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Retro Running

Ever tried backwards running?

I guess not. It does sound a bit worrying. You definitely don’t want to trip over, bump into anybody, or get run over.

Well, let's put your mind at ease whilst explaining the benefits for both our body and mind.

I got into backwards running thanks to a run with a friend in Munich. After a couple of kilometres, I started to struggle with a small niggle in my knee which then became quite painful, so we ended up walking more than anything. As we entered one of the many great parks in Munich my friend mentioned that he had heard that sometimes the pain you get from running forwards can be alleviated by running backwards.

It was a lovely day with not so many people, so I said "why not", took off my trainers and gave it a go on a large grassed area where there was no chance of tripping or bumping into anybody. Sure enough, there wasn't any discomfort, and after about 300m, I reverted to forwards running and the pain didn’t come back for the rest of the run.

Since then, short backwards stints are part of the weekly run and it's helped to build confidence, strength and even mindfulness.

Running backwards uses about 30% more energy than forwards, which I can testify to, it can be quite strenuous particularly as you get the confidence to go faster. There is evidence that there is less impact on your knees, which was clear from my first attempt. It also fires different leg muscles, so it's an all-round workout in the same amount of time.

"Instead of the muscles in your lower back getting the workout, it’s the muscles in your lower abdomen that are worked the hardest. Backwards running also improves your posture and encourages you to stand and run with your shoulders back." – Garret Doherty.

Maybe there isn’t as much evidence of the benefits to the mind, however for me, it really brings a different perspective to the environment as things move away rather than move towards you. It helps to sharpen your thinking skills and enhance cognitive control with an enhanced sense of body awareness.

There is a feeling of "letting go" which is quite profound.

So even if you think it’s a good idea to try it out, you may still be worried about either what it looks like or how not to bump into people or trip up. Well, after doing it for a few years, that hasn’t happened to me once (famous last words), and I now also run through wooded tracks and not only on firm surfaces. Somehow, consciousness of the surroundings is heightened, so if I slipped or caught a tree root I didn't fall over.

In any case, don’t try it on curved tracks through the woods to start with, give it a go by “walking” backwards on a straight path with no obstacles that ideally are at least 200m. Simply keep to the middle of the path, so no risk of tripping or bumping into obstacles on either side. Look over your shoulder about every 30 seconds or more frequently if you like, to see how far you are and to check nobody is coming the other way. Then build up a bit of speed. You will most probably find it a bit tiring, so you only need to keep it going for a couple of minutes to get some benefit.

Slowly get confidence that you won’t get injured and enjoy the novelty that you are doing something very few others do.

If after a few attempts, with new-found confidence and a comfortable pace, discover the mindfulness aspect. Feel the wind flowing from back to front and visualise it drifting off, cleansing and clearing the mind as it goes.

So in this strange world we are all in, why not do something just a little crazy…? What’s the worst that can happen?

If you would like to share your experience on backwards running or understand more about my journey then get in touch!

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