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Why you Should Incorporate Backward Running in your Training

Athletes of all types typically participate a variety of different training methods to maximize optimal performance and prevent injury. Backward running is one of those methods used. It consists of an upright body posture and contralateral arm swing. Running itself is defined as a form of gait consisting of a single support phase and double flight phase.

The main difference in backward running than in forward running is that visual feedback is altered and greater demands are placed on alternative sensory systems to maintain postural awareness. It creates a tactical advantage for the athlete, as it will allow to make more informed decisions.

Backward running is common for injury prevention and rehabilitation purposes. It is also used as a training tool to increase aerobic fitness, vertical jump height, change of direction performance, and sprinting speeds.

In comparison to forward running, backward requires greater energetic expenditure, increased joint range of motion, decreased lower leg compliance, mostly isometrics and concentric muscle actions, greater leg muscle activation, less stress on the knee joint, and greater rate of force development.

It is important on learning how to integrate this training method effectively to avoid accommodation. One most learn to progress in phases of speed, volume and intensity. A further progression may implement external resistance.

Phase I - Speed

This should always be performed on soft surfaced such as grass or turf. Speed ranges may consist of 40-55%, 60-75% ad 90%+ of max velocity. Repetitions will vary from 2-10 reps depending on velocity. Usually an introductory program may be conducted in a microcycle of 2 weeks with training done 2x per week. Total distance should be 15-20 meters.

Phase 2 - Volume

Once familiar with high intensities and gain maximal training speeds with no external feedback, the next phase is to overload by modifying volume. This will either change the distance travelled at each intensity or the sum of all intensities. Sprint programs should be performed 2-3x per week for no more than 6 weeks, consisting of 16 runs of about 15-30 meters per session.

Phase 3 - Resistance

Once progressed from phases 1 and 2, external loads can be added in the form of resisted sled towing. This helps to improve sprinting performance and lower body power in the form of unilateral strength training. This should focus on 2-3x per week for no more than 6 weeks with loads of >20% body mass.

Backwards running is a great means of aerobic, anaerobic, and neuromuscular training that doesn't overload tendons and ligaments as much as regular forward running. It is of course to note that the progressions listed above are for healthy, uninjured athletes.