Walking and Jogging Backwards on the Treadmill

Walking on Treadmill

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Walking backward on the treadmill (or even running backward, if you can) offers many benefits. Not only will you tone different muscles, but it also helps improve your balance. It even boosts your heart rate, making it a good interval workout variation.

If you play sports, research has found that backward running can reduce your risk of injury and improve your performance. It works by increasing the power and strength in your lower body while improving your ability to change directions more safely.

How to Start Walking Backward on a Treadmill

If you are new to walking backward on the treadmill, start with a low speed. You may find that it is a enough of a challenge just to walk while turned around. Besides, you can increase your speed in future sessions as you begin to feel more comfortable.

Many treadmills have a relatively slow starting speed of 0.5 mph. Start at the lowest speed possible to get in a good walking posture and rhythm. Once you feel adjusted and can easily sustain that pace, increase the speed in 0.5 mph increments.

Give yourself at least one minute at each treadmill speed before increasing to the next. This enables your body to fully adjust before boosting the intensity and asking it to go faster.

As you move to higher speeds, you will likely feel muscles working that aren't as noticeable during forward walking. This includes your quads (the muscle on the front of your upper leg), as well as your calves (the muscle on the back of your lower legs).

Therefore, keep your backward intervals short when you begin. It's also best to only vary either time or speed when first starting out, not both—that is, add intensity by either walking faster or longer, but don't change both at once. This enables you to only have to adjust to one changing variable at a time.

Handrails When Walking Backward: Yes or No?

Definitely use them at first. Walking backward should be done with hands off of the side rails only after you are confident enough that you can maintain your balance. Going backward requires more from your postural muscles to keep your body upright. If these aren't strong enough, you risk falling.

Your legs, hips, and the muscles that control your ankles must also work harder to maintain a coordinated motion during backward walking or running. So, if you notice weakness in any of these that could cause you to stumble, continue to use the handrails.

If you have been relying on the handrails even when walking forward, try first weaning yourself from using them during your front-facing treadmill workouts. Start by walking with only one hand on the rail, then transition to also removing the other.

After you are able to not rely on your hands for stability while walking forward, you can begin to work on your rear-facing treadmill routine. Start with the handrails, then just one hand before not using the rails at all.

Adding Backward Walking Intervals

You needn’t spend a lot of time walking backward to reap benefits. Instead, aim to include backward intervals in your current treadmill workout only once or twice during your entire training session. Also, only backward walk for a minute or two at a time.

Depending on your agility, you may want to stop the treadmill before you turn around to walk backward and stop it again before turning to walk forward. It's helpful to use the handrails for balance when you are repositioning yourself.

Backward Walking With Inclines

You can also change up your routine when walking backward on a treadmill by varying your incline. Like with speed, start slow, first inclining the treadmill to the lowest level. You will likely feel more of a burning in your thighs when you do.

As you get stronger and more comfortable, you can increase your incline as well as your speed. Just don't increase both at the same time or it could throw you off balance. Do one and then the other. This gives you the opportunity to back down if it's too much.

You can also add inclines into your backward walking interval workout. Do one minute at a specific incline then kick it up a notch for the next minute before lowering it back down. This helps boost your calorie burn and muscle strength in shorter amounts of time.

Another option is to vary your body's position. As you walk backward with incline, lower your center of gravity so you are in a partial squat position. Keep your back straight and do not pitch forward. This will intensify the fire in your quadriceps muscles. But limit this activity to 30-60 seconds and skip it if you have knee issues.

Running Backward on the Treadmill

Once you become used to the backward motion, you may find that you're ready for running backward on the treadmill. Alternate periods of backward jogging with forward walking (or slow jogging) for a few minutes at a time throughout your routine.

If you notice that it's hard to stay balanced, lower your speed until you get into a good rhythm. As your body adjusts, you can increase the speed to also increase the intensity. Once you're really comfortable, you might also add some inclines.

Jogging or running backward can add some spice to your current treadmill routine. If you're having fun and can feel the benefits, you may find it easier to stick with your workouts long term. This equates to long-term results too.

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2 Sources
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  1. Masumoto K, Galor K, Craig-Jones A, Mercer J. Metabolic costs during backward running with body weight support. Int J Sports Med. 2019:40(4):269-275. doi:10.1055/a-0806-7537

  2. Uthoff A, Oliver J, Cronin J, Harrison C, Winwood P. A new direction to athletic performance: Understanding the acute and longitudinal responses to backward runningSports Med. 2018;48(5):1083–1096. doi:10.1007/s40279-018-0877-5