Running in reverse

Leslie Goldman demystifies and debunks weird and wonderful trends in health and fitness.

As far as workout trends go, barefoot running is cool and all, but I find the occasional rusty-nail-in-my-arch to be a bit off-putting. That's why I'm psyched for this even hotter trend: running backwards. I mean, why run facing forward looking out for oncoming traffic when you can turn around and let fate decide whether you live to see another episode of The Voice?

Backwards running fans -- who reportedly include the LPGA's top-ranked golfer Yani Tseng -- claim their unusual style is kinder on joints, sharpens balance and peripheral vision and burns more calories than traditional jogging. Also called retro-running, the style even has a Guinness world record holder: Timothy "Bud" Badyna of St. Simons Island, Ga., nabbed the title in 2001, racing 200 meters tush-first in 32.78 seconds. This Benjamin Button of running also completed a sub-four-hour backward marathon.

Retro-runners might not be totally off-base: Research presented at the American College of Sports Medicine's annual meeting in June suggested that moving backward on treadmills and elliptical machines helps people move forward in terms of quadriceps and hamstring strength as well as aerobic capacity. (Rumor also has it that if you're listening to "Stronger," by Kanye West, on your iPod while jogging backward, you'll hear Satanic messages.)

But reverse elliptical pedaling is one thing; heading out for a rear-facing 10K is quite another.

"Backwards running can be a helpful form of movement-specific training for team sports that require explosive movements from side to side, diagonally or backwards, like basketball, soccer, volleyball or lacrosse," said Jake Havenar, Ph.D., a running coach and consultant based in Mountain View, Calif. "But for distance runners or even the average runner, it's not so prevalent."

Perhaps that's because blindness, neck pain, inefficiency, mental exhaustion and the occasional steaming pile of dog doo-doo are known performance-sappers?

Want to give backward locomotion a try, but in a safe way? Incorporate some back-pedaling on the elliptical during warm-ups. Or try a backward dynamic hip stretch: Lunge back with your right foot, maintaining a tall posture, arms overhead. Then bend forward at waist, placing both hands on the ground inside the right ankle to deepen the stretch. Stand and repeat on the left side.

Shoot or pass? For anything more than a warm-up, Pass. This trend is ass-backwards.

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