According to a recent study published by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), pedaling backwards can be beneficial because it changes the way that leg muscles are stimulated, similar to marathon runners who incorporate sprints into their workout routines, the New York Daily News reported.
Researchers chose the Cascade CMXRT recumbent exercise bike for the study because its design and motion mimic the feel of outdoor cycling.
The study involved 16 participants - eight women and eight men - and researchers conducted two experiments to determine which motion provided the better workout.
In the first experiment, researchers set out to evaluate how pedaling backward affected heart rate (HR), oxygen consumption (VO2) and calories burned compared with pedaling forward, according to the NY Daily News.
After volunteers became acclimated with the bike's settings, they each completed six five-minute intervals of "submaximal exercise," which means that intensity usually does not exceed 85 percent of maximum heart rate.
The research team monitored HR and VO2 continuously as the participants pedaled forward and backward (three sets of each), and then had a two-minute break in between.
The second experiment was organized in the same manner, but was conducted to assess whether or not the same muscles were stimulated when pedaling in both directions.
Participants were attached to electromyography (EMG) machines, and researchers discovered that cycling backward produced a higher HR by eight beats per minute, on average, and VO2 and calorie expenditure increased, as well.
EMG data revealed that three frontal quadriceps muscles were 17.5 percent more active when pedaling backward.
Other muscles observed - in the calves, backs of the thighs and buttocks - showed no differences in activity.
The results were the same for all men and women involved in the study.
The study is available in a PDF here.