Walking Backwards for Christmas

The title of a crazy song by The Goons and now a suggestion to improve balance, knee funcion and brain health. Who would have thought?

people who are interested in functional movement, I would proffer.

We have spent this last term using, talking about, massaging and generally focusing upon feet. The stability of the outer edge and the spring provided by the inner arch and the all-important big toe. Have a look at this blog:


Walking forward relies upon the interaction of muscle-tendon elasticity. There is an “elastic recoil” that takes place through the achilles tendon attached to the gastrocenius and soleus muscles. The push-off with a stiff foot lever gives us good foot-ground contact force. Muscles of the foot, ankle are particularly active, that is why we crouch on the balls of our feet and sway from side to side; that’s why Sprinters is also so important. Ground reaction force means that the effect of the movement travels through the body – recall all the work we do on noticing how movement travels freely through the body – or does not travel freely due to tension. Have a look at this:

A 2019 study published in The Clinical Rehabilitation Journal indicated that backwards walking improves stability and balance. It causes us to take shorter, more frequent steps, leading to improved muscular endurance for the muscles of the lower leg, whilst reducing the burden on our joints.

The postural changes brought about by walking backwards also use more of the muscles supporting our lumbar spine – suggesting backwards walking could be a particularly beneficial exercise for people with chronic lower back pain.

Competency in walking backwards can lead to running backwards, which can benefit knees even more as it strengthens the knee extensor muscles – the muscles that straighten the leg . I do know of an athlete who was advised to run backwards as part of recovery from a bad knee injury, in order to avoid surgery. It seems to have worked.

If interested, there are a number of recent studies listed on The National Library of Medicine:


A 2019 study in Experimental Gerontology suggests that older women take shorter steps during backwards walking and obstacle crossing , which, when considering the information above would seem useful but this seems to be linked with lack of confidence and strength – we can’t win!!!: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0531556518307861.

The above may link to brain health since walking is complicated. To remain upright requires coordination between our visual, vestibular (sensations linked to movements such as twisting, spinning or moving fast) and proprioceptive (awareness of where our bodies are in space) systems. When we walk backwards, it takes longer for our brains to process the extra demands of coordinating these systems. However, this increased level of challenge brings with it increased health benefits.

We have been walking backwards along the yoga mat and some people report walking backwards uphill to reduce strain. However, it is best practised in a safe enviroment. I would agree with the conclusion given in the Clinical Rehabilitation study – that backwards walking with conventional physiotherapy is effective and worthwhile in patients with knee osteoarthritis. But , backwards walking for those with gait impairment; balance issues; loss of confidence that can come with ageing is a different study all together.

What do do? Well, we practice Warrior with emphasis on the heel being well placed; ankle-knee alignment and the pelvis moving forward as we look up (activating the long chain of muscles at the back of the body). Perhaps stepping back into Warrior is more useful than we thought.

If you can bear this – here it is. Otherwise : Happy Christmas.

One thought on “Walking Backwards for Christmas

  1. Hi Liz – this was fascinating and have had the whole family doing it (much to my amusement!).

    Here’s wishing you and your family a healthy happy Christmas and all the best for 2023.

    thank you so much for including me in your mailing list.

    Alison x


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