The Surprising Benefits of Walking Backwards for Your Muscles, Joints and Brain

The Surprising Benefits of Walking Backwards for Your Muscles, Joints and Brain


benefits of walking backwords
benefits of walking backwords
benefits of walking backwords

While you might be aware of the many health benefits of walking daily, you likely haven’t heard much about the benefits of walking backward for the body and brain.

Walking backwards or retro walking is not a modern invention and some historical records show evidence that it has been practiced in some countries in ancient times.

In China, it was seen as a way to balance the body’s qi (energy) and enhance overall well-being. Similarly in Japan, it was included in martial arts training to improve balance, coordination, and spatial awareness.

The health benefits of this practice were not studied until recently and even in the 19th century, it was seen as an eccentric practice tried by only a few individuals who walked hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles to gain bragging rights or set a bizarre record.

For example, in 1915, a man named Patrick Harmon decided to take the challenge of walking backward from San Fransisco to New York for prize money of $20,000. He finished the journey in 291 days with the help of a friend. However, it is unclear if he really walked the entire way backward and also if he won the prize money.

But now there is a growing body of research that’s studying and supporting this practice for the benefits it can provide to people of all ages including sportspersons and the elderly suffering from movement-related issues.

Let’s find out what are the benefits of walking backward and how you can incorporate this practice into your routine to improve your overall well-being.

Why is it beneficial?

You might be wondering why walking backward can provide different benefits from just walking normally.

There are mainly two reasons that contribute to these additional benefits:

Firstly, the biomechanics involved in walking backward is quite different. While walking backward, your toe lands on the ground before the heel which is exactly the opposite of what happens when you move forward. This motion requires more effort from your posterior chain muscles and less effort from the knee joint. Secondly, since you’re not used to walking backward, it requires more effort from your brain and helps improve overall cognitive function. The combination of these two factors leads to various benefits for your body and brain.

The benefits of walking backward

Incorporating walking backward into a fitness routine can offer several benefits.

Let’s understand each one:

Enhanced Muscular Strength

Walking backward can help correct muscular imbalances and improve overall leg strength by activating the posterior chain muscles of the legs, including the hamstring, glutes, and calves. These muscles are used in forward walking as well but the required intensity is higher in the case of retro-walking. The quadriceps also work in a unique way that provides better stability to the knee joint and reduced range of motion. Due to this, it can be helpful for individuals with knee pain or those who have gone through knee surgery.

Improved Coordination and Balance

A study published in the Journal of Neurologic Physical Therapy examined the effect of backward walking on stroke patients. The study found that backward walking helped increase the forward and backward walking speeds compared to the standing balance training. Another study published in the Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health studied the effect of backward walking on chronic stroke patients. It showed that 30 minutes of walking backward on a treadmill three times a week for four weeks improved balance, speed, and cardiopulmonary function.

Reduced Stress on Joints

It offers a low-impact alternative that reduces stress on the knees and joints, making it beneficial for those suffering from knee arthritis or who have gone through knee surgery. A study conducted in 2023 found that the range of motion at both hip and knee joints is significantly reduced during walking backward while there’s higher impact on the ankle joint. Due to that walking backwards can help strengthen the ankle joint while minimizing the impact on knee and hip joints.

Increased Cardiovascular Fitness

Walking backward can be more physically demanding than walking forward at the same pace, potentially leading to improved cardiovascular health.

Higher calorie burning

Walking backward burns significantly more calories compared to walking forward. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) found that walking backward at a brisk pace burns about 40% more calories per minute than walking forward.

Improved cognitive function

Walking backward can provide many cognitive benefits since you’re not used to it and your brain requires more active effort to execute it. A study published by Behavioural Brain Research Journal found that backward walking requires more effort from the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain responsible for decision-making and problem-solving.

Another study published in the Psychological Science Journal tested the ability of participants to solve a Stroop test while walking forward, sideways, or backward. The reaction time of participants walking backward was the fastest.

Recommended Duration

If you are not already familiar with walking backward, it’s important to start it gradually. A study published in the International Journal of Exercise Science found that participants improved their hamstring flexibility and low back range of motion by walking backward 10-15 minutes per day for 4 weeks. It can be beneficial to start the practice with a minimum duration of 5-10 minutes and gradually increase as comfort and endurance improve.


While walking backward has many benefits, you should consider some precautions before starting it.

Risk of Falling: There's an increased risk of tripping or falling due to unseen obstacles. It's important to choose a safe, clear path and possibly have a spotter or use a treadmill with handrails.

Spatial Awareness: Initially, it can be challenging to navigate space and maintain balance. Starting in a familiar place or a controlled environment can help mitigate this problem.


Walking backward offers a fun and effective way to improve lower body strength, improve posture, and balance. It is invaluable for those suffering from conditions such as osteoarthritis or other knee-related problems. There are certain precautions to keep in mind, when you try backward walking but By starting slowly and being mindful of the surroundings, you can safely incorporate walking backward into your fitness regimen and enjoy its many benefits.

Feb 22, 2024

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It’s never too late to start your fitness adventure


© Fitmint 2023 • Privacy policyGoogle API Policy