Knee running pain can be improved by running backwards because doing so allows for an automatic adoption of a forefoot strike landing pattern which reduces ground reaction forces, knee moments, and deceleration at touchdown and during stance.
Knee Running Pain? Try Running Backwards
If you run backward, you do not heel strike, you will actually forefoot strike. In addition, the center of mass (COM) will be right where you want it which is above foot strike position at all times. This eliminates braking and joint loading.
- Backward running drills also force you to pick the feet up quickly and eventually program the neuromuscular system to adopt a higher step rate for when you run forward on your forefoot.
Another equally powerful factor of backward running is it helps you recognize the location of the center of pressure (COP) on the foot at touchdown in which the COP should always begin at the forefoot and end at the heel and not the reverse as in heel strike running in the forward direction.
A recent study by Roos et al., in the Journal of Biomechanics discovered that backward running reduced patellofemoral joint forces (PTF) compared to forward running because backward running led to an automatic forefoot strike landing whereas the runners who ran forward maintained heel strike.
PTF manifests in many heel strikers as heel strike running increases knee moments and the ground reaction force compared with forefoot strike running.
Furthermore, in heel strike running, the COP travels much slower over the foot, indicative of longer ground contact time and thus more time for force production on the body.
In the same study, the forward runners (heel strikers) interacted more aggressively with the ground at push-off to fuel momentum whereas a backward lean contributed to momentum in the backward runners (forefoot strikers) which lowered knee stress.
Habitual forefoot strikers, especially barefoot runners, do not push-off to initiate flight. Instead, they lean or fall forward for continuous momentum which reduces knee moments and the magnitude of the ground reaction force, making running easier on the knee joint.
The act of falling forward coupled with pulling of the foot minimizes deceleration during forefoot running.
Backward running was also found to reduce deceleration compared to forward running with a heel strike.
The Take Home Message
Drills of backward running improves a forefoot running learners’ initial interactions with the ground by preventing heel strike, favoring a foot strike position closer to the knee and the COM, and prevents the risk of deceleration at each step, all of which shields the knees from damage.
Beyond improving forefoot strike mechanics, backward running drills enhances the connection between perceptual awareness and bodily response to help you learn to maintain good forefoot running form when running longer distances under fatigued conditions.
More From Run Forefoot:
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Improve your forefoot running biomechanics by running faster
Reviews and recommendations on barefoot running shoes for forefoot running.
How heel strike running increases your risk of osteoarthritic knees.
Roos, PE., Barton, N and van Deursen, RWM. Patellofemoral joint compression forces in backward and forward running. J Biomech, 2012; 45:1656-1660.
BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.
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