Today’s blog I’m going to talk about something a little different; something some of you may just laugh off or think is just completely bonkers!
I’m going to talk about Retro Running/Reverse Running or Backwards Running. Yes, that’s right…running backwards….!!
I’m going to introduce you to the founder and guru of Retro Running in Ireland, give you some history and benefits of Retro Running and then talk about how it has benefitted me over the past year.
Let me introduce you to Garret Doherty. Born in Carndonagh on the Inishowen Peninsula in Donegal but now living in Dublin. Garret recently became a Guinness World Record Holder for the fastest Half Marathon time running backwards in an amazing time of 1hr 39 Minutes 53 Seconds at the recent Wexford Half Marathon and is also currently a World Champion.
Garret’s love and passion for Retro Running started when he turned around to face the sun while out running in Fairview Park one day and he just kept going. He immediately noticed that people were fascinated and intrigued by this and he felt good, so decided to keep going.
Garret decided to do some research on what he was doing and was amazed to find that the Chinese have been practicing backward walking and backward running for thousands of years. Then backward running developed throughout the 20th century in United States where famous figures of American Sports were great promoters. I can quote among others: Muhammad Ali – Boxing World Champion, William Muldoon – World Greco-Roman Wrestling Champion, Gene Tuney -World Boxing Champion, Bill Robinson – Famous Tap-Dancer, Ed. Schultz – Athlete, Coach Al Feola – College of Fullerton, Horace Blackley, Gary Gray – Therapist who develops Retro Training as method of rehabilitation in his clinics, Pat Murphy – one of the great innovators of fitness in the United States in the 80’s, Professors Barry Bates and Janet Dufek, and many other American Professors (Flynn, Arata, Soutas-Little, Amstrong, Devita, Ashley-Ross, Nadeau, ect).
Garret says “running forward is an amazing sport for both body and mind and I love it, but it also has some draw-backs, ordinary runners and athletes who only rely on forwards running to get into condition will inevitably pay the price namely: 80% of athletes are injured during their career at some point, while almost 30% are injured or carrying injuries at any given time, e.g. runners knee, shin splints, lower back pain and tight hamstrings, this is due to the fact that these areas of the body are being overworked, and unfortunately the opposing areas under worked. Performing the same action repeatedly i.e. running forwards, without some effort to oppose it, means we are stressing the same area of the body and building up a dangerous imbalance, until it inevitably breaks down causing all these injuries mentioned.
Backward running/walking is a fantastic way to train your body and is outstanding for physical conditioning, it develops your cardiovascular system and strengthens muscles throughout your whole body and help prevent all the injuries mentioned above.”
Garret became a World Champion in his first year of Reverse Running/Running Backwards [Retro Running] winning the 3KM and two silver Medals in the 200 Metres and 10KM races at the retro running World Championships in Austria in 2009. Garret has gone on to become 2 time UK Champion at 1KM and winner of London’s inaugural reverse running 3 KM and 1 KM races. Garret also won the Paddy Games 100 Metres and 400 Metres. Garret has now set his eyes on beating the current Guinness World Record for running a full marathon backwards so we all wish him the very best of luck with that.
Here are the facts:
- It burns 30% more calories
- You don’t have to run or walk for as much time to get the same workout
- It balances out all the forward exercise /running/work that we do daily
- It can cure the common forward running injuries e.g. runners knee, shin-splints, swayed back
- Promotes stronger muscle connections.
- Increases stamina and quickness
- Improves posture
- Improves runners strides
- Backward Running increases VO²max[oxygen consumption] to 95% which is only 60% while running forward at average pace
***A recent study at South Africa’s Stellenbosch University shows that the technique improved cardiovascular fitness. Researchers looked at the effects of a six-week, thrice-weekly backward-running programme on female students compared with a group who stuck to their regular activity schedule.
At the end of the study, the reverse runners were found to have significant decreases in oxygen consumption, meaning they had become aerobically fitter, and had lost an average 2.5 per cent body fat. ***
*** Dr. Robert K Stevenson wrote the bible for backward running back in 1981 and concluded that, “Anyone seriously interested in improving their athletic performance, physical condition and outlook in life would do well to take a closer look at backwards running and its benefits.” ***
Why & How it is good for you
1. Running backwards gives you a fabulous cardiovascular workout
This exercise brings into play more muscle groups, especially the quadriceps and because the feet hit the ground more quickly than in forward running more energy is expended to propel the body. Research by the University of Oregon showed that you have to maintain only 80 percent of your forward-running speed for the same amount of effort. Whilst other studies have shown that VO2 (oxygen consumption) and heart rate significantly increase during backward running. It is therefore unsurprising when people claim that running backwards for just one lap could be equivalent to up to six laps of forward running. And for runners struggling to lose weight – backward running apparently burns a third more calories.
2. Backward running restores a balance to the lower leg muscles
Performing the same action repeatedly i.e. running forwards, without some effort to oppose it, means we are stressing the same area of the body and building up a dangerous imbalance, until it inevitably breaks down. Bear in mind that many runners with chronic knee problems demonstrate over tight hamstrings and weak quadriceps. Therefore, by reversing the action and running backward we are in effect performing a much-needed counteraction.
3. Reduce the risk of injury
Restoring balance to your lower legs. Further reasons are a change in the lower extremity kinetics and the introduction of a toe to heel foot strike. For the majority of forward runners, the heel hits the ground first and the knees act as the reluctant shock absorbers. However, going backwards the force related trauma is minimised. Sort out the imbalance and integrate into our running a more favourable running style and we could be on our way to a less injury prone life.
