Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to run in low orbit? A new device aimed at safe, gradual rehabilitation offers such an experience without having to leave Earth.
Many runners have experienced the crushing defeat of a long-term injury. The standard advice for the injured is to apply R.I.C.E. (that’s Rest, Ice, Ccompression, and Elevation). While most of us would gladly accept the I.C.E., the suggestion that we take a few days, weeks, or even months break from running can seem an unbearable sacrifice.
For me, that injury was plantar fasciitis, which I’ve been struggling with for nearly a year now in spite of R.I.C.E., orthotics, and more cortisone shots than I care to remember. As with most injured runners, I I.C.E. religiously, but have trouble abstaining from running. After three months off at the beginning of my injury with no improvement, I eventually resolved to I.C.E. harder, and run through the pain.
Stupid, I know, but a runner has to run, right?
Then, on my most recent visit to have my ever-present running partner dealt with, my podiatrist asked if I’d like to be able to safely continue training in spite of my injury. Of course I said, “No.”
Just kidding. Obviously that was an enthusiastic, “Yes!” That’s when he introduced me to a wonderous machine.
Enter the Alter-G
The Alter-G is a high-tech treadmill based on NASA technology that effectively reduces your body weight, allowing you to run with less force on sensitive joints and muscles.
The Alter-G works on what the company calls, “Differential Air Pressure (DAP) technology.” In layman’s terms, once you’ve secured yourself in the Alter-G’s air chamber, it inflates, buoying you upward. The upward force of the chamber’s air pressure reduces the amount of weight being applied with each step, reducing the load on your joints.
Using it is easy, too. You put on the special air-tight shorts, zip into the air chamber, wait while the Alter-G calculates your weight, then it inflates and you’re off and running.
The amount of pressure is totally adjustable, and is based on a percentage of your calibrated body weight. With the Alter-G set to 20%, I was barely touching the ground. At 50%, I was running naturally and pain free for the first time in almost a year.
It was exhilarating.
First, the pros.
The biggest pro is that the Alter-G provides the means to safely maintain your conditioning throughout an extended injury. It’s also perfect for rehabing an injury with a reduced risk of complications – you can add your weight back on as slowly as you’re able to return to full strength.
For their rehab benefits, these seem to be popping up in physical therapy and medical facilities before the novelty causes them to show up in gyms.
A less important (but still awesome) benefit is the ability to feel what it would be like to run with a lighter frame. As a 6’4″ clydesdale, the odds that I’ll ever weigh as little as some of the elites is astonishingly low (not to mention, it would be extremely unhealthy). With the Alter-G, I got to see how that would feel – and it was fantastic!
Now the cons.
For one thing, it’s a treadmill. No amount of cool space-age tech can change the fact that you’re still running in place. I know for many of you that’s a deal breaker.
However, the bigger issue is most definitely their scarcity. With a pricetag in the mid-to-upper five figures (low estimates put them at $25k, high estimates at nearly $80k), this isn’t a piece of equipment for the home gym crowd. Sadly, at the same time, they are only slowly being adopted by medical and fitness facilities. The company provides a directory, but you may find precious few available in your area at the moment.
However, if you’re one of the lucky ones who happens to be near a facility that offers the Alter-G, I strongly recommend that you check it out. You’re unlikely to find another experience quite like it.