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Don’t knock it – walking backwards is an exhilarating workout



Don’t knock it – walking backwards is an exhilarating workout

As someone who has the unconscious posture of a cheese quaver, after years of sitting at desks and bending over a small child, this is welcome news. But can it really burn that many calories, I ask? After all, it’s only walking. Studies show that walking backwards uses 30 per cent more energy. Nailson whips out his phone and shows me the results from his heart monitor from the day before; 30 minutes of retro walking combined with sled training resulted in 421 calories burnt, all while minimising the strain on his knees, and hips. As a result, backward walking is often used in rehabilitation settings, Nailson tells me. “It aids in recovery from injuries because it’s a gentle movement, it engages your muscle, but it’s not an excessive strain.”

Ramping up your retro-walk while protecting your joints 

“Let’s see how you get along with this,” says Nailson, taking me through a long, carpeted corridor with a weights sled at one end. “Pulling the sled like this,” he starts walking backwards, pulling the sled with his arms in a locked position, “shortens your hamstrings, glutes, and back muscles”. 

I give it a go and again, I am surprised by just how much attention it takes to walk backwards, without tripping over my own feet or losing my nerve. The immediate tautness in my buttocks and stomach is noticeable; and very different to the feeling when I push the sledge forward. “This puts less stress on joints than traditional weightlifting,” explains Nailson, who uses the technique with some clients who are in their 60s and 70s. 

‘Training at this level enhances endurance and performance, allowing for high-intensity exercise without rapid fatigue. Depending on your training goals, different heart rate zones can be targeted. For instance, the fat-burning zone is typically around 60-70 per cent of your maximum heart rate, which is ideal for weight loss and improving basic endurance. The aerobic zone, at 70-80 per cent, focuses on cardiovascular fitness and stamina. Training just below the lactate threshold, around 85-90 per cent of your maximum heart rate, is optimal for improving performance and endurance, as it allows you to exercise intensely without quickly fatiguing.”  

Retro-walking in the wild 

The next day, inspired by my gym session, I try a little bit of retro walking in the wild. Running backwards is usually done with a partner – someone who runs alongside you, facing front, and holding your hand to make sure you avoid obstacles. However, it’s early and nobody wants to join me. So I trot gently backwards along the towpath for a few metres, bathed in a hazy green light, looking over my shoulder every few seconds to make sure I’m not about to plop straight into the Thames. 

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