Walk Backwards to Move Forward Better
Mar 29, 2021
We are designed to move forward. We tend to move towards whatever we set our eyes on, in body and in mind. We walk where we are facing and our life gravitates towards what we focus on, good or bad. And through all circumstances, we are meant to rise up and move on. We are really good at going forward and towards whatever it is we set our sights on. It’s how we are wired.
But there are sometimes when we need to take a step back. In life, taking a step back can provide us the opportunity to see the bigger picture and allow us to solve an issue so we can move forward unencumbered. In the body, taking a step back can actually “reawaken” parts of the body so that we can walk forward better.
We are indeed predominantly designed to move forward in our gait pattern, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t much benefit to moving in other directions. In fact, it’s a really good idea to move in ways that we often don’t. It helps insure we have access to those ways, and it “turns things on” that may otherwise be asleep or drowsy, so to speak.
For example, walking backwards can be really good for you. It can even make walking forwards easier and better. Walking backwards is another “reset” for the nervous system. It provides the brain with different, but good information, and it helps the brain gain more access to the body. It could even help your mind solve day to day problems better and faster.
“How can this be?” you might ask. That’s a great question! Let’s take a look and see...
- Walking backwards increases your body awareness and mental focus - in the moment.
Walking backwards is not the normal mode of direction for our gait pattern. We can walk forward mindlessly, but to walk backwards we have to be a little more dialed in. It causes us to be mentally present and focused on what we are doing. After all, you don’t want to trip, fall, or run into anything. When you walk backwards, your self-preservation programs heighten your situational awareness (at least they should). Not only that, but the change of direction heightens your body awareness.
- Walking backwards helps your shoulders find extension.
This is pretty neat - if you allow your arms to swing (as you should). When you walk backwards, your brain reverses everything automatically to get the job done. Just as you cast your shoulders forward (at least you should) when you walk forwards, your brain can easily cast your shoulders backwards when you walk backwards. This is shoulder extension. Shoulder extension during the gait pattern (walking, running, etc.) keeps the body tied together (it keeps the body strong) and keeps the brain healthy. We SHOULD allow our shoulders to move into extension when we walk forward, but many of us don’t. Walking backwards helps the brain find extension in the shoulders - it turns on the extension. This makes it easier for the brain to move the shoulders into extension when we walk forwards. Just remember, backwards walking should be a contra-lateral movement - opposite limbs should dance together.
- Walking backwards increases your mental focus, your ability to concentrate and remember - in your day to day life.
Because walking backwards can improve shoulder swing, this improves the communication in the brain between the left and right hemispheres. Better communication between the two hemispheres means better focus, better memory retention, and better ability to solve problems. It can also mean better emotional regulation.
- Walking backwards can turn on your glutes and improve the firing sequence of your hamstrings.
Just like walking backwards helps your brain move your shoulders into extension, walking backwards also help the brain find extension in your hips. For some, this could mean waking up “sleepy glutes” and turning them on. This could also set overly tight hip flexors free. To walk backwards, the brain has to turn on the hamstrings and glutes to move the hips into extension. Thus the brain can finally turn the hip flexors off to allow the glutes to do their job. This can also improve the firing sequence between the hamstrings and the glutes. All that to say, walking backwards can wake up your backside and give you more powerful and efficient stride when you walk forwards. If you try this, you will feel the difference.
- Walking backwards is a fantastic way to strengthen the knee.
When you walk backwards, the roles of the leg muscles are reversed. Now, it is the quads that propel the body. This gently strengthens the quads and fortifies the musculature around the knees, reducing their chance of injury. It is easy to feel strength “happening” here, especially if you are walking mindfully. This is because the quads are decelerating or eccentrically contracting to take the load of the body when the foot is planted. When we walk forward, the quads concentrically contract to extend the knee, but when we walk backwards, they eccentrically contract to absorb the body’s weight. Eccentric contractions build strong muscles...
- Walking backwards restores the feet - especially if you’re barefoot or in mobile shoes.
Walking backwards can bring the feet to life, again. When you walk backwards you have to land on toes, ball of foot, and roll to heel. Done gently and with “soft knees” this feels amazing. Soft knees is keeping the knees from going into full extension on push off and even keeping an exaggerated deeper knee bend as you walk backwards. This allows you to fully control the roll of your foot from toes to heel, mobilizing the entire foot and improving ankle flexion.
Walking backwards is an amazing reset. It turns your body and mind “on,” and it allows you to move better, walk better, and feel better. Just the physical benefits alone are worth it. Think about it, it can turn on the glutes and hamstrings, set the hip flexors free, strengthen the quads, fortify the knees, AND restore foot and ankle mobility. But it also improves the brain, which can help improve your thoughts and your emotions. This is so cool because walking backwards can help you walk forward better, but It can also help you move forward through life better.
I know it seems crazy, but it’s worth investigating on your own. Find a safe place, free from trip hazards, and do some backwards walking. You’re going to love how it feels. Remember, sometimes we need to back up in order to move forward - better.