Science continues to push the boundaries of the sports world, and that most certainly includes exercise equipment. One of the biggest beneficiaries of innovations in technology continues to be the treadmill.
Yes, the decades-old, sometimes underappreciated treadmill is still one of the most utilized exercise machines around and is often one of the machines that get the most focus in regards to new technology and ways to use it. Anti-gravity treadmills are one of the newer developments beginning to spread in popularity.
Combining simple, smart engineering with a standard treadmill design, anti-gravity treadmills offer a wide range of benefits that can aid everyone from professional athletes to elderly people who need to avoid high impact workouts.
Curious about what in the world an anti-gravity treadmill even is? You’re in the right place.
While the term “anti-gravity” treadmill might make you picture someone floating in the air while somehow attached to a treadmill, that’s not exactly how it works.
The name is not exactly a misnomer, however. Anti-gravity treadmills may not give you the sensation of floating in space while running in place, but they still actively work against gravity, so they are true to their name.
An anti-gravity treadmill uses a strategic design that causes the user not to bear the full brunt of their weight while running on the platform. The result is a significant “loss” in body weight, while still retaining a normal running gait in the open air.
Anti-gravity treadmills are a lot like underwater treadmills in this aspect, but with the main difference being that you’re not underwater, and can thus run at an average amount of speed with the reasonable amount of resistance.
This simple act of weight reduction is somewhat complicated. To use an anti-gravity treadmill, you begin by actually putting on a pair of tight neoprene shorts that have a skirt attached. The skirt on the shorts is lined with zipper teeth.
You then step up onto the treadmill, and then inside an open space within the plastic casing. From there, you zipper yourself in from the waist down, which results in being encased inside of an airtight plastic bag.
Once you’re all zippered in and standing on the platform, the treadmill will then measure your weight. You follow this by dialing into the controls as to how intense you want your workout to be.
The machine then utilizes "unweighting technology" that makes you feel up to 80 percent lighter. For instance, if you weighed 150 pounds, you would weigh 30 pounds when on the treadmill.
So, to put it in simpler terms, an anti-gravity treadmill is essentially a treadmill surrounded by a giant plastic bag that lifts you up enough to “weigh” less when running. And while this sounds simple, the technology is a little more complicated -- and very pricey.
This is why it’s rare to see someone own an anti-gravity treadmill in their home. Physician’s offices and rehabilitation facilities are more likely to own a machine, which can retail for as high as $75,000.
The origins of the anti-gravity treadmill can be traced back to NASA researchers, which is very appropriate given the name.
The anti-gravity treadmill was originally invented in the 1990s by Robert Whalen, a biomechanics researcher at NASA Ames Research Center. The current version of the anti-gravity treadmill was an accident in a way.
Whalen was originally tasked with developing a treadmill that astronauts could use in space, as the advent of the International Space Station created a scenario where astronauts were staying in space for longer periods, and thus requiring effective forms of exercise.
Before Whalen’s work, astronauts were instead forced to used regular treadmills, and be held down onto the machine in zero-gravity using straps and bungees.
The results of this crude solution were pretty mediocre, so Whalen began to develop a treadmill that used air pressure to keep the astronauts on the treadmill in a zero-gravity environment.
While he was working in the idea at home, his son Sean came up with the idea to reverse it, and instead create a treadmill that kept the user “off” of it in a way.
The Whalens quickly finished the prototype, and by the early 2000s, Olympic-level runners were using it. Once word spread, NBA and NFL teams began purchasing the finalized versions, manufactured under AlterG, who remains the main producer of anti-gravity treadmills.
The ability to run on a normal treadmill with a massive reduction in realized bodyweight creates some advantages and benefits that nearly anyone can use.
While running remains one of the most healthy and effective ways to stay in shape, sometimes the weight-bearing nature and repeated impact can cause issues, especially for those who are recovering from injury or are no longer able to run due to age or chronic conditions.
The massive reduction in body weight allows these users to strengthen their joints, muscles, and tendons, without the usual impact and stress from running in a normal fashion. They get all the usage from running, but with just fraction of the impact.
They still get the same cardio benefits as well and can work to correct gait patterns that may have been altered due to injury. These are the driving factors that make anti-gravity treadmills so popular with professional sports teams and their doctors.
Anti-gravity treadmills can also be effective in rehabilitation for joint pain such as arthritis, or for returning to walk after events such as a stroke. Furthermore, the weight reduction can do wonders for those who are overweight and need quality exercise, but whose joints and bones cannot take the stress of their weight.
Anti-gravity treadmills are still relatively new on the scene but have already become a favorite among physicians and athletes all over the world.
While most of us aren’t likely to ever own one, they are quite easy to find in larger cities, so be sure to do a quick search online to see if any sessions are available near where you live, as an anti-gravity treadmill might be the key to your injury recovery or general fitness level.