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Walking and Jogging Backward on the Treadmill

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Updated January 23, 2010

Walking backward or jogging backward on the treadmill works muscles in an entirely different way than walking forward. This should be done with hands off of the side rails.

Effects of Walking Backward with Hands Off the Treadmill

Hands on the side rails totally defeat the purpose of walking backward. When you let go, your postural muscles are forced to take serious action. So are your legs, hips and the muscles that control your ankles. That’s why walking backward at faster speeds, without holding on, will condition your feet for inline skating. It will also dramatically improve your balance, even if you must start out at 1 mph.

Start Slow When Walking Backward on the Treadmill

An able-bodied person -- and this includes older people, large people, and people who are new to exercise can walk backward without holding on. All you need do is start out super slow and get used to it. When you feel adjusted, increase the speed in 5/10 of a mile-per-hour increments. Many individuals, depending on their fitness or coordination level, will quickly be up to 4 mph without clinging on.

At these faster speeds, you will clearly feel muscles working that do not get tapped during forward walking. Expect improvement in sports performance, step classes and other venues in which balance is challenged.

Every so often, I’ll spot someone at the gym walking backward, but holding onto the side rails, often with slumped-forward posture. I will tell that person to let go if the tread is moving slowly. If it’s going 3 or more mph, I’ll tell the walker to slow down first, and then let go. Remember, most treadmills go as slow as 1 mph, so there is no such thing as falling off the machine if you’re not holding on.

Variations of Backward Walking

Backward Walking With Incline
  • Set the incline at 15% and 2 mph, assuming that you are adjusted to walking backward level without holding on. You will soon feel a nice burn in your thighs.
  • If you can go faster, do that for an intense thigh burn. Now, if you can’t last longer than a few minutes, that’s perfectly fine.
  • Do brief intervals at 15% and 2 to 3 mph, alternating with walking forward with a lower incline (or level) for a few minutes, back and forth, for 30 minutes.

Incline low-walk: As you walk, lower your center of gravity so that you’re in a one-quarter squat position. Keep back straight. Do not pitch forward. This will intensify the fire in your quadriceps muscles.

Running Backward on the Treadmill

You can sustain this at 4 mph, and go for briefer duration at faster speeds, whatever challenges you. Think outside the box. Do intervals of 6 to 8 mph backward-jogs for as long as you can, alternating with forward walking (or slower jogging) for a few minutes, for a total of 30 minutes.

Jogging and running backward upgrades athletic performance and adds spice to your routine. Never mind that it might attract attention from other gym members. This is your time, your body.

Backward Walking Intervals

You needn’t spend a whole lot of time walking backward to reap benefits. So if you prefer to do a one-minute interval here and there of these creative uses of a treadmill, that will surely contribute to your fitness goals.

Next: Jumping or Hopping Intervals on the Treadmill

How to Kick the Treadmill-Gripping Habit

Source:

Hooper TL, Dunn DM, Props JE, Bruce BA, Sawyer SF, Daniel JA. "The effects of graded forward and backward walking on heart rate and oxygen consumption." J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2004 Feb;34(2):65-71.

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