A few weeks ago, Darwin Fogt, a Los Angeles-based physical therapist, invited me to stop by his facility at my convenience and try his Alter-G antigravity treadmill. I had been dying to step onto one of these machines since I first heard about them, so I readily accepted his offer. Last week I consumated the arrangement on my way to the Adidas Running Camp, which was conveniently based just a few miles from Evolution Physical Therapy. (Get it? DARWIN Fogt? EVOLUTION Physical Therapy?)
As soon as I walked in I pegged Fogt as my idea of the ideal physical therapist--someone who is always thirsty for the latest knowledge in his field and curious to explore cutting-edge therapies. I could tell just by the layout of the place and the types of equipment there. So many physical therapists are stuck in 1987. But not Darwin Fogt. He told me that he was initially skeptical of the antigravity running concept when he was first contacted by an Alter-G sales representative, but he agreed to take a look at it nonetheless (curiosity always prevails in a nature such as his)and he made the decision to purchase one (price tag: $75,000) the moment he set foot on it.
After introducing himself to me and making a little small talk, Fogt had me change into my running gear and then handed me what looked like a pair of cycling shorts with a wide rubber brim around the waist and a zipper running around its circumference. I pulled them on.
The Alter-G looks similar to a regular treadmill except that it has a waist-high tent around it. That is, the tent is waist-high when pressurized, but when not in use the tent deflates so that the user can step through a circular hole in its top. The other half of the zipper on my cycling shorts lined the edge of this hole. After I stepped through it, Fogt zipped my shorts to the hole, creating an airtight seal. He then started me walking and then running slowly at my full body weight.
The Alter-G allows the user to walk or run at the equivalent of as little as 20 percent of his or her body weight by increasing the air pressure within the tent that encloses the legs and thereby lifting the runner. My epiphany came when Fogt increased the belt speed to my normal jogging pace and then reduced my effective body weight to 90 percent. I felt as if I had suddenly become 10 percent fitter. Scooting along at 7:00/mile pace was utterly effortless.
It's funny, right now I am working on a book entitled Racing Weight, which is about how to optimize one's body weight and composition for endurance performance. Obviously, I am writing this book partly because I appreciate the importance of body weight for endurance performance. But I don't think I fully appreciated it until I effectively instantly lost 15.5 pounds on the Alter-G. It was a stunning lesson.
I'm not sure the Alter-G's effective body weight gauge is perfectly accurate, because when Fogt brought me down to 20 percent I felt as though I had to stretch my legs toward the treadmill belt just to avoid floating. Even at 50 percent of my body weight I felt confident that I had never experienced any running injury that I could not have trained through at this setting on this machine. And that's what makes the Alter-G possibly the most important running invention of all time, in my opinion. If you have access to one of these things you need not ever miss a single day of running due to injury ever again.
I could use daily access to an Alter-G right now. I have developed a fairly severe case of Achilles tendonosis. It hurts to run at any pace. I can do it, but it's nervewracking, and I have serious doubts about whether I can safely run faster than marathon pace right about now. With only three and a half weeks remaining until the Boston Marathon, I cannot afford to let this thing get out of hand. But due to the training I missed in recovering from overtraining fatigue last week, I really can't afford to back off any more than I already have, for the sake of staying healthy. If I had access to an Alter-G I wouldn't be sweating. I could do the 20 x 400m intervals at 76 seconds per lap that I want to do at the track Friday on the machine instead, at perhaps 80 percent of my body weight and taking the pace up to something ridiculous like 69 seconds per 400 to match the target intensity of the workout at full body weight.
When I left Evolution Physical Therapy, Darwin Fogt kindly issued a standing offer to come back and use his antigravity treadmill anytime. I'm thinking about renting a room in that neighborhood for the next three weeks...