This week we are going to feature an exercise that I genuinely believe everyone needs to get good at.
This is a skill that is so key to so many sports. I can think of a handful off the top of my head that running backwards is specifically a skill used in the sport:
"Like forward running (FR), backward running (BR) occurs in bursts during many over-ground sports (e.g., soccer, rugby, American football, and most racquet sports). A recent review of BR by Uthoff et al. highlights the immediate and long-term effects of BR on athletic performance. Sports warm-up programs such as the “FIFA 11+,” “Harmoknee,” and “Prevent Injury and Enhance Performance” include BR to pre-pare adolescent athletes for the demands of competition, reduce injury rates."
Even for sports where this skill doesn't seem to have an obvious or direct transfer, namely, track and field, where sprinters always run in one direction, straight, and curve one way, left, around the track... it is beneficial for them to include this drill.
The research points to the benefits of including backwards running:
"The major finding of this study was that individuals in both running groups (FR and BR) improved sprinting performance and vertical leg stiffness compared with the individuals in the control group who participated in normal P.E. curriculum. Moreover, BR seemed to provide the greatest performance benefits for countermovement jump height (CMJ) and 10-m and 20-m sprint times compared with the control and FR groups"
In the video above, you can find some quick and easy ways to start teaching and learning how to backwards run, demonstrated by a 10-year track and field veteran for Team Canada, Rachael McIntosh.
Lastly, why should we use backward running in our programs for youth, up to National Team Athletes? Here are a few pointers:
Progressive backward running is recommended as a safe and effective training method for training speed, as long as it is coached sufficiently
The training adaptation to backward running can be used to improve forward running, jumping, and leg stiffness in adolescent athletes
Backward running can be considered a novel stimulus that is particularly beneficial for those who have not implemented this type of training in their program before
When speaking to top track coaches in Canada and the USA, they all seem to agree that backward running could be preventative of hamstring injuries, and/or a good drill to include for hamstring injury prevention
Technical proficiency in backward running can create a new motor learning stimulus for forward running when the technique is well-coached.
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Uthoff, A., Oliver, J., Cronin, J., Harrison, C., Winwood, P. Sprint-Specific Training in Youth: Backward Running vs. Forward Running Training on Speed and Power measures in Adolescent Male Athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. (2020) 1113-1122, 34(4).