For most athletes, their training includes a substantial amount of running. It's how we jog, sprint, and move from drill to drill during practice.
But aside from a small group of select athletes, few people dedicate much time to backward running. As a former Olympic sprinter, I believe backward running (or backpedaling) can be a powerful way to improve coordination, balance, and resistance to a lower-body injury. Even if your sport doesn't require you to run backward very often (or at all, such as the case for track athletes), integrating backward running into your routine can improve your ability to run forward. Here's a breakdown of this often-overlooked training technique.
NFL DBs Reap The Benefits Naturally
There are a lot of hamstring injuries in the NFL. The position that tears the hamstring the least is usually the DB position. The reason for this is because they spend so much time backpedaling. A DB rarely goes a play without having to backpedal at least a few steps.
There are few sports that require back peddling like this. In hockey, you skate backward but that's not quite the same, and in soccer and basketball you may backpedal for a short period to give yourself a chance to turn your hips.
A popular conclusion for most sports is that since the sport does not need backpedaling, why practice it? In theory, this is often true, DBs practice backpedaling because it's essential for their position.
Every Speed Sport Needs to Move Backward
If you play a sport that commonly suffers hamstring injuries, you need to make sure that you backpedal on a regular basis. The reason most get away from it is because it seems like it does not directly transfer to sport. Many have become obsessed with sport-specific training. Most of the time that is a good thing, but if you can't stay healthy enough to do the training, then it won't matter anyway.
Moving backward is one of the most natural ways to strengthen your hamstrings for the running motion. When you move backward you have to lift the heal and move the thigh backward. To do this, you have to use the hamstring, glutes, and lower back, which are the key muscles to strengthen in order to prevent hamstring problems. The faster you go through this motion, the more you strengthen the lower legs. You can do backward running at full speed if you want to challenge yourself.
How to Make it a Daily Practice
The easiest way to make sure you do this every day is to build it into your daily warmup and warm down. When most people warm up, they will start with some jogging laps. Make one of those laps backward skipping. When you are doing strides or sprints to pick up the intensity, try some of them backward.
While cooling down, work on different backward movements. The point of a cool down is to bring the body from a high intensity back to a lower intensity of movement. The best way to do this is to start off with a backward run, then a backward jog, and then a slow backward walk. You kill two birds with one stone because you are cooling down and working your posterior chain simultaneously.
Don't Over Do The Backwards Running
Athletes tend to take a good thing and do it so much that it becomes a bad thing. You don't need to make backward running the focal point of everything you do. Similar to how you should never do the same exercises in the weight room. Backward running is no different. You don't have to do it over. If you do a lot of backward running one day, you can take the next day off. The point is to get the body moving backward correctly.