Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Alter-G treadmill uses NASA technology to make you feel light on your feet

by Zachary Lewis

Ever wish you could run on the moon? Well, now you can, sort of, and you don't even have to put on a spacesuit.

You do have to wear spandex, however. That's because this would-be interstellar journey involves a treadmill, specifically, an Alter-G treadmill, a new high-tech device that requires compression shorts and makes you feel lighter when running by encasing your legs in an airtight chamber.

Whether and how such an anti-gravity machine improves one's everyday fitness remain open questions. I only used it for a few minutes. But its therapeutic potential is real, and there's no doubt the Alter-G is unlike any other piece of equipment on the planet.

Conceived years ago by NASA, Alter-G treadmills are now being sold commercially. But at $55,000 a pop, they're not exactly intended for your average weekend jogger, but are, rather, the province of medical facilities and professional sports.

Here in Cincinnati, for instance, I could only track down one, with the Cincinnati Bengals. There's another one up in Cleveland - at the Cleveland Clinic.

Well, until now, that is. Cincinnati's HealthStyle Fitness will be the first in Ohio, Indiana or Kentucky of offer the Alter-G to the public by way of AlterG memberships. http://www.cincinnatifitness.com/running-injury-alter-G-treadmill.html

While runners have been among the first to adopt Alter-G, the machine is probably best for those who can't run. Before and after my session, I saw therapists using the Alter-G with patients who otherwise could barely walk, let alone run. There they were, though, jogging without pain or fear of falling. Amazing.

In most respects, the Alter-G looks and works like a regular treadmill. It has a monitor in front and handles on the side. The belt and frame are perhaps a bit heftier than usual.

The main difference, of course, is the anti-gravity piece, a balloon that inflates from a pump up front to form an airtight chamber around the base and your lower body. To use it, you wear "G-trainer shorts," -- the waist zips into the top of the bag like the waterproof skirt of a kayak.

Once you're locked and loaded, the belt starts moving and you're free to adjust for speed and incline, as on a regular treadmill. Only here, you can also control how much of your weight you want to feel. You can go all the way down to about 20 percent, roughly the same sensation astronauts experience on the moon.

Not that you'd want to go that low. A few percentage points suffice to make you feel lighter and freer, and by 15, you're prancing along like a gazelle. Make that a centaur, since your torso is still fully weighted.

The benefits of running on an Alter-G stem from landing on your toes as you run, rather than your heels. With less gravity to fight, your stride lengthens, and the strain on your knees, hips and lower back disappears. Suddenly it's easy to maintain a swift pace.

The appeal of Alter-G is undeniable. If you're someone who logs mileage every week in lust of a better half or full marathon, yet your body is beat up, this would be a great way to go the distance without risking injury.

And for those who are injured, the Alter-G allow you to continue training, pain free, as you recovery - without losing all the fitness you've worked so hard for!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

5 Ways to Train Through the Pain

By Matt Fitzgerald

Injuries often plague the life of a runner. When they happen, they are painful, debilitating and frustrating. The most frustrating part of being injured is knowing that your hard-earned fitness is deteriorating while you take time off from training to heal.

In fact, this frustration can be so great that runners are often too reluctant to take time off or tempted into resuming training too soon. Consequently, injuries become worse or last longer than they should.

One way to prevent this sort of self-sabotage is to choose a favorite go-to cross-training activity that you can switch to whenever an injury makes running impossible or unwise. Having such a fallback option greatly reduces the temptation to run when you should not because it enables you to preserve fitness even when you cannot run. Obviously, there is no alternative to running that builds and maintains running-specific fitness as well as running itself, but there are some alternatives that come relatively close.

