The AlterG treadmill is not one you will find in a sporting goods store or online. It’s a highly specialized piece of equipment that is mainly used in physiotherapy practices.
But the good news is that the AlterG can benefit almost anybody who needs any kind of rehabilitation for their lower body.
The AlterG treadmill has some particular benefits for runners. Runners will find that just 30 minutes on the AlterG will reduce the impact on their joints and can be used for speed training or improving cadence. It’s also effective for injury recovery and getting back on the road faster.
Let’s take a look at the AlterG treadmill and where you can find one if you are interested in trying it out.
What is an AlterG Treadmill?
For over 30 years—since the 1960s—NASA had been sending astronauts into space. But in the 1990s, NASA needed to come up with a solution that would help astronauts not only maintain their fitness in space but strengthen and condition their muscles.
As technology advanced, astronauts were spending more time in space. Depending on their mission, an astronaut could spend on average between 3 and 6 months or longer in space.
Without regular exercise or gravity, the muscles of the astronauts begin to weaken and deteriorate—atrophy—and they began to lose bone density. To ensure that their astronauts maintained their peak fitness levels, a NASA engineer, Dr. Robert Whalen, invented a treadmill that used air pressure in a bubble—adding gravity by using a “vacuum” effect—to keep the astronauts from floating off of the treadmill.
In 2005, his son Sean created the first prototype anti-gravity treadmill by reversing the action of the pump on the treadmill his dad had created to be used in space. The AlterG anti-gravity treadmill utilizes NASA patented technology that uses pressurized air to reduce one’s body weight by between 20% and 80%.
This allows anyone to continue or resume activity—at their previous intensity level—even if they have an injury, mobility issues, or have just had surgery.
How does AlterG work?
To use the AlterG treadmill, you’re going to have to get a pair of AlterG shorts, which you can wear over your clothing. The shorts are made from neoprene and come with either a single zipper or a double zip—the double zip is for people who want or need to do lateral exercises.
You step onto the treadmill belt where you’re zipped—via the shorts—into an inflatable chamber. This forms an airtight seal around your lower body as it starts to fill with air, calibrating to the support percentage for you according to your weight.
As this happens, you’ll feel as though they’re being lifted up, which is due to the differential air pressure technique. This air pressure technique is what lets you run or walk at 60% or even 20% of your body weight. This can be adjusted in 1% increments until you find the sweet spot for your body.
The chamber—also known as the cockpit—is made from clear material so that your gait or mobility can be observed if you’re working with a physiotherapist. The AlterG treadmill works just like a home or gym treadmill and one can adjust incline as well as speed when using it.
Depending on where the closest AlterG treadmill is to you, it may also come with the Alter G Video Monitoring System. This lets you see what your feet and legs are doing on a screen in front of you.
Benefits of AlterG
Using an anti-gravity treadmill has many benefits, some of which include improving fitness levels, maintaining fitness when injured, and regaining mobility.
Because the AlterG reduces impact and removes much of the load on the joints and muscles, it allows the lower body to move through its natural gait cycle without the usual strain.
This has a variety of implications for health and healing. Removing the stress of gravity on the body has no known negative effects, so almost every condition can be helped by spending time on the AlterG treadmill.
The most common reasons people use the AlterG—and therefore the most common benefits to see from using it—are:
Using an anti-gravity treadmill will not in itself help an injury heal faster. But it can help to rehabilitate injured athletes in a way that is safe and maintains their strength and fitness while they are injured.
Many athletes who become injured may begin their activity again too soon after being injured, preventing the injury from healing and keeping them away from their sport for longer.
If they had to leave their injury to heal naturally without doing any activity, they may end up waiting months. This can lead to a decrease in fitness and increase the risk of developing another injury or re-injuring themselves in the same way when they get back to their sport.
Using the AlterG treadmill for injury rehabilitation allows athletes to maintain their regular routine and keep their fitness levels up while they recover. This is not only motivating for the athlete, but it helps to strengthen the injured part without extra strain and maintain strength in other joints to prevent another injury. It can also help to maintain aerobic fitness as well as physical fitness.
In some cases, pain can prevent one from effective rehabilitation. At a certain point in the rehabilitation process, mobility becomes important.
But pain can prevent one from returning to a normal level of flexibility. The AlterG anti-gravity allows you to move the joint in a natural way and develop flexibility without impact that could cause pain.
Neurological or Developmental Conditions
Individuals suffering from neurological conditions such as traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), strokes, or aneurysms can also benefit from training in a zero-gravity environment.
Those who are learning to walk again can do so in a safe and low-impact environment, which helps strengthen the important muscles without impact or stress on the limbs. This allows the patient to begin to develop new neural pathways without the possible dangers that come with walking on a regular treadmill—like falling.
It can also be an effective and even fun way for children with developmental disorders to train their legs to walk or run. Those who develop balance disorders as a result of a concussion may also be able to rectify this condition in the AlterG.
Zero-gravity training has become popular with endurance athletes like ultrarunners. These athletes run many more miles than other runners, which puts them at risk of overuse injuries. They also can’t afford to miss much of their training, especially if they are working towards a particular race or event.
Elite endurance athletes can benefit from training on an AlterG treadmill as they can put in the miles without accumulating the strain on the joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
What types of injuries can an AlterG help you recover from?
Because of the mechanism of the AlterG machine, it is not effective for recovery from injuries sustained to the upper body. But it can help one recover from a number of lower body injuries, such as:
- Hamstring strains
- Quadricep injuries
- Stress fractures on the lower limbs
- Lower back pain and strains
- Disc herniation
- Knee injuries
- Plantar fasciitis
- Calf injuries
- Shin splints
- Achilles tendonitis
- Ankle injuries
Who uses the AlterG?
The AlterG can be used by anybody who needs rehabilitation for neurological disorders that affect movement and those with lower body injuries.
It is often considered to be a machine for astronauts and athletes, but a wide variety of different types of people have used and are using the AlterG, including:
- Senior citizens needing to improve mobility or strength in a low-impact environment
- Those learning to walk again after a traumatic brain injury, illness, or neurological disorder
- Soldiers who have lower-body injuries and are being rehabilitated
- Amputees who are learning to control a new lower limb
- Athletes recovering from lower limb injury who want to maintain their regular schedule
- Elite athletes who want to rack up miles without the wear and tear on their bodies
How much does an AlterG treadmill cost?
The price for the AlterG treadmill will vary depending on the features of a specific model. There are currently 5 different models and for the standard model—AlterG FIT—the price would be approximately $35,000, excluding shipping.
If we look at the AlterG Pro—the most advanced model—it comes with the following features: Live Video Monitoring, Stride Smart, AlterG Assistant, has a maximum speed of 18 mph and a maximum incline of 15%. The price of this treadmill would be approximately $75,000, excluding shipping.
Most people will visit a physiotherapy practice near them to use the AlterG, as this is far more affordable. A typical price for a 30-minute session on the AlterG is around $25.
Where can you use it?
At the moment, you may find it difficult to find an AlterG treadmill in your area due to how expensive the machine is.
That being said, you may find a Physical Therapy Center that has one that’s also open to the public. There may also be an AlterG treadmill at military hospitals and rehabilitation centers.
To help you find the nearest facility with an AlterG treadmill, you can use the following link. You would then be able to find out if you can book a session and run on the AlterG treadmill.