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Gravity is a harsh mistress

There were a number of thoughts going through my head as I prepared to step into the AlterG. The most pervasive of which was that no one had mentioned anything about the shorts. Exactly what is this scuba-thing strapped to my thighs?

I hopped onto the antigravity treadmill and Geoff Omiatek, director of therapy services for Orthopedic ONE, zipped me up. He pressed calibrate, and the machine took a moment to weigh me before it started to fill with air. The pod began to expand, and I couldn’t help but notice I’d already begun to sweat.

We set the machine for 50 percent of my body weight, and everything Omiatek had been explaining became clear.

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When I was diagnosed with a femoral neck stress fracture in my hip in 2012, my doctor loved using terms like “30 percent weight-bearing” and “50 percent of your body weight.” In truth, most days the guy at the amusement park would have as good a chance guessing my exact body weight as I would, so the idea that I was supposed to know what 30 percent of it felt like was baffling.

In terms of rehab, the AlterG is a great tool for understanding and aiding weight-bearing progression, Omiatek explained.

Orthopedic One houses the sport P200 model of the antigravity treadmill, which is used for both performance training and rehabilitation. To get the full experience, Omiatek mentioned putting me into what he called “over-speed.” There are a few things I could imagine more terrifying while jogging with a camera in my face. Was he overestimating my athletic ability?

Nevertheless, I handed him the controls and he cranked the treadmill up to 13-15 mph, or about a four-and-a-half-minute mile, for some sprint exercises. I’ve never pushed a regular treadmill past 11 mph.  Thanks to weighing about half of what I normally did, I was able to keep up for the 10-second sprints and even focused on my stride.

We then tried plyometrics: bunny hops, one-legged jumps, squats, lunges.

While in the AlterG, I could feel myself applying and testing out all the things I had learned about running. I was able to adjust my foot-strike, push my hips forward, lengthen my running stance and use my toes as we worked on speed. I was strengthening my muscles and cardiovascular system without the limitations of my injury.

According to Omiatek, in addition to regular rehabilitation, elite runners and professional athletes are finding benefit in these machines. There are just five of this type of treadmill in Ohio, and Orthopedic One owns two. The others belong to the Browns, the Bengals and the OSU football program, Omiatek said. The machine allows athletes to train while removing much of the physical impact of training on asphalt or a field.

I was strengthening
my muscles and
cardiovascular system without the limitations
of my injury.

Priced around $75,000, I don’t see myself purchasing a sport model AlterG for my apartment any time soon. Omiatek predicted the prices for these types of treadmills will drop as doctors and sports professionals continue to find them valuable. Some companies are attempting to institute a “pay per minute” system so everyday customers can pay for a certain amount of time on the ultramodern treadmill.

After my visit, I couldn’t decide how I felt about the experience. Will I be sore? How hard was that, really?

When I stood up from my desk that next afternoon my hamstrings and hip flexors answered loud and clear. From the waist down, my calves were fatigued and wobbly while a dull ache spread across my hips and hamstrings. The twinge wasn’t painful so much as a reminder of hard work; similar to the feeling I get after a yoga session that favors hip openers. And it felt good.

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