Imagine two athletes at the base of a hill, told to run up the hill backward.
Now imagine that Athlete A zooms past Athlete B. In fact, Athlete B looks completely awkward because Athlete B lacks the knee strength to easily get up the hill backward, whereas Athlete A has no problem and needs no warm-up to do so.
Now imagine both athletes are told to run down the hill!
Which athlete do you think is at more risk of the knee injury — the one fragile at that exact motion, or the one stable at that exact motion?
Now imagine Athlete A and Athlete B play a basketball game. Which pair of knees is more at risk?
Now play that out over a season.
Now play that out over 10 seasons.
Athlete A may still be doing OK, while Athlete B has had 3 surgical knee alterations just to be able to stay in the game. He’s had to use ice 4 times a day to keep pain levels down and is popping painkillers like Skittles to dull the pain of playing, because, through all this knee trauma, Athlete B’s knees have only lost more ability.
I was Athlete B. For many years.
Now I’m Athlete A. And have been for many years.
I do not work any harder now than I did then.
I simply reversed the way I train. Literally.
On an anatomical level, what’s really happening when we go backward is that we’re stimulating stronger muscles and tendons in the areas which protect our knees, compared to forward!
Your vastus medialis muscles are the lower, teardrop-shaped quadricep (thigh) muscles. They’re not only closest to your knees but also the most fast-twitch of your 4 quad muscles! This means they react faster to protect your knees and add that bounce factor we lose as we age. Or in my case, which never developed due to chronic knee pain throughout puberty.
Also, we get more bloodflow to the tendons above and below our kneecaps. This tendon tissue is stronger than muscle tissue — but it doesn’t sell well to train our tendons because we don’t even see them! How would you show your knee tendons on the cover of Men’s Health? Yet it’s your tendons that make it easier to exercise and look fit as you age!
(The white tissue above and below the kneecap)
Now let’s imagine that you rejuvenate your tendons and muscles around your knees…
It then becomes so much easier to restore pain-free range of motion in the knee, which is crucial to maximizing the delivery of synovial fluid (the oil which delivers nutrients) to your knee joint itself.
So this sequence from backward to restoring the ability to bend the knees is how so many miraculous success stories for deeper knee issues have come about.
Last but not least, let’s be aware that there is a completely different type of exercise occurring when we go backward, because look at the position of the foot and toes on each step:
This is why we use an exact measurement when we add resistance to backward: can you still get your toes behind your knees? If not, you’re trying to progress too fast and will actually miss out on the intended benefits (it’s easy to just lean your body and not actually use the abilities we need to protect our knees):
But let’s trace backward down to its earliest and lowest levels…
The concept of backward walking originated in Asia thousands of years ago and passed down from generation to generation as a solution for arthritis. Chinese wisdom says: “A hundred steps backward are worth a thousand steps forward.”
In seasoned citizens, backward walking has been found to be an effective screening process for falling down the stairs. Just like our hill analogy above, when you go backward you’re training the exact areas of your body responsible for slowing you down when you go forward. Falling down the stairs is one of the leading causes of death and hospitalization in elderly, and knee replacements are now reaching epidemic levels while costing patients and/or taxpayers over $40,000 on average, per knee. So this subject is not a joke.
And neither is teenagers having knee surgeries despite NEVER HAVING BEEN MADE TO CONSISTENTLY DO A STRENGTH REGIMEN DEVOTED TO IMPROVING ABILITY BACKWARD. Teen ACL tears have skyrocketed to epidemic levels as well.
Neither our youth nor our older population are put through simple, consistent programs improving circulation and strength to the areas which make us go backward.
My program receives life changing success stories every day because we don’t even start our exercises until we have gone backward. This doesn’t mean we don’t go forward. It means we are not allowed to do more forward than backward. And I’m not talking about just walking.
Let me be clear: I would only rate backward walking as effective for maintaining the ability to walk forward. And it’s damn magical for that. But I had much greater aspirations than just walking without knee pain.
Backward training ranking system (most to least effective)
- Sled + Turf*
- Tank Sled*
- Deadmill (treadmill turned OFF)
- Hill (ensuring you have a SAFE hill to use: smooth, good grip, no possibility of cars incoming)
(Pictured above with me is Derek Williams. He is 43 years old and began reversing his athletic decline in his late 30s, regaining the ability to dunk as an unexpected side effect while shedding chronic foot, Achilles, and knee issues. It is very unlikely anyone on earth over the last 5 years has done more resisted backward training than Derek. He is @mr1nf1n1ty on Instagram.)
I took the future of my knees into my own hands and wound up creating a body with superhuman knee protection for basketball because I religiously follow a program where I don’t do ANYTHING until I have gone backward.
Then on Thursdays, I elevate my heels to perform squats so that my knees fully travel forward and back, rather than staying vertical. So in both my leg days, I use one motion per session that trains the strength of my knees (and surrounding muscles) backward.
This is why people in their 90s are reversing the clock and finding more youth on the same program that has me turning into an explosive machine in my 30s, despite that being “impossible” for my genetics.
Mondays & Thursdays are leg days.
Tuesdays & Fridays are back and upper body days, restoring deficiencies we almost all share due to modern lifestyle.
Wednesdays are flexibility days — also restoring modern deficiencies we almost all share — and so are weekends (optional for both Sat & Sun).
And EVERY SESSION STARTS WITH BACKWARD.
Since I just moved back to LA and am creating a mobile gym from my Jeep, I’m using a hill as my Daily Backward.
It’s optional for me to add in forward running up the hill (which I usually crave, because the joints are so bouncy from the backward training!), and if I do add sprints it is NEVER more forward than backward. That’s the rule.
That’s my current process, which summarizes all the best actions I have taken over the past 10 years of transforming my body from surgeries and more torn ligaments (which wound up healing naturally thanks to this technology), having never been able to grab a 10-foot basketball rim, told I would never regain full knee bend or play sports, to now being 30 years old, dunking every which way, having played professionally and gotten a D1 basketball scholarship, and with knees so bulletproof that basketball is now a pure joy which never makes me think about my knees and which never makes me do anything for recovery (no ice, no foam rolling, no supplements, no body treatments of any kind — JUST The ATG Program).
We can all take the future of our knees and athleticism into our own hands by understanding and applying the power of backward.
If you’d like to do exactly what I’m doing with myself and others each week, check out atgonlinecoaching.com and do The ATG Program. I update the workouts every Saturday for the week ahead. Modern life may have its flaws but it’s pretty cool that anyone, anywhere, can do the exact breakthroughs I’m doing with myself and others each day!
I also have a Zero program which requires nothing to start. I created it during covid to mimic the ground-up effects of sled.
Both Zero and The ATG Program are full body, but have likely created the most knee success stories ever.
Yours in Solutions,