre or a sack) as you walk or run backwards.


Gives you the feel good vibes

We all know that going for a walk can help us feel better and lift our mood. Good news is that walking backwards can also reduce stress and anxiety levels, thanks to the release of endorphins and the stimulation of different parts of the brain. A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that walking backwards can have a positive impact on mental health, reducing stress and anxiety levels, and improving overall well-being.


Walking backwards is also just plain, simple fun. It's pretty hard not to do it without a smile on your face.


Helps you find your car keys

Yes, seriously! A 2019 UK study showed that walking backwards (or even imagining walking backward) can help your short term memory. People who walked in reverse demonstrated better short-term memory recall than those who walked forward or sat still. So if you can’t remember a word, have misplaced your phone or want to remember why you walked into a room.... take a few steps backward and see if it can help your brain rewind, refresh and remember!


Give it a go

If you're interested in trying walking backwards, or "reverse walking", it's a good idea to start small.


Safety alert! Please be sensible and don’t do it on cliff tops, crowded streets or wobbly, uneven surfaces. Check the area and watch out for kids, pets, rugs and other obstacles before you begin!


I recommend that you begin by walking backwards in your hallway at home, taking 5, 10, or 20 steps backwards and then moving forwards again. That’s all you need to begin. You can repeat as many times as you wish!


Or, you can try it outdoors in a safe and open area. Remember to watch out for obstacles and be aware of your surroundings. While you might feel like a bit silly walking backward at first (and it might surprise a few locals at the park - or your dog) it’s definitely fun to try it in different environments.


When you’re walking backward try to resist the temptation to twist yourself around so that you’re always looking over your shoulder. Notice if you can do it without holding your breath!


Also I encourage you to mix it up and experiment backward walking barefoot and in shoes. Which is easier? When do you feel more of your feet and toes in action?


It’s worthwhile incorporating some backwards walking into your daily routine. But like any movement, you can also treat it like a movement snack, and some days do more and other days not at all!


Who knew the act of walking backwards could do so much. It’s such a simple and fun way to add variety to your exercise routine and will reap many health benefits.


Let me know how the experience is for you or if you’re already hooked on walking backwards, what you love most about it.


Want more tips on how to walk and move with ease and confidence? Check out my “Walking Well” online course.


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