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Anti-Gravity Workout - Savannah Morning News

November 2011

Anti-Gravity Workout - Savannah Morning News

New treadmill uses NASA technology to reduce exercise-induced pain and stress

By Dana Clark Felty

Thomas Hargest thought he'd never walk again.

After suffering a recent stroke, as well as severe osteo arthritis in his spine, hips and knees, Hargest had thought he would spend his remaining years in a wheelchair.

But last week, the 86-year-old man walked on his own for 45 minutes straight.

His physical trainer, Ernest Ledesma, is practically in disbelief.

"In eight weeks, never have I seen such dramatic improvement with a multiply challenged patient," said Ledesma, a physical therapist and owner of Ledesma Sports Medicine in Savannah.

The miracle behind Hargest's rapid progress is a new treadmill that uses "antigravity" technology to lessen the impact of running and walking.

"It's one of the most remarkable pieces of rehab equipment I've ever come across," Ledesma said. "It has been just revolutionary."

Same work, less weight. 

Ledesma said his is the first physical therapy center in the area to own the Alter-G Antigravity Treadmill. The center is the second to own one in the state, he said.

Originally developed by NASA, the technology isn't that complicated. As on most treadmills, users burn calories, build muscle and increase their heart rate by simulating walking and running on the ground. The user can push buttons to move faster or on an incline.

The workout is the same on the Alter-G, except the user also has the ability to decrease their own weight. Using a special pair of neoprene shorts with a zipper around the waist, the user steps into a nylon bag covering the treadmill. Then, they zip themselves to the top of the bag, sealing their lower half inside with the treadmill. When the treadmill is started, the sack fills with air. The user can press a button to increase the air pressure in the bubble, which will begin lifting the body off the ground.

"You're decreasing the stress loads on your joints and all the other tissues, the tendons and the muscles, but you're still burning calories," Ledesma said.

Ledesma starts patients by having them decrease their weight until they are walking or running with no pain.

Since installing the first Alter-G about 15 weeks ago, he has used it in treating a long list of problems, including obesity, arthritis, cardiopulmonary disorders, stress fractures and plantar fasciitis.

"They're able to run without pain," Ledesma said.

The company's website also describes the Alter-G as FDA approved for use in gait training in neurologic patients. For every 10 percent of weight lowered, the user should run 0.6 mph faster or walk 0.3 mph faster than they would on solid ground to burn roughly the same number of calories.

Hargest spent his first round on the Alter-G walking for eight minutes with only 25 percent of his body weight.

"I was almost on my tippy toes. Sometimes, I was running," he said.

Over time, he slowly increased his weight and length of sessions. Now, he's walking as much as 45 minutes at 50 percent of his body weight. It's given him new strength to spend less time at home in a chair.

"Once you get on it, you really want to keep going," Hargest said.


For now, the Alter-G won't likely be found in many runners' personal gyms. Two models currently on the market cost $30,000 and $75,000. At Ledesma's clinic, clients who receive a doctor's referral are able to use the treadmill at no cost. But some have been so impressed, they have asked to pay out-of-pocket for extra time on the treadmill.

Ledesma added a second Alter-G to his clinic in December. Now, clients can purchase a monthly membership for $100 or a punch card for $200 good for three months. Those users must also purchase their own shorts for $60.

The machine has helped former professional triathlete Mark Bradle rebound from an injured Achilles tendon. Last fall, Bradle was running at a fraction of his normal pace. He averaged 10 to 12 miles a week, at 9? to 10 minutes per mile, before the pain became unmanageable. After physical therapy and two months of workouts on the Alter-G, Bradle is back up to his 25-mile runs at an eight-minute pace. Now he's planning to participate in an Ironman race in Louisville, Ky., this swmmer.

"It's been phenomenal," he said.


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