Retro Walk Revisit

The other day my husband and I were driving down the road towards the pet store.  We were officially out of treats for the dogs and they let us know it that morning when they sat at the empty treat jar on the counter long after Craig left for work and I started painting.  So, because our dogs are severely spoiled rotten we love our dogs so much, we headed out at 6:30 that evening despite the fact that it was raining. 


Craig was driving which gave me a chance to sit back and gaze out the window.  I spotted a figure alongside the road, probably about 50 yards ahead of us.  I watched as we grew closer to each other.  For some reason, though I couldn’t figure out why at the time, this person looked odd.  It wasn’t until I was nearly 30 feet away that I realized what the young man was doing. 

‘Hey!!’  I said to Craig and pointed.   ‘He’s retro-walking!’ which is my term for walking backwards.

Since my surgery a couple of months ago I’ve been fighting to stay active.  My definition of active has changed considerably since surgery.   Before, I had a hard time finding a moment to sit down long enough to tie my shoes.  Post-surgery however, has left me struggling to get back into a routine.  Everything makes me tired.  Everything.  In fact, right now I need to get up and brush my teeth but if I do, I’ll come back to this laptop and instead of finishing my post I’ll set it on the floor because I’ll need a nap after all that activity.  lol

(Rest easy, ladies – retro walking has not changed my lower body type to that of the opposite sex.  The guy has good lookin’ legs though, no?) 


Retro-walking has actually been one of the few things I’ve been able to do that leaves me feeling tired, but in a good kind of way.  I used to do this as an exercise during the winter months when it was too cold to walk outside and I needed something, anything to take the boredom out of walking on the dreadmill in my dank basement.   I’d read that it was good when recovering from an injury because it was easier on the joints, but happily found out that it was easy on the entire body as well, even after abdominal surgery.  I was able to start out as slowly as I needed and still felt the benefits of elevated heart rate.  Just so you know, retro-walking increases heart rate up to 47% more than when walking forward!

Another benefit to retro-walking after surgery was that it helped with my post-anesthesia ‘brain fog’.  For weeks I suffered from a hazy state of mind (remember when I accidently signed up for an online dating service?)  When walking backwards, either by treadmill or on any flat surface it takes some getting used to.  You really have to think about what you’re doing.   I had to clip the safety key from the treadmill to the tail of my shirt so if I veered off the platform I could just pull away from the key and not careen into the wall. 

This brings me to another reason why I was intrigued by the guy I saw the other day.  I for one, wouldn’t dream of walking backward on a busy street.  Knowing me, I’d step smack in the middle of a pothole or worse: road kill.   No thanks.  For me, I like the safety of my treadmill for this exercise.  If you on the other hand, are a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, throwing all caution to the wind kind of person and want to head out right now and try it for yourself, here are a few tips that will keep you safe whether inside or outside:


  1. if using the treadmill, start out slowly.  Give your body time to get used to the motion of walking backward.  After all, how often do you normally do this, right?  
  2. the recommended distance for the first week is .25 of a mile. 
  3. clip the safety key from your treadmill to the tail of your shirt.  This way, if you should happen to lose your balance, you won’t hurt yourself.
  4. Once you feel comfortable enough, let go of the side bars on the treadmill.  You’ll get the most benefit this way.
  5. if retro walking outside, start out on a smooth running track, or walk with a partner who will forward walk; this way he or she can warn you of potholes, uneven ground (again, think potholes) and help you set your pace.

One of the things that I find upsetting here in my neck of the woods is that there are barely any sidewalks on which to walk.  It’s unfortunate if you want the convenience of putting on your shoes and heading out the front door.  Unless I want to be in my basement on the treadmill I have to get in my car and drive elsewhere in order to exercise.  A friend of mine once wrote to the mayor of our city and asked why there were no sidewalks.  The answer? They didn’t want anyone walking because they felt it was too dangerous for pedestrians.  Well then, where do we walk?   There are plenty of places for bikers, but walkers still struggle in finding a safe place to exercise. 

Is it just me or have sidewalks become a thing of the past?  I remember when I was a kid and it was strange NOT to see a sidewalk.  Do you have sidewalks where you live?

12 thoughts on “Retro Walk Revisit

  1. NewMe

    The disappearance of sidewalks in many communities does a huge disservice to our health. Walking is a wonderful, healthy activity that is accessible and doable for a broad segment of the population. Eliminating sidewalks is a way to encourage driving and car-culture in general. It’s terrible for the environment and for our health as individuals and as a population. The only winners when sidewalks disappear are the car makers and the oil companies. We are the losers.

