Back when I played organized sports, a common practice drill was a backwards running series. To me, the exercise always seemed more about breaking up the monotony of the dreaded end-of-practice running drills rather than a strategic way to improve players' fitness. But some believe running in reverse has real physical benefits: They say it can relieve lower back pain, increase flexibility and coordination and burn more calories than the conventional form.
A recent post on NYU's Scienceline takes a closer look at the backwards running trend, compares it to the barefoot running craze and offers prudent advice for those considering taking the toe-heel approach:
A driving underlying assumption of the barefoot running fad was the questionable notion that something so primitive couldn’t be harmful. The “au natural” factor is also invoked by those arguing that backwards running is so simple, not requiring any gadgetry or equipment, that it must be safe.
...any type of new movement, even if it promises to be beneficial, must be introduced very slowly. Many barefoot running injuries might have been avoided if the new exercise was added one minute at a time, according to [Harvard exercise scientist Daniel Lieberman]. He sees many excited athletes approach barefoot exercise with a running start, when they really should be inching along at a crawl.
... if something sounds too good to be true – take off your shoes and never get injured again! Go gninnur and say goodbye to low back pain! – it probably is. When it comes to backwards running, proceed with caution.
The video above features the London Backward Run, where supporters of backwards running discuss their perspectives on how the form of physical activity is beneficial to the body.