Running on the Moon

>> Monday, June 20, 2011

About 10 days ago, I got to try my hand at some "anti-gravity running" in an anti-gravity treadmill. I was set up with an hour of time to try a AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill.

I headed out to OSR Physical Therapy in Eden Prairie (a suburb of the Twin Cities). I learned there are locations all around the Twin Cities that have Alter G treadmills, and they can also be found all around the US, too.

To answer your 2 questions:

1: What the hell is an "anti-gravity treadmill?"

Well, if you'd watch your language a bit, I'll tell you. It's a treadmill that will let you dial-in the percentage of your body weight that you'd like to be running with. AlterG's anti-gravity treadmills use "differential air pressure technology" designed by (who else?) NASA. It provides your body with a comfortable and uniform "lifting force."

2: Why the hell does someone need that?

Again, if you could watch your language, I'll fill you in. (After all, I have a child now. Sheesh.) By reducing your body weight on this treadmill, you'll reduce the impact on your body. The idea is that you can still get a decent workout, but you can take the load off your body / joints.

These treadmills can be used for TRAINING: Rusty at OSR was telling me about some of the local rockstars who stop in to do longer runs or even speed-work on the AlterG (a few names I knew from Team USA Minnesota). They don't have the POUNDING of their regular runs when they can essentially subtract some of their body weight.

These treadmills can also be used for THERAPY: By taking the weight off your body, people coming back from major surgery (such as knee surgery and the like) can walk with "normal form." They can get in some good "range of motion" movements without all their body weight.

So I got to try it out. Rusty first had me change into a pair of tight shorts - they were like bike shorts with a big "lip" around the top. Rusty lovingly calls them "Umpa-Lumpa Shorts."

Don't worry - you get to wear running shorts underneath those

I stepped into the AlterG and Rusty raised it up around my waist. Around my shorts was a zipper that corresponded with a zipper in the AlterG. Soon I was hooked up and running:

If you're curious how you get into this contraption, check out the first 60 seconds of this video:

Direct link:

I ran for a bit at 100% gravity (normal running). Then I knocked it down to 80% and felt the weight starting to come off my legs. I was gently being lifted evenly throughout my entire lower-half - not just at my waist:

My stride was still very normal, even though I didn't have all the weight on my legs. I bumped it down to 60% and kept running:

You can see the white zipper that attached my shorts to the treadmill

Close-up of the last photo showing the controls:
percentage of weight, time, and speed

I bumped it down to under 50% of my body weight, but that was too "foreign" and felt a little unnatural. And Rusty warned me of that before I tried it - he told me that around 40%-50% is really like running on the moon. I found out I could still run pretty normally down to 60% of my weight. I checked my foot-strikes (something I've been working on), and it was RIGHT where I've been keeping it in my normal runs: 178 / minute. So it was lifting me up a bit, but it really wasn't altering my stride for the worse.

Here are some things to note regarding running in the AlterG anti-gravity treadmill:

- If you think it's easier to run with a "lighter" body weight, it's really not! It takes the pounding off your joints, but it's STILL a workout. Rusty actually handed me a towel, so even he knew I was working.

- I'd love to try a long run on one of these treadmills. I DO think it'd be a great workout, but the POUNDING wouldn't be there.

- You'd think being zippered into this thing would be a bit restrictive, but it wasn't. It really didn't limit my movements at all. And it wasn't claustrophobic.

- The AlterG would be helpful for run training, but I really see how it could be helpful in rehab. Being able to walk / move without limping because some of your body weight has been "removed" could be REALLY helpful.

- It's similar to "water running," but it's closer to "actual" running. I feel like people would head for an AlterG or water running for similar reasons (similar injuries). I HATE water running, but I could do a lot more running on an AlterG. (When water running, I can only go about 3 minutes before looking at my watch and wondering how long it's been. But I can run on a treadmill staring at a wall with no TV or music for 30 minutes easily. I did a 13 mile treadmill run under those conditions last winter while getting ready for a winter half marathon. Maybe that makes me a better fit for the AlterG.)

- The final "interesting" thing that happened while trying the AlterG was when I was wrapping up. Rusty told me to make sure to walk or run on the treadmill a bit back at 100% body weight. And as I did that, I felt like a fat ass! "How am I THIS heavy!" Now that I was back to 100%, it was hard to imagine that THAT'S what I feel like when I normally run. (It's like when you're on a trampoline for a long time, and then you try to jump once you're off the trampoline and if feels like you SUCK at jumping.)

Bottom line: I think it could really help those of us (like me) who get injured a lot. Removing some of your weight for some of your runs now-and-then can really help your body. The biggest downside (as with most things) is the price. If you just want to walk in and use the AlterG (and it's not a "prescribed therapy"), it's $1 / minute. If you're not a sponsored athlete where someone else can pay for that, it's hard to drop $60 for an hour run every week or 2.

If you want to learn more, check out the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill website. And if you have an AlterG treadmill in a nearby rehab / PT clinic, check and see if you can try it out for free. I know where I went (OSR Physical Therapy), you could try it for 10 minutes for free if you'd like. (I was given an hour to be able to "review" it a little better.)


Dr. TriRunner 8:56 AM, June 20, 2011  

The AlterG is a pretty sweet tool... I've only used it for rehab purposes, but like you, it would be awesome to try it out on a long run!

We have an AlterG in Bierman at the U of MN ... mostly the football players use it, but some of the the other sports get in there if they need to. How sweet would it be to have one of these in my basement...

(... thinking about what kind of job I need / how much money I'll need to make to live that life ...)

longrun4fun 2:38 PM, June 20, 2011  

When is the Alter G giveaway?

Emily 3:04 PM, June 20, 2011  

I also had the chance to test an Alter G a few weeks back. You're right about it still being hard and a huge sweatfest!

It'd be awesome if gyms or PT places catering to athletes started picking up on this. The place I went to offers monthly "memberships" that are very reasonable (about the cost of a gym) and have become so popular that they invested in 3 machines...

Richelle 8:16 PM, June 20, 2011  

As someone who gets injured frequently, I'd love to have access to one of these to help me rehab and get back into running shape after an injury.

Jamie Walker 2:40 AM, June 21, 2011  

Oh I would love to try one of those! How cool is that?!! I've never tried it but man, that must be a cool experience.

Anonymous,  5:18 PM, June 27, 2011  

I've been a regular Alter G user for about a year and I have to say it has been a great tool for training. I love telling my friends about it, because they are always jaw-dropped that a machine can actually defy gravity as you run. As a runner, it's the only way to get back from an injury and reduce the the amount of non-running forms of cross training like spin bike and aqua-jogging. The only way to get fit running is to run in my opinion and when you are in heavy training, having a couple of Alter G runs can make your joints and tight muscles very happy.

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