The Benefits of Walking Backward

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Adding backward walking to your treadmill workouts and outdoors strolls can give you a variety of exercise benefits. Walking in reverse can add bouts of increased intensity, similar to a very brisk walk or an easy run. You may also improve your balance and give a workout to some muscles you don't use as frequently when walking. However, you have to take safety precautions.

Health Benefits of Walking Backward

There are a few reasons that you might want to consider an alternative to walking forward. Walking backward offers a few advantages.

Increased Calorie Burn

The exercise energy expenditure of walking backward was measured and ranked in the Compendium of Physical Activities, along with hundreds of other physical activities.

A brisk walk at 3.5 mph earns 4.3 METs (metabolic equivalents) while walking backward at that speed earns 6.0 METs. That's a boost of 40% in the calories you burn per minute of walking.

If you walk backward uphill at a 5% grade, you almost double your energy expenditure. You'll earn 8.0 METs compared with 4.3 METs for a level walk in the usual forward direction at 3.5 mph.

This boost in calories burned can be beneficial and it is a good way to add higher intensity intervals to your walking workout. You can walk backward at a slower pace and still raise your heart rate. Other ways to add a higher intensity interval to your walking workout include stairs, hills, doing step-ups, and bursts of running or walking at your top speed.

Improved Balance and Stability

Studies of both healthy adults and children show backward walking can improve balance. It also works your muscles and joints in different ways from forward walking. Adding a little backward walking to your routine is good for everyone, and you will see athletic trainers using backward walking or running for their athletes. It can be a fun way to add balance exercise to your day.

In addition to using backward walking in exercise, physical therapists use backward walking to improve stability in rehabilitation and therapeutic programs for knee replacement, stroke, and Parkinson's disease.

Tips and Precautions

If you're ready to get started, think first about safety. You will want to practice backward walking in an area free of tripping obstacles.

  • Indoor Walking: Find a place you can walk where there are no area rugs, steps, furniture, or pets that can trip you. A hallway or indoor track could be a good choice.
  • Outdoor Walking: It can be harder to find a safe area for walking backward outdoors for any length of time. It may be wise to walk with a companion who is walking forwards and can alert you to any hazards. You need to be aware of people approaching from the opposite direction, cracks, and ridges in sidewalks, curbs, roots, debris, puddles, etc.
  • Track Walking: An indoor or outdoor track is a safer choice to reduce tripping hazards. Keep to the same direction as the other track users so you do not run into them.
  • Treadmill: Start at a slow speed, such as 1 mph, for backward walking on the treadmill. As you become more proficient, you can increase the speed and incline. Practice treadmill safety and wear the safety stop cord. A treadmill can be a good way to add incline to your backward walking and get the exercise benefits of going uphill backward.
  • Walking Backward With Walking Partners:  If you're walking with a partner or a group of friends, turning around and walking backward while you chat can add a little fun. Your walking partner can help spot any obstacles for you as well.

A Word From Verywell

Add a little backward walking where you can do so safely. You don't have to spend miles at it, simply a minute or two interspersed with forward walking can do the trick.

4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Ainsworth BE, Haskell WL, Herrmann SD, et al. 2011 compendium of physical activitiesMedicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2011;43(8):1575-1581. doi:10.1249/mss.0b013e31821ece12

  2. American College of Sports Medicine. 2011 Compendium of physical activity.

  3. Cha H-G, Kim T-H, Kim M-K. Therapeutic efficacy of walking backward and forward on a slope in normal adultsJournal of Physical Therapy Science. 2016;28(6):1901-1903. doi:10.1589/jpts.28.1901

  4. Hao W-Y, Chen Y. Backward walking training improves balance in school-aged boysSports Medicine, Arthroscopy, Rehabilitation, Therapy & Technology: SMARTT. 2011;3:24. doi:10.1186/1758-2555-3-24

Additional Reading

By Wendy Bumgardner
Wendy Bumgardner is a freelance writer covering walking and other health and fitness topics and has competed in more than 1,000 walking events.