Categorized | Injury

Alter-G Treadmill: The Ultimate in Rehab, Recovery and Even Training

Posted on 11 October 2011

Rick Meyers, owner of NRC affiliate store, The Runner’s Sole, is a serious-minded ultra runner. It’s not that all ultra runners aren’t serious about their pastime, it’s just that Rick takes it up a few notches.  He approaches 24-hour runs as most runners would confront a 10K.  Last month, he competed in the National 24 hour championship in Cleveland, Ohio. The terrain was a .90075 mile asphalt loop. Ouch. He wore Newtons– the new, lightweight  MV-2s for the first six hours and the Distancias for the remainder).  He covered 116 miles and the last loop was ran in just under 7 minutes. In terms of training and post-race recovery, Rick used the Alter-G pressurized treadmill. The Alter-G seals the runner’s lower half of the body inside an airtight chamber, and with an increase in air pressure, the runner is  practically floating on air. Hence, there’s less pressure and strain on the joints. For this reason, the Alter-G is popular in hospitals and sports rehab facilities.  Curious, we asked Rick to tell us more about his experience with the Alter-G. — NRC

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The Alter-G anti-gravity treadmill is a treadmill built under a large cockpit balloon type apparatus. The user wears a pair of neoprene shorts with a zipper and zips into the cockpit that makes an airtight seal, and the body is elevated. It works wonders! After weight calibration by the computer, the user is able to remove up to 80% of their weight in 1% increments. The machine can go forward at 12 mph, and in reverse up to 3 mph. An incline of 15%.

After running for 24 hours in a race, easy walking may be able to shake out the legs a bit, but the more sore the person is, the more overcompensating the person does, therefore potentially creating additional or new injury. If I were only to run a marathon, walking on typical surfaces with 100% body weight would help. However, when I run nearly 5 consecutive marathons, the swelling and soreness is quite different. The air pressure from the balloon helps to push the edema from my legs upward to general circulation to rid my body of the excess fluid. Also, by getting on the Alter-G as early as possible maintains hard earned cardiovascular conditioning to prepare for the next event.

If the user is a healthy runner, the Alter-G is intended to reduce body weight in order to train at a higher speed and/or distance while reducing impact forces on the legs, even a with forefoot strike. This allows for form coaching as well because the runner can concentrate on form without the other variables that influence form, ie terrain or other environmental influences. The idea for a healthy runner is to only reduce up to 20% of their body weight and run up to 60% of their weekly mileage on the Alter-G. The runner can also run barefoot on the Alter-G as part of a progressive barefoot program without injury.

If the user is an injured runner, body weight is reduced to where the user doesn’t feel the discomfort any longer and can now concentrate on proper form without exaggerating the existing injury or compensating and creating a second injury. As the runner heals the body weight is re-introduced or the speed/distance is increased…or all 3! The training applications are only limited by the user’s imagination.

There are many medical applications for the Alter-G: obese people can begin a comprehensive exercise program; diabetics with foot ulcers are able begin an exercise program to assist with reduction of blood sugar, hence faster ulcerated area healing; visually impaired individuals are able to walk/run because the person will not fall off like they would on a traditional treadmill since they are zippered in and cannot fall down; elderly people are able to exercise since they are zippered in and cannot fall; stroke patients are able to exercise, again because of being zippered in; surgical patients such as foot, leg, knee, hip, back, neurological can all rehab much faster and more effectively than traditional physical therapy programs. Post-heart attack and/or cardiac bypass surgery patients may rehab on this as well. Walter Reed Army hospital had 30 of them for rehab of the soldiers from various injury. The reverse feature is great for muscle imbalances, shin splint therapy, and for cardiovascular training. Two other benefits are cardiovascular conditioning and neuromuscular memory. The medical and surgical applications for these machines are endless.

Most Division 1 schools have Alter-G’s for training/rehab for their athletes in various sports. All professional teams whether it is football, basketball, baseball, soccer, etc own at least one for rehab or higher level of speed & endurance training. In fact, Tom Brady did all of his rehab on the Alter-G after the knee surgery and we all see where he is again! Many elite athletes whether they are runners, triathletes, swimmers, cross country skiers, or other endurance or speed focused athletes do a high percentage of training on their own Alter-G to prevent injury. The US Olympic development training facility has at least one that I’m aware of.

There is a panel of physicians, physical therapists, exercise scientist, coaches from many disciplines, etc that research and write protocols for various injuries and how to rehab an athlete on the Alter-G. These protocols are shared with the owners of the Alter-G with an open invitation to write about an experience or to make adjustments to existing protocols.

I have used the Alter-G for the last few weeks leading up to my 24-hour race. The two weeks of peak mileage was done with 80% on the Alter-G and 20% on the roads ( one week was a total of 123 miles, the other was 146 miles). Then the two weeks of taper were 20% Alter-G and 80% road. I arrived at the starting line uninjured and ran very well. I take off the day after a 100+ mile event then the second day I begin to rehab on the Alter-G. I rehab quickly with this protocol and feel fully recovered within a week.

The user knows that it’s working because of the effort level is there with the pace in which they are running. The machine syncs with Polar HR monitors therefore cardiac effort is directly visible.

I rehabbed an injured high school cross-country runner two weeks ago on the Alter-G. She ran various workouts on the Alter-G with an initial 20% of her body weight reduced and by the end of the week, she was 100% body weight running 15 seconds faster per mile and participated in an invitational race and did very well. I was able to identify some gait flaws that she had and was able to remove body weight and give her gait correction directions. Since she was zippered in and secure, she didn’t have to worry with anything other than listening to my direction and maintaining a proper form. Cadence training was also important. The balloon has windows so that I could see 360 degree around her.

The downside, and yes there is a downside, the Alter-G is very expensive and the going market price for time rental is about $1.00/minute. There isn’t a mad rush for rental time and there isn’t a massive community of elite athletes in this area. In addition, most school aged students or college athletes can’t rent time due to the cost. And in all reality, it’s a treadmill that doesn’t appeal to many recreational runners. If they are injured, they do the wrong thing and take time off until they heal, unfortunately under the direction of their general practitioners. Local podiatrists, physical therapists, coaching staffs, orthopedic MD’s, chiropractors, and others are skeptical of the functionality due to being uneducated on the benefits of these machines and/or the fear of losing revenue.  I have offered all local medical providers in my immediate area to demo the Alter-G but only a few came in to see it and only 3 PT’s have been on it for a short demo.

I love talking running and my Alter-G. The more people know, the better off we all are.

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3 Responses to “Alter-G Treadmill: The Ultimate in Rehab, Recovery and Even Training”

  1. Dr. Mark says:

    cool piece Rick and agree with your thoughts on it and the utility. just today in the Washington Post Health was a piece on Cancer Rehab. No different than “Cardiac” or “Pulmonary” rehab…get out of bed and move. So many patients who are recovering from illness/extended bedrest are so weak from the bedrest that they cannot yet resist the gravitational forces enough to really move for any distance. alter G is a progressive approach.

    the first astronauts figured this out after a week in space….they could not walk on return. several of them talk about how it took months to return to their normal state.

    Dr. Mark

  2. Ben G. says:

    Looks awesome. I am sure that the cost will come down in years to come. After a long ultra I would absolutely pay the dollar an hour, in this area (Georgia) that is still cheaper than a good massage.

  3. Ron says:

    While in the rehab center for shoulder surgery work, I did a few miles on the one they had, just for fun. Should I ever run into a good deal of fun$, there’ll be one in our basement.

    Ron


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