Running Backwards: 5 Benefits of ‘Retro’ Running + 5 How To Tricks

We know what you’re thinking – but don’t worry, this article isn’t about encouraging you to run in 80’s fashion gear.

Contrary to what the name suggests retro running is not running back in the day but rather the art of running backwards.

Retro running can cover distances anything from a couple of meters on the track, right up to marathon distances and beyond.

Yep, backwards marathons. Shantelle Gaston-Hird, the female world record holder for the backwards half marathon, posted a time of 2:16:03 at the Manchester half – a pretty good time even for running forwards!

For full marathons, the official fastest time whilst retro running is an incredible 3.43.39 hours by Xu Zhenjun in Beijing.

While backwards running currently has only a small following, many studies have shown that it can be a highly rewarding skill for all runners to practise.

Intrigued?

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • 5 retro running benefits for your…
    • Posture
    • Weight
    • Balance
    • Joints
    • Enjoyment
  • How to: 5 top tips for running backwards.

Let’s get into it!

Retro Running. Benefits of Retro Running How To

5 Benefits of Retro running.

All the fuss isn’t for nothing.

Retro running has some great benefits for your health and fitness. It can make you a better runner and have positive impacts on your life in general. Here are our favourite 5:

#1: Retro Running Leads To Better Posture.

The nature of running backwards means you are forced to stand taller with your back straight and shoulders back. In doing so, you are helping to improve your form and body’s resting posture without even thinking about it.

When running forward, we tend to lean forward making it easy to let your shoulders fall forward and compromise your running form (Related: Here’s What Bad Running Form Looks Like: 9 Signs To Look For).

This changes when you run backwards, where retro running forces your body to straighten up.

Running backwards makes you more aware of your stance as you are doing a new, unnatural movement. This requires more focus and balance, naturally leading to you taking a stronger more upright posture.

This can be great for people with a sore back, rounded shoulders and bad posture.

Plus, a repeated practice not only promotes better form during your ‘forward’ runs but leads to long-lasting improvements in your resting, day to day posture too.

Running Backwards Benefits of ‘Retro Running How To 5

#2: Running Backwards Can Help You Lose Weight.

Running backwards is more difficult than running forwards. It may be unsurprising; if running backwards was so easy, then we would all be doing it!

As such, retro running can burn about 30% more energy than regular running. All that energy comes from calorie stores in your body. So more retro running = more calories burnt.

It is as simple as that. So if you are running to lose weight, then maybe try adding a day of backwards running into your weeks’ schedule and see how it goes after a few weeks.

#3: Gaining and Balancing Strength

By reversing the direction of your movement, retro running engages many opposing muscles to those used when running forwards, meaning you activate and strengthen muscles in your legs and core in a new, dynamic way.

This is great because the repeated use of the same muscles over and over again can lead to our bodies developing physical imbalances over time. Running backwards offers a remedy to prevent this.

As you run backwards, you catch your weight on the balls of your feet, rather than the flat or heel of your foot. By isolating and engaging this area, retro runs demand more from your calves, leading to their strengthening over time.

You will also be ‘springing’ or pushing off each step rather than catching your weight with your quadriceps, so the explosive power of your legs will increase in turn.

This can lead to you becoming a more rounded and powerful runner.

Running Backwards Benefits of ‘Retro Running How To 4

#4: Lower Impact To Help Bad Knees and Hips.

Due to you catching your body weight on the balls of your feet instead of landing on the flat of your foot, the impact between your body and the ground is much softer.

Many people turn to retro running if their knees or hips are sore during runs and it is becoming painful to train during forward-facing runs.

A study by The Royal Society shows that running forward leads to hard landing/soft takeoff asymmetry. In layman’s terms, this means your landing during runs is heavy, and you have little push off the ground as you step off.

This is natural and easy for runners as it is the way your body has adapted to move, with muscles catching your weight and using their natural elasticity to keep moving.

Running backwards is the opposite of this, a soft landing/hard takeoff asymmetry.

