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Running on Air

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The Alter G Anti Gravity Treadmill (AG treadmill) was originally designed by NASA to assist astronauts to train for anti-gravitational environments, but it has since been adapted for use in training and rehabilitation for the Average Joe. It can be used in the rehabilitation of any number of injuries in the lower regions of the body, as well as treatment of neurological conditions, weight reduction and general training.

The concept is actually quite simple. Your weight is adapted by using air in a pressure-controlled chamber to gently lift you above the treadmill. This is known as the Air Pressure Differential and the advanced technology allows you to accurately adapt your body weight to up to 20% of your total weight in one percent increments. Though you will need a helping hand to get you through your first session and show you the ropes, it is not a difficult or dangerous exercise. After putting on a pair of specially designed shorts with a zip around your waist, you climb onto the treadmill and into the pressure chamber, zip yourself in, calibrate and away you go! It feels a little like you’re being lifted in the air while in a harness, but much more comfortable and stable since you are basically inside a balloon that keeps you upright and stable.

Whilst on the treadmill you can adapt your speed and weightas you wish, whether you are a professional sportsman, a weekend warrior, or someone with a physical disability who hasn’t been able to walk for years.

BENEFITS
According to Dr Mark Ferguson, leading sports orthopaedic surgeon and founding director at the Centre for Sports Medicine and Orthopaedics in Rosebank, Johannesburg, the one-of-a-kind machine allows patients to resume physical activity earlier in the recovery process thanks to its ability to deliver precise partial weight-bearing. “By reducing a large portion of your body weight, the Alter G strengthens and improves the coordination of muscles, promoting a full range of motion while minimising stress and enabling patients to maximise fitness on the often long road to recovery. When you have the opportunity to defy gravity, you give yourself the chance to recover better and train like you have never done before.”

The benefits of running with less gravity and therefore less impact on your joints are well documented and because of this, many athletes have ventured into the pool for aqua-jogging whilst recovering from an injury. However, swimming pools need space and are expensive to maintain. The AG treadmill might be expensive to buy, but after that it costs just about the same to maintain as a normal treadmill. The greatest difference between running in the pool and running on the treadmill is the mental confidence you gain when using the AG treadmill.

THE SA CONNECTION
The latest news is that this technology has made its arrival in South Africa and the first AG treadmill in the country has already assisted professional sport stars struggling with injuries, as well as enriched the lives of disabled people. The Centre for Sports Medicine and Orthopaedics is the first institution in the country to purchase one of these treadmills and according to Barry Getz, physiotherapist at the centre it has contributed to their rehabilitation programme to a great extent. Bafana Bafana defender, Matthew Booth used it to recover in record time from a season-ending knee injury earlier this year, and several injured players in the Lions Currie Cup squad have returned to the rugby field sooner than expected thanks to the new equipment. Matthew started running at only 40% of his body weight, improving his fitness and gaining confidence until the injured knee could support his full body weight. He was most thankful for the quicker recovery and the mental confidence he gained from running on the treadmill before he returned to the field.

The AG treadmill is ideal for runners with injuries like stress fractures or shin splints, where running with their full bodyweight will not only be excruciating, but also worsen their injury and prolong recovery… a vicious circle. When training on the AG treadmill, these athletes will be able to give their injuries sufficient time to recover while also keeping their cardiovascular fitness up. Not to mention the lowered frustration levels because they were able to do some running, albeit on a treadmill.

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