Since all of you have mastered the ability to walk and chew gum at the same time, you might want to move up to walking backward, with or without the gum. Studies show retro walking, a fancy name for putting one foot behind another, makes your hamstrings more flexible and less susceptible to strain. So unless you retro walk over cliffs or into rush-hour traffic, walking backward is a good idea for developing stronger and more flexible hamstrings, as well as for rehabbing hamstring injuries.
The Wilderness Sports Conditioning website ticks off a number of benefits of walking backward. Retro walking lessens some of the force on your knee joint, as opposed to forward walking, especially when going downhill on stairs or hills. So if you have knee pain, backward walking might help. In addition, backward walking enables you to continue to train without putting further stress on the knees. You also use more energy walking backward instead of forward, so you'll get in a good cardio workout in less time. The University of Oregon website states that backward walking aids in improving balance and coordination.
Retro walking reduces the overall range of motion at the hip joint and limits the extension and the stress on your hamstrings, states Wilderness Sports Conditioning. As the University of Oregon explains, backward walking stretches your hamstring muscles prior to their activation, which can be helpful either during training, by reducing strain on your hamstrings, or while undergoing rehab after spraining a hamstring, which is a difficult injury to treat. Walking backward and hamstring injury prevention go hand-in-hand.
A 2011 study, reported in the International Journal of Exercise Science, examined the effects of backward walking on hamstring flexibility and low-back range of motion. Although just 10 women participated in the project, the study found that retro walking increased hamstring flexibility for those who took part in the four-week program. The study was inconclusive in terms of backward walking for increased low-back flexibility, although the authors believe further research is needed.
Back Walking Exercises
To try retro walking, take 10 steps forward and back and see if you feel any pain or discomfort in either direction. If you have no pain while walking backward, find a flat area and walk backward for 20 to 30 yards. Walking backward up slight elevations increases the intensity of the workout. An exercise from the University of Oregon is to walk forward five steps, balance for three to five seconds on one leg, walk back four steps, balance and repeat. To do a crab walk hamstring strengthening exercise from STACK, sit on the ground and place your hands on the ground under your shoulders and place your feet under your knees. Extend your arms, lift your hips and walk backward 10 to 20 yards.
- Wilderness Sports Conditioning: Backwards Walking for Rehabilitation of Lower Extremities
- University of Oregon: Retro Walking for Rehabilitation and Fitness
- International Journal of Exercise Science: Effects of Backward Walking on Hamstring Flexibility and Low Back Range of Motion
- STACK: 4 Bodyweight Exercises to Strengthen Your Hamstrings
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.