Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Defying Gravity: Running on the Alter G treadmill

In running circles, the Alter G treadmill is all the rage. Differential air pressure allows a person to run at various percentages of their body weight all the way down to 20% of full body weight. What a revolutionary idea, and the implications for rehab and recovery are endless. According to the Alter G website, their treadmill is, “a highly effective athletic conditioning tool for both recreational and competitive athletes by allowing the user to train longer, run faster, gain additional strength, and enhance cardiovascular performance while minimizing impact and stress on their joints.” And I thought it was just a cool toy.

A few short months ago, Boulder had nary an Alter G. It was an extravagance normally reserved for professional sports team, the Olympic Training Center and elite running groups. Now, Boulder boasts three of these monstrous machines.

I have had the pleasure on running on an Alter G at Altitude Physical Therapy (thanks Bob Cranny!!). The first time was just for kicks and the second time I ran an interval session. With cross country nationals around the corner, I need to channel my inner speed because at 8K this race is quite short. With marathon training and racing barely behind me, I realize that I am at high risk for injury if I do too much too soon.  The Alter G is a perfect compromise – it gives me the ability to train at faster paces without the dangers inherent in traditional speed work.

Here’s how it works.
How hot are these? I'm thinking about getting some for casual wear.
1.    Put on the neoprene shorts with the funky zipper. This is how you are locked into the treadmill. It is akin to running in half of a wetsuit. Your legs will sweat. A lot.

2.    Zip yourself into the cockpit. Yes, that is what they call it. I looked it up. I had no idea what it was called. Plastic thingy?
   
Step into the opening...     ...and then zip in.
3.    Stand still while the treadmill calibrates your weight. Fortunately, it does not tell you the weight, so you can remain in ignorant bliss.
I'm getting weighed. 
4.    Increase the speed and/or incline as you would on any treadmill. Choose your desired weight reduction. It decreases in 1% increments. On my first run, I played around with different decrements in weight down to 65%. For my interval run, I chose 80%.

5. Have fun running at paces you would never see on the track or on the road.

Now, I am not a huge fan of treadmill running. It is not the boredom that makes treadmill running unsavory. Nope, it is the fear of falling off the back coupled with how crappy my legs feel due to the fact the treadmill changes my form. I tend to arch my back which causes an anterior pelvic tilt which causes me to over stride which causes my glutes to stop firing.You get the gist. It sucks.

The Alter G combats both my fear of flying off the back and keeps my hips in good position. Being locked in really makes a huge difference. I could grab my drink, wipe my face, and play with my iPod with reckless abandon (and sometimes all at once!) all with perfect form (well, in my mind it was perfect and there was nobody there to refute it). I did not feel like I was over striding and my normally fast leg turnover got a boost.

I'm not coordinated enough to run and hit the
buttons on the control panel.
There are a few drawbacks. The first and foremost complaint is that once you are zipped in you are committed. That poses a problem when you have to use the bathroom. I liken it to a kid getting all dressed in a snowsuit and having to pee. The other issue is that the control panel is difficult to maneuver when you are running at high speed. I felt fairly spasmodic trying to press the button to go slower. Eventually, I had to jump to the side and straddle the belt and lower the speed and then jump back on. But, these are only minor inconveniences compared the huge benefits on offer. I highly recommend you try it out if you get the opportunity.

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