Walking Help to our Health

Backward walking, like forward walking, is an activity in which one always maintains contact with the ground unlike running, which has an airborne phase. Consequently, the force to the body at impact is minimal in walking compared to jogging or running. This alone can be a benefit if one is suffering from an impact-type injury which could manifest as a sore knee, stress fracture, or similar problem. To this end, walking forward or backward could be a means to maintain cardiovascular fitness without risking further force-related trauma to the lower extremities.

The kinematics, or patterns, of walking forward are somewhat different than those of walking backward. Some of the differences can be observed visually, while others activation patterns of muscles specific joint angle differences have been quantified scientifically. We will synthesize the information that we have learned in the laboratory in order to make it more practical for general understanding.

The implications of the differences between forward and backward locomotion are of primary importance in understanding any given exercise routine. As stated previously, backward walking reduces significantly the “impact” force upon contact, due to the reduced stride length, foot contact pattern, and lower extremity kinematic pattern see Arata, High Speed Backward Running for further detail. As well, range of motion at the knee joint is reduced during backward walking incorporating a nearly isometric pattern following contact compared to a more stressful eccentric loading. This can be especially advantageous for rehabilitation of knee joint injuries. In addition during backward walking, the hamstrings muscles along the back of the thigh are stretched prior to activation in thigh reversal and contact due to hip flexion. Given this pre-stretch, any additional load, as is introduced during weight bearing / backward walking, is in the form of an added load / stretch upon the muscle group, which can be helpful in both rehabilitation and training scenarios.

A simple exercise routine developed by the authors that has benefitted many older adults is as follows. Two individuals work together as a team. They stand facing each other and hold each other’s hands. As one person walks backward, the other walks forward. The coupling of the two individuals by holding hands assists with balance and the person walking forward serves as the “eyes” for both individuals. Both of these aspects provide an added degree of comfort/confidence especially during the initial exercise periods. The walk can be of any reasonable length, but short to moderate distances enhance the exercise by requiring more changes of direction for the pair. For more details visit www.soundbodytrainer.com

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