It's a little bit like running on air. Check that. It's a lot like running on air. The Alter G treadmill looks like something out of Star Trek. In fact, it was developed using patented NASA technology. I've seen pictures of people running on them before, and I understand the concept, but I could never really understand how it works. This week I got a chance to find out, and i think I'm hooked.
If you're unfamiliar, the Alter G is a treadmill that allows you to reduce impact, or the force of gravity, when you land on your foot. It does this by forcing air into the enclosed area between your waist, which is sealed and connected to what amounts to a giant bubble connected to the machine. The amount of air you fill it up with determines how much. Because of the cost, about $55,000, not many gyms, or other faciities have the Alter G. But those places that have one, often make them available to rent by the half hour.
Micki Gorski, who runs the Nova Care rehab facility in Elmhurst has become an expert in the Alter G. She set me up and ran me through the paces! Nova Care added the treadmill because it aids in lots of different rehab scenarios. But for runners, it's a way to continue training through injuries, or to avoid them. It can even be a way to improve your leg speed and cardio fitness when you are not injured.
So let me take you through the drill. I arrived at the facility with my regular running clothes, then put on the special air-tight shorts. The shorts zip into the air chamber of the Alter G, which is what provides the support, or 'anti-gravity' effect.
First, you set the level to raise the chamber to, so it doesn't impede your arm swing. Then you fill it with air. That is a strange sensation. You can fill it to support the percentage of your body weight that you like, to a maximum of 80%. And there is a significant difference in how you feel by changing that percentage by just a few points, just like it feels running with a few extra pounds.
It also comes with several cameras set at different angles, so you can watch your gait and footfall from front, back, or side. You can watch it all on the monitor set up in front.
But after getting used to the strange feeling of running in tight rubber shorts, and being supported by air, it's really just running. and that's how it feels. I set the speed at about 7:00/mile pace and just settled in for about 4 miles.
I've not run much for the last few weeks because of plantar faciitis, or severe heel pain. But the Alter G allowed me to run pretty normally with very little pain. I set it to support about half my body weight, and that seemed to be a good level for me. As the injury improves, I could adjust it support less weight, or if I was sore, I could increase the support.
Bottom line, the technology is incredible. I'm not a fan of treadmill running in general. Running is a chance to get outside and take in nature. But when you're injured, running anywhere is better than not running. And this is a way to do it. Give it a try!
See you on the roads, or the gym!