Can Building Muscle While Running Backwards Really Burn Calories More Effectively?

One of the most effective, practical, and healthy forms of exercise is running. But some assert that using a fresh strategy, or rather a 180-degree turn from the conventional approach, may increase the effectiveness of your workout.

On TikTok, the hashtag #runningbackwards has received 1.2M views so far. Other popular hashtags include #reverserunning (112.4K views), #backwardrunning (102.1K views), and #runbackwards (471K views).

TikTokers are extolling the virtues of running backward, including Antonio “LionOfGod” Gillespie (@prolongevityfitness, 30.3K followers), a licensed personal trainer and the owner of Prolongevity Fitness.

In a video that has received 258K views and 47K likes, he declares, “The longest I have run backward is eight miles.”

Reversing your run “works your opposing muscle groups, which means your quadriceps and your shins,” he continues. He lists “stronger and more endurance basis” as additional advantages.

Additionally, he claims that it conditions the heart two to three times more than conventional forward running, strengthens the back and core two to three times more, increases mental fortitude, and improves breathing efficiency. He claims that eight miles backward is equivalent to 16 to 24 miles forward.

One runner even applies the idea to the treadmill in another @nodaysoff video with over 462K views.

Other influencers, including @blondlocs and @arthenixs, assert that turning around their run has been really beneficial for them.

Can all of it be accomplished by turning backward?

What Is Backward Running (also known as Reverse Running)?
Backward running is distinct from regular running, according to Frankie Ruiz, a seasoned cross-country running coach and co-founder of the Life Time Miami Marathon. In addition to moving backward, backward running requires a completely different set of skills to perform correctly (such as form, technique, and the muscles you’re using).

One could argue that the word “running” shouldn’t even be used and that an alternative activity-descriptive name should be used instead.

Running backward has the same objective as running forward, but it requires a more coordinated body movement to move through space as at least one or both feet lift off the ground.

Reverse running, also known as backward running or retro running, accomplishes the same goal but with the front of the body facing the opposite way, the author continues.

According to Ruiz, the concept has been around for a long time, and various sports use it as a warm-up and agility drill. Many endurance athletes of various levels employ reverse running as rehabilitation, particularly following knee or hip injuries. The action is occasionally advised as a means to ease back into aerobic conditioning since the load is better distributed, he adds.

Robert Stevenson, MD, one of the first to formally write about it in his 1981 book Backward Running, says Elizabeth C. Gardner, MD, associate professor and orthopedic surgery lead team physician at Yale University.

What Experts Have to Say About the Alleged Benefits of Running Backwards

For people who have been practicing forward running for a while, reverse running offers a somewhat different set of advantages than ordinary jogging, according to Ruiz. The muscles used to perform the work will vary, despite the fact that the aerobic effects will be comparable.

Simply put, Ruiz explains, “[that’s] because you are engaging mostly your leg muscles differently.”

If you altered the speed or intensity of your forward motion or ran uphill as opposed to downward, the results would be comparable. This is supported by a study that was presented in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning in 2016. Researchers discovered that running backward helped athletes by increasing their running economy; over time, the athletes improved as runners all around. (Note that there were only eight really skilled male runners in the research.)

Reverse running predominantly works the muscles of the posterior chain, especially the calf muscles and glutes, Dr. Gardner explains, as opposed to forward running, which often uses the muscles at the front of the leg (such as the quads and anterior tibialis). “You’ll start to feel the burning in your calves after just a minute or two of reverse running!”

For the same reason, running backward might be easier on the knees. “When moving backward, the opposite group of muscles is used to absorb impact at the lower level. The majority of the absorption is done by your lower leg muscles, which relieve some of the strain on your knees. Reverse running will engage muscles that are underused, leading to muscle growth and toning, claims Ruiz.

According to a 2012 study in the Journal of Biomechanics, jogging backward had less of an impact on the knees than running forward. (The study’s small group of moderately active participants did not currently have any knee discomfort or injuries.)

Reverse running improves balance and posture by using different muscles than forward running and “forcing you to stay in a more upright position,” according to Gardner.

Gardner argues that it’s not as simple as saying jogging backward burns more calories than running ahead.

How many calories you burn while engaging in any given activity depends on a variety of variables, including heart rate, age, and others. Different muscle patterns used don’t always result in greater calorie burn. She emphasizes that what counts most is intensity.

She points out that it makes it natural that one might burn more calories because jogging backward causes more muscle activity than running forward. Additionally, some research (remember, this was a tiny study with only 26 participants) indicates that running or walking backward reduces body fat more than exercising forwards, but there is inconclusive evidence about the precise differences in calorie expenditure.

Regarding the alleged advantages for enhancing cognitive function and brain strength, Ruiz asserts that they are probably comparable to the benefits of another technical running for engaging the brain (like on a trail where you need to pay attention to stones and terrain changes).

Warnings on How to Run Backwards Safely if You Try It
The founder of Vigor Ground Fitness and Performance, National Strength and Conditioning Association-certified strength and conditioning coach Luka Hocevar, and brand ambassador for C4 Energy advise those who are new to jogging or who are uneasy with their coordination to start by walking backward.

Ruiz advises working out on a level, open field, or track. The key, he argues, is to gradually increase volume and intensity loading, just like with ordinary running. He advises beginning with a brief period and incorporating it into your usual jogging regimen. He suggests doing it for a circuit around the track to warm up for regular jogging and then gradually increasing the time as you become acclimated to it over a period of weeks.

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You should also think about transitions, Derek Pratt, a qualified personal trainer with the International Sports Sciences Association, makes a point. “Changing from sprinting backward to going forward without stopping is quite challenging. Your body needs to quickly switch between different muscle groups as you use different muscle groups.

Avoid jogging backward on uneven ground, as Ruiz stated. Avoid busy locations as well because it may be difficult to see what is happening behind you. If you try it, Gardner advises having a jogging partner with you so you can identify one another.

Who Should Try (and Who Should Avoid) Running Backwards?

Reverse running is advantageous for all levels of athletes, according to Gardner. Reverse running may be far better on the joints for athletes healing from knee ailments after they are cleared to resume exercising, according to her. She points out that jogging backward is a popular practice among boxers since it improves balance and provides great cardiovascular training.

Running backward carries some injury hazards, though. Running into anything or falling down, in Pratt’s opinion, is a major one. He adds that it’s wise to be ready for the worst just in case and to know how to fall backward safely. If possible, try it out with a partner, as Gardner advised.

Additionally, just like with any new exercise, some folks might need a doctor’s okay beforehand. “Be sure to visit a doctor first before starting to run back if you have any pain or problem with the ankle, knee, hip, or low back,” advises Hocevar.

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Conclusion Regarding Backward Running
While many TikTok trends fall short of expectations, running backward may improve your running technique. There is no reason why you shouldn’t incorporate it into your running regimen as long as you start off slowly and follow the appropriate safety measures. But does it count for twice as many miles as forward running? There isn’t any concrete proof of that.

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