I’m not one for elaborate running gear or gadgets. It’s my personal preference not to run with music, a watch or GPS device, and in all honesty, I find the gimmicky marketing for schmancy running clothes and overpriced shoes quite disturbing. However, I recently discovered one running gadget worthy of shameless promotion. It is a genuine godsend to injured running addicts, such as yours truly.
The wonder-device to which I refer is the Alter-G anti-gravity treadmill. Yes, you heard me … anti-gravity ... as in, reduces the gravitational force on your lower body to allow you to run or walk with forces equal to a fraction of your full body weight. The mechanism is downright ingenious: the runner wears rubber shorts that zip into an inflatable “capsule” attached to the treadmill. The treadmill calibrates to the runner’s weight and pumps air into the region surrounding the legs, providing a subtle supportive uplift. The amount of inflation, and thus the degree of support, can be controlled to allow the user to run at 20-100% of their body weight in 1% increments. This allows runners battling injuries that prohibit weight-bearing activity, such as tendonitis or bone fractures, to run without pain or risk of further injury. The price tag isn’t cheap, ranging from $30,000 -$75,000 depending on the model. But Alter-G’s are continuing to pop up at gyms and medical facilities across the country, many of which offer pay-per-use options (usually also pretty pricey!) to the public.
My first indulgent Alter-G run was at M2 Revolution, a cycling gym in San Francisco. More than a month into a foot injury (metatarsal stress reaction) and in the throes of deep running withdrawal, the experience served as both reassurance that my body was still capable of running and an exhilarating reminder of why I love to run. Incredibly, despite its highly effective external support system, the treadmill allows you to run unrestricted, maintain a normal gait and foot-strike, and actually get a decent cardiovascular workout. In fact, my weakened quads and calves felt fantastically sore the next day!
Thanks to the wonderful staff at the office of Dr. Ian Purcell in San Diego, who personalized a discounted pay-per-use package deal, I’ve been able to continue feeding my running addiction while successfully rehabilitating my foot. I’ve run on the Alter-G 6 times over the past few weeks and find it a great way to objectively monitor my recovery. For example, I was able to comfortably complete my first run at 36% body weight. My most recent run, 18 days later, was at 73% bodyweight, equivalent to an average gain of 2% body weight per day. Beyond providing my much-needed running-endorphin fix, the consistent progress I’ve measured with this tracking system has also shone a light at the end of the tunnel, keeping me sane and optimistic through this otherwise unpredictable recovery process.
Now who has an extra $30k they’re dying to spend?