The Simple, Surprising Move That Will Make Your Walking Routine Way More Effective
"It may sound silly, but walking backwards activates a number of different muscles than walking forward, and it's a lot more beneficial than most people expect," says Beverley Marr, a chiropractor and co-founder of PurePosture, Inc. "Feeling a little nervous about putting your workout in reverse? It's understandable to be a little timid at first," says Marr. "Walking backwards can be unnerving, because you can't see where you're going—and visual cues are an integral part of balance and feeling safe," she says. "When you're first starting out, choose a smooth, open surface—such as a big field or the beach—to keep potential tripping hazards to a minimum," suggests Marr.
IT USES UNDER-USED MUSCLES—AND HELPS YOU BLAST CALORIES AS A RESULT
When you walk backwards, you reach back with your toe and roll through your foot to your heel. This works the anterior tibialis (shin) muscle, as opposed to the gastrocnemius (calf) muscle, which tends to do all the work when you walk forward, says Marr. Walking backwards also works your glutes, which immediately engage as you begin to reach back with you toe. Research backs this up: According to one study, backward walking showed higher energy consumption (read: bigger calorie burn) in the lower limbs than walking forward.
IT PUTS LESS STRAIN ON YOUR KNEES AND LOW BACK
Think about it: When you walk forward, your heel strikes the ground first, creating impact in your knees and low back. When you walk backward, the ball of your toe strikes the ground first, which distributes the shock over a greater surface area and leads to a softer impact. What's more, your posture tends to be more erect when walking backwards, adds Marr. "When we walk forward, we tend to lean forward—and the exact opposite is true when backwards walking," she says. "Standing taller and swinging your leg behind helps lengthen the hip flexor muscles, which are often the source of low back pain when they're tight."
IT IMPROVES BALANCE
Mike Mills, a personal trainer in Philadelphia, says that because you can't see where your legs are going when walking backwards, it prompts you to concentrate on lifting and landing your foot all while maintaining a straight upper body—a combination of actions that'll test your balance. Research backs this up: According to one study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, backwards walking improves balance and gait.
IT KEEPS YOUR WALKING WORKOUT INTERESTING
At some point, all of us face exercise ennui due to performing the same workout repeatedly. Walking backwards keeps things interesting, says Mills. "Just a few minutes of walking backwards while doing your usual walking workout is a really great way to switch things up and keep you interested in your workout," he says. Which also means it's more likely you'll stay consistent with your workouts.
IT BOOSTS YOUR BRAINPOWER AND CREATIVITY
Research shows that breaking out of our usual ways of moving our bodies—such as walking backwards—can help us foster more creative thinking. To wit: One study asked 30 students to spend a morning walking backward wherever they went and had a control group of 30 students walked forward as usual. At lunch, all of the students were given two standard tests of creativity, and those students who'd walked backwards all morning outperformed the control group on creative tasks.
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