We will be reviewing the results and methodology of a couple of scientific studies that tested the effects of backwards running on fitness levels and forward running performance.
There have been many studies looking at the energy expenditure of forward vs backward running, with the research showing consistently that backwards running places more structural and metabolic demand on the body compared to forwards running. This makes sense as the individual cannot generate the same momentum and free tendon energy that they would while going forwards.
Let's first examine some of the facts regarding backwards locomotion and why we use it so much in Alliance programming.
Backwards locomotion trains the muscles and tissues to get stronger that must absorb the most amount of force during forward locomotion. An important distinction is that there is nothing wrong with forward locomotion in training AT ALL. There is simply an imbalance between the amount of training the average human does going forward vs backward.
Backwards locomotion is also a fantastic method of active recovery due to the absence of an eccentric phase. This is important because micro-tears and healthy tissue breakdown occur during the eccentric (lengthening under load) phase of an exercise.
Let's dive into the science, shall we!
Study #1 "The Effect of Backward Locomotion Training on the Body Composition and Cardiorespiratory Fitness of Young Women"
This study had a group of young active women participate in a 6-week training program with 3 workouts per week. Each workout during the first week was 15 minutes of backwards walking and running activities, with increases of 5 minutes per week.
Prior to the training program, the women were tested with a 20m beep test as well as submaximal treadmill walking and jogging tests. The women were also weighed and had their body fat percentage measured using skinfold tests.
The study showed a significant 30% reduction in oxygen consumption during retesting as well as an increase in muscular endurance, VO2 Max and performance during the 20m beep test!
More positive results showed that the women had a reduction in skinfold thickness by over 19% as well as a decrease of 2.4% in body fat percentage!
The researchers observed these improvements and concluded that because reverse locomotion requires more energy to perform compared to forwards locomotion, it was possibly more effective compared to forwards running when training for body composition and for training for long-distance running.
The link to read the full study is below.
In a meta-analysis by Uthoff et al (2019) in the Strength and Conditioning Journal, they found that backwards running placed less stress on the knee joint, required more muscular force and required athletes to use deeper joint angles in relation to forwards running. They also found that backwards running was more metabolically taxing (required more energy) despite being more concentric dominant compared to forwards running.
This supports the use of backwards running as a more effective method for conditioning, but also for active recovery and rehab purposes.
"Concentric-dominant exercises offer a potentially useful training tool, which may negate or mitigate muscle damage, soreness, fatigue, and inflammation associated with eccentric movements. The specific isometric and concentric nature of BR has led clinicians and coaches to use BR as a tool to return players back from injury and increased quadriceps strength while concomitantly reducing knee joint stress" (Uthoff et al 2019)
Uthoff et al also states that "Adolescent athletes around the time of their growth spurt seem to respond particularly well to BR, where their vertical jump ability has been found to increase by 9.9% and their sprint performance over 0 –10 and 0 –20 meters improved by 7.5% and 5.0% respectively, following training twice a week for 8 weeks"
Athletes using backwards running have also been shown to have improved concentric strength, leg stiffness and lateral agility. These are all factors directly relating to sports performance.
The article goes on to suggest that a well-developed performance plan should include backwards locomotion with principles of progressive overload and specificity. Using loaded sleds and performing similar lateral, forward and backward movements will translate to better durability but also performance.
I encourage you to read through the following articles to get all of the details. If you have trouble finding them simply reach out to me to get direct links!
Thank you for reading,
Terblanche, Elmarie & Page, C & Kroff, Jacolene & Venter, Rachel. (2005). The Effect of Backward Locomotion Training on the Body Composition and Cardiorespiratory Fitness of Young Women. International journal of sports medicine. 26. 214-9.
Uthoff, Aaron & Oliver, Jon & Cronin, John & Winwood, Paul & Harrison, Craig. (2019). Backward Running: The Why and How to Program for Better Athleticism. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 41. 1.