4. Knee rehabilitative exercise
Backwards running is the perfect knee rehabilitative exercise because it can maintain an athlete’s cardiovascular fitness levels whilst minimising the impact at the knee joint (see above). Furthermore, backward running develops muscles along the sides of the knee and this actually strengthens the knees over time. Other conditions that could respond well to backward running include shin splints and muscle sprains to the lower back, groin and hamstrings.
5. Improving your balance and peripheral vision
Running without the reliance on sight develops other senses, especially hearing whilst improving your balance and peripheral vision. There may also be an increase in proprioception (the body’s ability to sense movement within joints and joint position). Is backward running the ultimate wobble board?
6. Backward running gives your abs a workout
When you run forward, your lower back takes most of the load, but turning around creates a nice reaction for your abdominal muscles whilst the lower back gets some respite.
7. A more erect posture
You run with your shoulders drawn back and your back will be straight. Compare this to the slightly slumped posture and protruding abdomen often observed in runners. Studies have also shown that over time backward running can lead to realigned vertebrae and relieve pressure on the nerves. This is because the back is in partial extension when we run backwards. Partial extension is one of the six basic human postures but it is hardly ever practiced unless we habitually have a good stretch by leaning back, but even then it’s momentary. The longer we run backwards, the greater the benefits. As with our lower body, we have spent far too long moving in one direction and whatever we do we are usually hunched forward. May not be an issue now, but it will be as you get older.
8. IT’S FUN
The perfect psychological lift for anyone in the running doldrums and adds an exciting, varied element to your workout, especially when performed in a group. Perhaps half way through your next ten-mile training run, why not turn around and run backwards (provided it’s somewhere safe) for one minute.
Since Meeting Garret & being introduced to Retro Running
I “met” Garret at first through Facebook when I was right in the middle of the Spartan Challenge. He is so passionate about the retro running, and at first like most people I’m sure I thought he was slightly crazy ha ha. After a little bit of pestering I eventually gave the backwards running a little go on the treadmill, my first experience was slightly shocking as I promptly fell off as I lost my balance lol. I promised Garret I would give it another go once I had the Spartan Challenge out of the way as I was so worried about injuring myself. After a little more gentle persuasion I met up with Garret in person for a retro training session. He showed me the tips on how to retro run on the treadmill without killing myself and we also went outside for a retro run too. Even though we were travelling much slower than I would going forwards the sweat was pouring off me and my heart rate was right up there as if I was doing sprint training – just showed how hard my body was working just going the opposite way. The next day I woke up and my calves were SO sore, almost like I’d run a marathon on them!! Wow – it took me a few days to loosen them up. After looking at the benefits I decided it was definitely worth a shot. During my first year of running I had injury after injury with weak ankles, knees and hips so it was worth a try! It was costing us a fortune on physio’s and chiropractors! Since November 2011 I have been retro running on my treadmill at home once a week (because I don’t currently have a guide to spot for me), and have to say I’m pretty impressed. I feel like my legs have really improved in muscles terms, and my previous injuries are virtually non existent – my knees used to give me SO much trouble, but now I feel like my muscles are supporting my knee a whole lot better. It really does seem to make sense that I should try to improve and work on ALL my muscles not just the ones I use going forward. And the fact it gets my heart rate up and burns more fat over less time is also a nice bonus 🙂 I have even managed to get a couple of my fellow runners involved with retro running and they too thought it was strange to start off with but after explaining the benefits and since actually doing it they have only positive things to say and are also hooked. I am positive that my success this year with my running has partially been because of Retro Running and to Garret. I am sure in years to comes Retro Running will be a completely normal part of peoples exercise routine.
The only disadvantage of Retro Running is that when your are starting off you do need a guide to be your “eyes” for you, until you get used to being able to turn your head around yourself. I found the best way to start was on the treadmill. Having a guide will promote trust and improve communication and can be great for couples to get out together. Your “guide” could go on a bike if they needed to. As one starts off very slowly with backward running if they start on a path, on grass or a beach or track then the guide will gradually become unnecessary. By looking to the side you can still see 2/3rds of what’s behind you and that retro running can make the neck muscles very strong and it also sharpens your senses.
With running forward in our cushioned running shoes its hard for us to land any other way but with backward running the bony heel won’t come into play in the same way. [Try jogging on the spot, what do u notice..?…there is no chance for heel striking, just like barefoot runners, African runners and especially sprinters who land midfoot first [a very similar foot placement happens while running in reverse] this is the way we were born to run, not landing on our heel first which can happen automatically with the high heeled cushioned running shoes. So in turn landing on your forefoot as well as causing less impact can help prevent runners knee, back problems and shin splints, meaning we can run injury free and for a lot longer. While burning 30% more calories, if you are short on exercise time, retro running is ideal.
Backward running will not be suitable for everyone: some of you will just not feel comfortable and say sure I can hardly run forward – but even walking backwards will still give you the benefits of working the different muscles, everybody can benefit from a more muscularly balanced body.
Nevertheless, the benefits other than staying free from injury merits its consideration and there really is very little argument against backward running. The bottom line is the benefit to risk ratio is a lot more favourable than most other sports including running forward. People may look at you a little crazy – but hey, why not give it a try and take it in turns next time you’re out walking with your friends, it will give you a little light hearted lift as well as all the added benefits to your workout 🙂
Just once a week, the long-term benefits could be amazing and this lesser known exercise offers us an opportunity to eschew our blinkered approach to dealing with injuries and embrace something new.
What do you have to lose? Good luck and once you start, you may never look back again – or should that be forward? 🙂
Don’t be afraid to give this a go and if you would like further information on Retro Running you can either contact me or contact Garret directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
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