The best running alternatives are those that are most similar to running itself. Activities such as swimming and rowing are not great alternatives to running because, while they stimulate the cardiovascular system, they are arm-dominant versus leg-dominant movements. So what are the best activities for "training through" running injuries? Here are my top five:

Antigravity Treadmill Running

The Alter-G antigravity treadmill is, in my opinion, the single most important running-related invention in history. It is a normal treadmill with a tent-like enclosure attached to it. The user steps through a hole at the top of the enclosure and seals himself in around the waist, creating an airtight seal. The chamber is then pressurized, and this high-pressure zone effectively reduces the force of gravity within it. The amount of pressure is adjustable, enabling the user to run at anywhere between 20 percent and 100 percent of his actual body weight.

I have had every type of running overuse injury that exists, and I have used the Alter-G treadmill several times. Based on this experience I can say that runners can train through any injury--pain free and without setting back the healing process--on this machine. What's more, it is not an alternative to running; it is running. Therefore it is superior to every form of cross-training in terms of building and maintaining running fitness.

Case in point: The formerly often-injured runner Dathan Ritzenhein trained exclusively on an Alter-G for several weeks while nursing an IT band injury. He was only ready to return to regular outdoor running two weeks before the 2008 USA Cross-Country Championships. Nevertheless, he won the race easily. That simply would not have been possible had he been forced to resort to pool running or bicycling.

The downside of the Alter-G antigravity treadmill is that it costs $75,000. Only a handful of units are accessible for injured runners to use in high-end physical therapy facilities. On March 30, 2010, the AlterG will be availalbe at HealthStyle Fitness, in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Steep Uphill Walking

In my opinion, the next best thing to running on an antigravity treadmill is steep uphill treadmill walking. Research has shown that the human brain uses exactly the same motor pattern to run or walk briskly on steep gradients. In other words, when you crank the treadmill incline up to 12 to 15 percent, running becomes walking and walking becomes running. Therefore, walking on a steep incline is a highly specific way to maintain running fitness. But impact forces are reduced drastically compared to running, so steep uphill walking is possible with most injuries.

Many runners don't think of walking as a good alternative to running when injured because they assume they cannot match their normal intensity. Trust me: You can. Set the incline at 12 to 15 percent, increase the belt speed to 4 mph or so, check your heart rate and you'll see.

The only limitation of steep uphill running is that, while it is a low-impact activity, it is not a non-impact activity. Thus it cannot be done pain-free with all injuries. For example, I was unable to use steep uphill walking as an alternative to running once when I had an Achilles tendon strain.

Pool Running

Pool running is the traditional alternative to normal running. There are two types of pool running: deep-water running, where the feet do not make contact with the bottom of the pool, and shallow-water running (usually waist high), where the feet do make contact with the bottom of the pool. I think that shallow-water running is preferable because it enables the runner to better maintain adaptations to repetitive impact, thus reducing the risk that new injuries occur after the runner returns to normal outdoor running.

As with steep uphill walking, though, because shallow pool running is a low-impact (versus a non-impact) activity, it cannot be done pain-free with all injuries.

Elliptical Training

The elliptical trainer was specifically designed to mimic the running action without impact, and thus it offers an effective way to maintain running fitness. I find it incredibly boring, though, so I only do it when I'm really desperate.


Cycling may seem less running specific than the other running alternatives discussed in this article, but a lot of noteworthy runners have used it with great success. For example, in 2004, Meb Keflezighi relied heavily on bike training to build fitness for the New York City Marathon because of injury troubles. He still managed to finish second.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Another Great Benefit to the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill

To Maximize Fitness Retention During Rehabilitation

Athletes need to be able to maintain high fitness levels while they are injured. Match the aerobic intensity of an athlete’s workout and lower the impact on his/her injured body by using a combination of adjustable variables:
  • weight adjustment (100% to 20% weight-bearing in 1% increments)
  • speed adjustment (0mph to 18mph)
  • incline adjustment (0% to 15%)

“I think it's the best piece of equipment made for running in the last 30 years, the most revolutionary piece of equipment, without a doubt!”

-Alberto Salazar, Director of Nike Oregon Project & American Running Legend