    I’m with you: I certainly wouldn’t retro-walk outside–not even on the sidewalk–but I’m certainly glad to hear that it’s an activity that you can do and that makes you feel good.

    I don’t know if you’ve considered buying walking poles. Walking with poles certainly ups your cardio and it’s both gentler on the joints (I hate to say it, but walking poles are just a tiny bit like canes) while providing an unexpected work-out for the arms. You might want to think about adding walking poles to your recovery arsenal. (BTW, at least in Canada, they cost about $100, though you might be able to find them for less over the Internet.)

    Keep up your excellent recovery!

  2. Norma

    I currently live in a huge, sprawling development of cookie-cutter mcmansions with sidewalks; my previous house was on a secondary highway/main road with no sidewalks (so if I wanted to take my kid(s) out for a walk in the stroller, I had to pack it and them in the car and drive somewhere to do it). The main roads that border our neighborhood on either side do not have sidewalks, not even a shoulder; really — and are narrow, winding, and busy, with 35-45 mph speed limits — and I honestly get freaked out when I have to pass pedestrians, joggers and bicyclists on these roads. There’s enough room in each lane for a car/SUV but a commercial dump truck pretty much spills over into either the oncoming lane or the edge of the road and it’s just not a safe place for a human to be. I had to walk about three miles on one of the roads, in mid-morning daylight, recently when I dropped off my car for service and had no other way to get back home… and it was terrifying every time a car was in my vicinity. I get furious that during weekends from April through November, there are road races and bike races on these roads (which remain open to traffic).

  3. Sharon

    Not sure what rock I just crawled out from under, but I’ve never heard of retro-walking. Now I know. I think I might be to clumsy to be successful at it.

    We have the same problem with lack of sidewalks. Believe it or not, we’ve actually considered MOVING just to get to a neighborhood that is walkable and bikeable. We have a constantly improving greenway/bike trail system and some areas are getting better sidewalks, but I find those to be mostly near schools. Ours is a neighborhood of older homes and I just don’t see it happening any time soon. So for now, we get in the car and drive just so we can walk. Go figure!

  4. Kyra

    We have NO sidewalks, so without someone walking forward to watch out for you, it’d be a very bad idea to try that here! As far as trying it, i’m pretty clumsy going forward, backward would probably be bad. Very bad. :)

  5. Caron

    First I want to say that I got my copy of Woman’s Day yesterday and went right for the article on you. Very nice but way too short. I have the same complaint about Weight Watcher’s magazine. They used to do success stories that were so interesting and quite detailed. Then someone at the magazine had the idea to make them short and sweet. I prefer having a lot more detail.

    On to retro walking now. I just tried it in my bedroom and it was strange but interesting. I actually like the idea if I can figure out how to accomplish it. We have no sidewalks here but I can walk down the hill to the retirement, condo place and have sidewalks most of the way around. :)

  6. Munchberry

    It is called retro walking? Huh.

    I have that feature on my elliptical but I do not use it often because my brain dislikes it. Really.

    We have sidewalks. And then they end and start later. Sort of half assed attempts at it. The kids never use them. They walk right down the center of the road begging to get picked off. Old people use the sidewalks. California – all the neighborhoods I lived in had sidewalks. Florida – only on major streets. Georgia – had em.

  7. E. Jane

    I have also not heard of retro walking, but I have done it and not known what I was doing. Our driveway is actually a long, steep hill, and I have often walked backwards it instead of forwards. It always seemed to be easier. Thanks for sharing this info.

  8. teresa

    sounds like fun. I like walking backwards. Especially up hills. I’m also really fascinated by how it helped with your brain fog. Makes me wonder…..
    I love all your tips.
    Maybe I’ll start to think of exercise as fun again.

  9. Hanlie

    There’s an older gentleman who retro-walks on the Promenade. He has a companion who walks the right way and presumably keeps him from bumping into other people. It looks interesting!

    Sidewalks are disappearing over here too. That is why I’m so pleased with where I live – the Promenade is the best walking space!

  10. Jan

    I’ve never heard of retro-walking, but love the term. We have zero sidewalks here, which is a huge bummer. The roads are narrow as well, which doesn’t help. We do live near a school and people walk around the track all the time. That part is a bonus. I haven’t seen anyone “retro-walking” though. :)

  11. goodnuff

    I have a hard time walking forward sometimes so backwards could be an issue. In Boulder, and I’m sure other places, there are groups that go out dance walking. If I could get over my dislike of being the center of attention this could be fun.


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