Saturday, April 6, 2013

All about the Alter-G

Thursday was my final trip to the land of altered gravity -- my last run on the Alter-G. I know I have written plenty about my experiences, but I figured I should put together an omnibus post... with PICTURES.

This is an Alter-G anti-gravity treadmill:

Alter-G anti-gravity treadmill
The Alter-G

To get started, first you must wriggle into a pair of neoprene shorts with a rubberized "flange" (there's that word again!). It goes without saying that the shorts look ridiculous. Think Zagora Hot Pants + a spray skirt you'd wear in a kayak + something reminished of what the B-52s would have worn in 1984...

The shorts aren't particularly comfortable -- especially when you're in the compression tent. But more on that later.

You then approach the machine from the back, while trying to avoid stepping on the clear part. You step over the blue bar (it surrounds you) and into the hole in the middle of the tent. (What looks black on the picture below.)

Alter-G anti-gravity treadmill, ready for use
Step right up!

Then you grab the two blue bars on the sides and pull straight up. This lifts the tent around you. When you get it to hip height, you slide the lever over halfway and let it click into the locked position on its own. The numbers go up to 14, and I set it at 13... but I guess I'm pretty leggy, if not very tall.

Then you take the "flange" and tuck it into the edges of the tent. You match up the zippers and start to zip yourself in. It's not super easy to do, mind you. The zipper goes all the way around you, and then sort-of tucks in to itself. On one early visit, I got the zipper about halfway around and got stuck. I was envisioning having to try and call someone at the front desk to free me -- but in the end, I managed to zip in.

getting started on the Alter-G
flange tucked in
lining up the zipper
lining up the zipper
zipping the shorts into the Alter-G
zipping in to the machine
zipping in to the Alter-G
almost done

Once in, the directions say to stand still with your arms folded while the machine calibrates. On the second or third time I used the machine, I decided to fiddle with the remote control for the big flatscreen TV that's in the room. This caused the calibration to error out, which in turn made me panic a little. But all I needed to do was wait a few moments and then press start again. Phew.

Alter-G calibrating
stand still... I'm calibrating

The calibration takes less than a minute. Basically there's a whoosh as the tent inflates around your legs. I get the sensation of being slightly lifted off my feet -- it must be how the machine checks your weight? -- but then you settle back down. A few seconds later, the lifting sensation is back, this time more pronounced. It's not like you actually go airborne or anything, but it definitely puts you up onto your toes a little. A couple of numbers flash on the display screen. Mine always say "L65" (not my age, thank you), and "155" (not my weight, either).

I noticed that the timer starts right away -- whether or not you've started the belt. Hop to it then!

The treadmill part is pretty much a standard treadmill. You set an incline (supposedly a percent; I have been running at 2 or 3%) and set your speed. The speed goes all the way up to 10 mph. Faster than I can run, even for a short burst, in the real world -- but slower than elites run marathons.... sigh.

Alter-G control panel
Alter-G control panel-- pretty standard

The interesting part, of course, is the weight. You can set what percent of your weight you wish to run at. On my first visit, the staffer set it at 80%, so that's where I ran for the first few visits. But after a while I decided to go a little wild. I often gradually ramp my speed up 0.1 of a mile/minute while lowering the weight percentage by 1%/minute. On Thursday I started that really early, and got up to where I was running 7-minute miles (much, much faster than I can run in the real world) while running at 70% of my body weight.

A couple of people have asked me what this actually looks like -- please forgive the really blurry "action" photo and the reflection from the plastic window in the tent.

Running on an Alter-G
Running hard in the pressurized tent.

Running at 80% is really pleasant -- I feel light on my feet.. but I guess that's what would happen if I lost THIRTY POUNDS.

Running at 70% is a little odd -- springy, sure, but slightly uncomfortable. See, the shorts are tight... and you are being lifted by the shorts... which puts some pressure on your "gusset". Well, actually, there's no gusset. Today I spent more than a few moments wondering if men have different cuts of shorts, because I cannot imagine these being at all comfortable on a man. But I digress.

running at 70% of my weight

Running at 60% is very, very strange. To be clear, it's not like your feet don't touch the treadmill, or that you don't have to run hard; you are just moving less weight. But at 60% your hips are really held in place -- I get the feeling like I'm pulling against the front of a harness.

running at 60% of my weight

Yeah, okay, I tried running at 50%. I fear that I wouldn't be able to stand upright if I lost 75 pounds in the real world. But I sure can run fast. How fast? 6-minute miles. At least in the bizzarro world of Alter-G.

running at 50% of my weight... whee

I wasn't even sure if the treadmill would go below 50%. Yep. I tried 40% for a minute, but it was just too weird.

running at 40% of my weight -- too weird to do for long

Apparently the machine goes all the way down to 20% of your weight. Which might be perfect for someone just getting back from an injury.

Anyway, when you finish your run, you just hit the stop button, and the tent depressurizes. I was warned on my first visit that you need to gradually increase your weight before you finish, otherwise your legs would feel like lead when you stepped off the machine. So I followed that advice... until Thursday.

You know what? You feel awfully heavy when you've just virtually gained 45 pounds. Oof. Even stepping down from the machine made me feel wobbly. The sensation goes away pretty quickly, but I wouldn't have wanted to run for a while! So, yes, if you are going to run on an Alter-G, bring your weight back up to as close to 100% while you are cooling down.

Once the tent deflates (it takes only a few seconds), you can unzip the shorts (just as challenging as zipping in, mind you...), release the lever, and lower the frame to the ground. There's a funny "whoosh" as all the air rushes out past you. And that air will be WARM. Then you exit the machine from the back, again trying not to step on the clear part of the plastic.

I always make a point of peeling off the shorts first. I don't know how other people feel after, but, well, my shorts are always soaked. Not "Oh, I've got some damp patches." Soaked. Crazy soaked. They are, after all, neoprene. Because, even though you aren't running at your full weight, you are running hard. How hard? This hard:

A truly unflattering photo of me, post-run on the Alter-G
Yes, I know I look TERRIBLE.

Now, obviously, the Alter-G isn't designed for curious bystanders like me -- it's meant as a recovery tool for injured runners. You're able to get a really great cardio workout -- and your miles in -- while recovering from an injury. I wouldn't hesitate to spring for more sessions if I needed to recover. However, if I stay healthy -- knock on wood -- I won't be running on the Alter-G again.

I used the Alter-G at the Washington Foot and Ankle Sports Medicine Clinic in Kirkland, WA. Other than the Groupon discount anyone could have purchased, I received no special treatment from them. Which isn't to say that their staff wasn't super nice and helpful -- they were always very, very friendly.

Not in greater Seattle? The Alter-G website maintains a listing of locations with an Alter-G, searchable by zip code, along with some videos of the machine in action.

Have you run on an Alter-G? Were you rehabbing an injury, or just curious, like me? I can wholeheartedly say that this was one of the best "daily deals" I have ever, ever bought. slightly random, something I wouldn't normally have done, but really enjoyable.


1 comment:

  1. Great recap! And you don't look terrible, you have a healthy glow about you. :)