Walking Backward on a Treadmill — An Unhelpful Trend or Worth Your Time?

Backward walking is undoubtedly something you’ve seen take hold in the gym lately. A lot of this popularity may come from your fave fitness influencers on TikTok. And while not everything we see on social media is, ahem, a good idea, there are some creative approaches out there. And walking backward on a treadmill is both eye-catching and seemingly simple.

But does reversing course really change the game all that much? From addressing knee pain to circulation and more, this unique spin on traditionally more, shall we say, straightforward cardio certainly promises a lot. Here’s the need to know about walking backward on a treadmill.

Benefits of Walking Backwards on a Treadmill

Walking backward on a treadmill may not give you the world, but it can still provide many of the traditional benefits of treadmill work — such as an effective warm-up for strength or cardio training. One of the most unique distinctions is how physical therapists and gym rats alike have noticed its potential impact on knee pain.

Knee Pain and Balance

Even the best cushioned treadmills can’t totally prevent nagging pains in different muscles that you use a lot. 

One of the most common ailments treated in physical therapy is knee pain. However, not every instance of knee pain requires as dramatic intervention as it would seem. The effects of a six-week backward treadmill walking intervention on knee pain in participants with osteoarthritis showed a greater reduction in pain when compared to walking forward or traditional physical therapy. (1

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Similarly, another study looked at the impact of reverse walking on a treadmill on measures of stride length, balance, and step velocity. The intervention was three sessions per week of reverse walking at three kilometers per hour at a 10 percent incline grade. The results again showed favorable outcomes for reverse walking, improving all three metrics to a similar or greater extent than forward walking. (2)

Revamping Your Warm-Up

If you spend a lot of time fantasizing about hoisting heavy barbells, it’s easy to overlook the importance of warming up for a lower-body workout. Especially after logging significant time in the gym, standard-issue treadmill walking (or any other general warm-up) may start to feel more and more bland. Walking backward on the treadmill adds some creativity and balance challenges while being just as powerful at warming up for a hard day’s work.

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An effective lower body warm-up improves the range of motion and activates specific muscles. The quads, hamstrings, and hip flexors all get a nice dose of attention from walking backward on the treadmill, and it’s easy to implement for beginners and advanced athletes alike. 

Cardiovascular Training

Walking backward on the treadmill has been found to improve anaerobic performance after performing three sessions per week for six weeks. (3)(4) So, yes, it seems that reversing direction “counts” as cardio, indeed.

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You’ll just need a slow speed — no need for backward running, here — and you’ll already be logging the kind of physical activity you need to get going. (Make sure your hands are ready by the side rails during your backward walking workout or warm-up.)

How to Safely Walk Backwards on a Treadmill

Walking backward on the treadmill has some great benefits — but it also has a few details we should account for to safely perform your sessions. Walking backward is not necessarily a skill we perform as regularly as walking forwards. 

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Here are some step-by-step — pun intended — considerations to think about.

Stand on the treadmill facing forward. Place your hands on the handrails for balance.

Turn the treadmill on and select your desired pace and grade (no need to go fast here).

Using the handrails and sides of the treadmill, rotate to face backward and step back onto the canvas.

Keep your hands on the handrails and begin walking backward.

Adjust the pace, incline, or stop the session by using the buttons located on the handrails.

If no handrail buttons exist, simply step off of the treadmill, then safely turn it off.

Walking Backwards Outside Vs. Walking Backwards on a Treadmill

Walking backward on a treadmill sure is trending, but what about walking backward outside?

A systematic review and meta-analysis checked out the differences and similarities between treadmill walking versus ground walking more generally. It showed that there are numerous differences in the benefits of joint positioning and ranges of motion for athletes during outdoor ground walking and treadmill walking. It also showed a difference in muscle activation patterns. However, other measures such as energy consumption remained similar. (5

This analysis suggests that while there are some similarities in overall outcomes such as calories burned, the pattern of muscle engagement is likely subtly unique during ground walking or treadmill walking.

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Another important detail to consider is that you completely control the environment during reverse treadmill walking compared to outdoor walking. The treadmill allows you to set the pace, incline, and separate yourself from running into anyone else. 

Outdoor walking is less predictable than treadmill walks. Particularly when you turn yourself around and walk backward, the grade of the terrain and the risk of accidentally walking into people or ground hazards goes up tremendously.

Who Should Walk Backwards on a Treadmill?

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Walking backward on a treadmill has some pretty intriguing benefits. Given how easy it is to set up and execute, here’s who might benefit most from trying it.

Beginners: Sometimes, beginners need to keep it extra interesting to keep committed to a training program — fun is the name of the game for athletes at any level. You also may want to boost your confidence, balance, and strength without increasing the intensity or impact level. Walking backward fits the bill.

Strength Athletes: Strength athletes sometimes experience knee pain from all the heavy lifting they perform. Some backward walking might be just the thing for these athletes. And even without knee pain, everyone’s got to warm up. And if you’re the type of lifter who hates cardio, starting your day with backward treadmill walking is a great way to bump your heart rate and activate a ton of muscle.

Bodybuilders: Bodybuilders routinely use cardio for calorie burn and overall health during contest preparation. Adding backward walking on the treadmill is another tool in their toolbelt.

Athletes Recovering From Certain Injuries: Walking backward on the treadmill can be a useful tool during rehabilitation. However, if your injury has impacted your stability, walking confidence, or balance, you might want to stick to the forward direction until you feel steady enough to go backward.

Frequently Asked Questions

With the trend of walking backward on a treadmill booming, here are some frequently asked questions to help clear up the details.

Is there any benefit to walking backward on a treadmill?

Walking backward on a treadmill has similar cardio benefits as walking forward. It is a great warm-up tool that helps bump your heart rate and burn calories. This approach also seems to be a good option for rehabilitation, managing knee pain, and improving balance. (1)(2)

Is walking backward good for weight loss?

In general, walking is excellent for balance, and walking backward on a treadmill continues that trend. One study, in particular, showed that walking backward on a treadmill three days per week for six weeks was able to change the body composition of the young women participating in the research. (4)

What muscles does walking backward work?

Walking backward on the treadmill hits many of the same muscles as walking forward, just with a different emphasis. The quads, glutes, hamstrings, and core are all engaged during backward walking; however, you may simply feel more fatigue in different patterns than during forward walking.


Alghadir, A. H., Anwer, S., Sarkar, B., Paul, A. K., & Anwar, D. (2019). Effect of 6-week retro or forward walking program on pain, functional disability, quadriceps muscle strength, and performance in individuals with knee osteoarthritis: a randomized controlled trial (retro-walking trial). BMC musculoskeletal disorders, 20(1), 159. 

Cha, H. G., Kim, T. H., & Kim, M. K. (2016). Therapeutic efficacy of walking backward and forward on a slope in normal adults. Journal of physical therapy science, 28(6), 1901–1903. 

Kachanathu, S. J., Alenazi, A. M., Algarni, A. D., Hafez, A. R., Hameed, U. A., Nuhmani, S., & Melam, G. (2014). Effect of forward and backward locomotion training on anaerobic performance and anthropometrical composition. Journal of physical therapy science, 26(12), 1879–1882. 

Terblanche, E., Page, C., Kroff, J., & Venter, R. E. (2005). The effect of backward locomotion training on the body composition and cardiorespiratory fitness of young women. International journal of sports medicine, 26(3), 214–219. 

Semaan, M. B., Wallard, L., Ruiz, V., Gillet, C., Leteneur, S., & Simoneau-Buessinger, E. (2022). Is treadmill walking biomechanically comparable to overground walking? A systematic review. Gait & posture, 92, 249–257. 

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