Image via CrunchBase
This weekend I tried out the AlterG® Anti-Gravity Treadmill®. This is one of those treadmills that you may have heard about that reduces your body weight and lessons the impact of walking or running on your body.
I went to Fitzgerald Physical Therapy Associates in Woburn, MA and ran on the treadmill for about 20 minutes. I really did not know what to expect or how the machine worked.
How it works
The process begins by putting on a pair of AlterG shorts. These are like a heavy duty pair of compression shorts that you put on over your running shorts. They fit very tightly and have a zippered flap at the waste. You then step into the pressure-controlled chamber and zip the shorts into the enclosure to form an air-tight seal.
The enclosure for the pressure-controlled chamber is height adjustable. Since this was my first go at this, Sean Fitzgerald figured the height that was appropriate for me and locked the chamber into place. At this point I started up the treadmill to 3mph to start walking. Sean explained how the controls worked and I reduced my weight to 80% of normal.
The machine reduces your weight by pressurizing the chamber which then lifts the top of the chamber that you are zippered into. In a few seconds I went from bearing my full weight on my legs to 80% of my weight on my legs. As the chamber filled the compression shorts compressed on me even more and I could feel a slight lift on my body.
Click this link to see a video of how the Alter-G works.
Running in Reduced G mode
At first it felt odd, like I was hanging by my shorts. My center of gravity was now higher and it took me a few minutes to feel balanced. As I adjusted to the higher center of gravity and my reduced weight, I increased the treadmill speed. I started at 6mph and after a few minutes went up to 8mph or a 7:30 minute mile pace. It felt amazing! 7:30 is a fast pace for me but in the Alter-G it felt almost effortless.
As I ran I managed to carry on a conversation the entire time. After a few minutes of running at 8mph the sweat started rolling down my face. Even with a fan blowing on me from the side and the flow of air into the chamber to keep it pressurized, I was still getting hot.
To me, this confirmed that I was still getting a good workout even though I was only putting 80% of my body weight onto my muscles, joints and tendons. My piriformis has been a problem for about a year, but in the machine it did not really bother me.
You know how on some runs you get into a pace that you feel you could run at forever? I think of this as my cruising speed: I’m making good time but I’m not killing myself either. A 7:30 mile pace is not my cruising speed or comfort zone. 7:30 miles is hauling ass for me. With my body weight reduced by 20% I could have run at this pace for a half hour anyway, maybe longer.
It was pretty amazing. I could have gone to as low as 20% of my body weight but only went down to 70% for a few minutes to see how it felt. I probably could have run all day at this pace if I stayed at 70%.
Full G Mode
After about 15 minutes I took the machine back to 0% reduction in my body weight. It was like hitting a steep hill. If I had been on the road my pace would have dropped significantly. As I felt my full body weight on my legs once again the first words that came to mind were “lard ass”. You know how you feel sometimes when it seems like you just can’t make any forward momentum? Like running up a hill, running in water or into a stiff head wind?
I could not believe how heavy I felt. How have I been hauling this lard ass up those hills I thought? Do I really weigh this much? Have I been subjecting my legs to this type of abuse all of these years? I’m 6’ tall and weigh around 180, depending on whose scale I’m on. My BMI is in the normal range. As I went back to 0% reduction in weight I felt like my BMI doubled!
The thought crossed my mind that I’d never want to go back to regular running. My body felt like dead weight weighing me down. What if regular running never felt the same again? Was this a life altering experience?
I immediately realized how beneficial this machine would be for training. All of those training miles put a lot of stress on my legs and hips and this machine would reduce almost all of that. I could train and not have to worry about hurting a knee or hip or straining any of my problem muscles. Training would not be free of effort but training would put less wear and tear on my body and allow me to train harder and avoid injuries.
0-G isn’t free
Running is basically free. With some half descent shorts, shirts, running socks and a good pair of running shoes your expenses are pretty much done. Time in one of these 0-G machines is not free. The machines are very expensive and not something you would buy for your home. Professional sports teams and college programs use them but they probably only have a few.
The Fitzgerald PT web site says that their machine is one of three available in Massachusetts. Sean said the machines are in the $30,000 to $40,000 range, and the Alter-G web site does not have a price list. Fitzgerald offers time on their machine on a fee per minute basis. You can buy blocks of time with larger blocks costing less per minute. They currently have a promo going on that will save you some money, but you should go to their web site if you are interested in pricing.
I thought the machine was amazing. If I had an injury or was recovering from surgery, I would want to have my treatment at their office and use their Alter-G treadmill. While insurance may cover the cost of PT, it does not cover the cost of the 0-G treadmill. But by using the treadmill I would be able to recover faster and that may be worth the price of admission.
While I was at Fitzgerald PT I met Ruben Sanca. He was there using the Alter-G treadmill before me. While I was getting set up to use the treadmill we started talking. He is a patient at Fitzgerald PT and recovering from knee surgery. In addition to his PT sessions, he is using the treadmill to get back into his training program.
Ruben is an Olympic Athlete and at the 2012 London Olympic Games he came in 21st in the 5000 heats. At the 2012 BAA 10K he was the 3rd American to finish. In 2011 he won the New Bedford Half Marathon. The guy can run.
As an Olympic Athlete recovering from knee surgery, Ruben is highly motivated to get his training back on track. He felt that incorporating the Alter-G into his recovery program was helping him come back faster than he would have been able to recover otherwise.
I’m not sure if the cost of using the Alter-G fits into my budget. If you are interested you should check the Fitzgerald PT web site and decide if it will fit into your budget. For a professional athlete I think this type of equipment is a no brainer. Professionals of all types pay for training or classes to help them get better at their profession. As a casual runner, I’ll have to think about it a little more.