As a result, this requires greater energy but is much more gentle on the body, activating your muscles’ strength (rather than their elasticity) to rebound and keep moving.

#5: Retro Running Spices Up Dull Running Routines

If you are becoming bored of your running routine and can feel yourself losing motivation, retro backwards will likely put some much-needed spice back into your runs.

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It will undoubtedly be a change of pace and keep you on your toes, literally. Sometimes to get re-motivated, all you have to do is something a little different.

retro running: 5 How To Top Tips

So if you are convinced by everything you have read so far and want to give running backwards a go, then here are my five top tips to get you on the road and “going retro.”

#1: Start slow and build up in increments.

Like with all new skills and activities, it is important to take things slow and begin with baby steps.

The best way to start your retro running journey is by starting slowly. Retro walking or ‘retro pedalling’ is the best way to get used to the feeling of moving in the wrong direction.

So, try beginning with a short walk around the block backwards. It will feel very odd to begin with (and you might get a few looks!) but with a little practice, you will soon get used to it and begin to reap the benefits.

Running Backwards Benefits of ‘Retro Running How To

The next step is to speed up. It’s a good idea to do this in small increments, building up your distance and speed gently over time.

For example, start with some 50m repeats of slow jogging. Then, when you’ve got this down, work up to 100m repeats of the same speed.

Once you are comfortable with this, try an easy run. Each time you become comfortable, try a little faster or further and you’ll soon be almost as comfortable running backwards as you are forwards.

#2: Keep an eye out behind you but not too much.

Unlike our school teachers tried to convince us, no one has eyes in the back of their head – meaning keeping an eye on where you’re going during retro runs is crucial to stay on track and avoid injury.

But looking too much isn’t good either. Every time you look backwards, you twist your body and your posture is compromised, negatively impacting your running form.

The more you go out running backwards, the more confident you will get and the less you will feel the need to look back.

Running Backwards Benefits of ‘Retro Running How To 3 1

#3: Begin on a track and bring a ‘spotter’.

If you are lucky enough to have access to a track close by, then use it!

Beginning on a track is the perfect environment to gain confidence in retro running; there are fewer observers, fewer obstacles and the line markings are useful guides to help you remain on track without having to continually look behind you.

Another tip for not looking over your shoulder is running with a spotter.

A spotter is someone who runs and acts as your eyes. So try bringing a friend along to “spot” for you so you can focus on running.

#4: Stay on the balls of your feet, but not too much.

This might sound a little nonsensical, but finding a healthy balance of how much pressure you place on the balls of your feet is crucial to prevent injury while also progressing.

As established above, when running backwards, you will naturally run on the balls of your feet, which is great for challenging your calves and gaining strength.

However, overdoing it can cause injury.

If you stay on the balls of your feet for prolonged periods without a break, the pressure is concentrated here and can lead to overstrain your foot is not used to it.

Running Backwards Benefits of ‘Retro Running How To 8

So make sure to listen to your body. Pay attention to when the balls of your feet need a break and at these times, allow your whole foot to make contact with the ground until you feel ready again.

#5: Take care and practice falling.

It goes without saying that you need to be careful when running backwards.

The best way is to take your run nice and slow and make sure you practice in a safe area where the ground is reasonably level will help you avoid any nasty trips.

You can also practice controlled falls. If you feel yourself losing balance, try not to panic and instead try to land on your side or the fleshiest parts of your body to disperse the impact of the fall.

This will protect your joints and your head, which are common injuries in uncontrolled falls. Alternatively, you can also wear a helmet if you are nervous or practising somewhere rocky.

Running Backwards Benefits of ‘Retro Running How To 6 1

Looking for More ways to spice up your runs?

Intrigued? Check this out: Nude Running – 12 Things You Didn’t Know You Needed To Know

Tom McMeekin-Donnelly

Tom McMeekin-Donnelly

Tom McMeekin-Donnelly is a runner, outdoor enthusiast and cyclist. Tom competes in ultra-marathons in the UK and Ireland. Tom runs anything from a marathon to 100 miles. He can often be found in the mountains around his home in Ireland.

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