How to include backwards running into your program to enhance performance
A research review from the Performance Digest
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By James de Lacy
6th November 2019 | 3 min read
Contents of Research Review
Backward running (BR) has been used to prepare athletes for competition demands and as a return-to-play protocol for injured athletes. BR is different to other forms of backward locomotion such as back pedalling as BR more closely emulates forward running (FR). Recent reviews of BR have shown enhancements in a range of athletic performance measure and, as such, this study aimed to examine the acute responses to BR and provide practical recommendations for integrating BR into a training program.
A review was performed of the current BR literature and covered several themes:
This article set to highlight the role of BR in a sporting context, providing insight into why BR may be beneficial for athletes.
As stated above, BR can be used in a myriad of situations from return-to-play, rehabilitation, or performance enhancement as a result of physiological or muscular adaptations. It is suggested that BR be used as a method to vary exercise selection and should be progressed in the order of:
A general guideline for BR volumes that have shown to lead to positive adaptations are 2-3 times a week for >6 weeks with approximately 16 runs over 15-30 m per session. In Issue #20 of the Performance Digest, I detailed some practical uses of BR for aerobic performance and return-to-play. BR for return-to-play is a perfect regression to FR, especially for players with a knee, ankle, or foot injury that are ready to perform faster locomotion. Less compressive forces at the knee and decreased range-of-motion at the ankle, whilst putting greater contractile demands on musculotendinous structures makes it an enticing exercise. A good starting point based on the recommendations would be 10-16 x 15 m runs with a walk back recovery at slow speed. From here, speed and volume can be increased until the athlete is comfortable BR 3 times per week for 30 m at a time. By this time, it is likely you’ll be able to mix in some FR to the session.
“While it is suggested to increase running speed first, I prefer to increase the volume first, especially in a return-to-play scenario. The extensive nature of the run will only help to build the structural tissue in the lower limbs that will help protect the area as speed increases and progresses to FR.
Furthermore, BR can be used as a tool during multi-directional tempo running to develop aerobic qualities. Perhaps, BR can be used as a variation to FR to reduce overuse FR injuries. So, if FR conditioning is usually performed 2 days following game day, potentially every 3-4 weeks, this could be replaced with repeats of 30 m BR.”
The full study can be read here.
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