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Anti-gravity treadmill and running advice from an Olympian

Posted Jun 08 2012 5:07am

I briefly learned about the Anti Gravity Treadmill from Paul McRae, with Personal Running Solutions a few months ago. With great feedback from previously injured runners, I was looking forward to the Hammerhead Triathlon club   last night to see this treadmill in action.

According to Wikipedia :
"An Anti-Gravity Treadmill is a rehabilitation device that utilizes adjustable weight-bearing technology on a standard treadmill used primarily for rehabilitation of lower extremity injuries and athletic training. The machine functions by controlling air pressure in a chamber to gently lift the user. Current models allow for precise unweighting from 100% - 20% body weight in 1% increments. The Anti-Gravity Treadmill can accommodate users weighing 85 lbs-400 lbs and heights 4'6-6'8. In addition, the treadmill can be used by people of all ages."

I haven't had the chance to try the treadmill yet but I am super excited because as of last night, I heard the news that the treadmills will be moving in the same shopping center as the Trek Store (on San Jose), just a few doors down! I will be sure to provide a full review after I try them out but I wanted to give my observational feedback...

-Many athletes struggle with injuries either from poor biomechanics, weak muscles, overtraining or genetics. For whatever reason, I find so many athletes struggling with consistency, specifically with fitness, when an injury (or extreme pain) comes about. For this treadmill may help with reducing risk for injury when it is included in a balanced training plan but I find it most beneficial for the athlete that refuses to focus on the other things he/she CAN do to rehab from injury.
I firmly believe in the elliptical, strength training, swimming, water jogging, walking and biking, particularly for the runner/triathlete who can't run - pending the injury and how extreme it may be. You may have an injury in your lower body but your heart is still working.
Many athletes would rather take an all-or nothing approach to training and if they can't run, they just throw in the towel and stop all activity to "rest".... sadly, I see way too many athletes constantly getting out of shape because of too much time off from all activity in order to "recover". Additionally, there are the athletes who constantly try to "test" the injury every other day because they fear losing fitness or gaining weight.
 One thing I have learned is that the heart and brain can be strong when something is "off". Therefore, in addition to focusing on strength training (often the simple answer for preventing injuries), this treadmill can be utilized by both the runner who needs a break from pounding on the hard surfaces or is rehabing from injury.

-I think this treadmill is great for keeping the cadence and working on running form. There is a video behind the treadmill that you can see in the screne in front of you so it is great for working on your stride and cadence, no matter what stage of training you are in. I'm all about working on the little things such as running form, rather than just expecting to be a "better" runner by running more.

-I think this treadmill is a great idea for the individual who would like to run but is just getting into a running program. Whether there is too much body weight on a person or a person is not of optimal fitness, I believe this treadmill is ideal for the person who needs assistance with running in order reduce the pressure on the body (ex. joints). Running can be a very stress-free experience to release endorphins and to raise HR to reduce body weight but if you are in pain and trying to "get through" a workout, I would highly recommend this treadmill.


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After a brief talk on the treadmill, the main speaker was introduced. I briefly heard Keith Brantly  speak earlier this year when I was asked to be part of "Ask the Expert Coaching" night at my favorite running store - Jacksonville Running Company . Keith's resume is exceptional, as a talented athlete who has broken the 4-minute mile AND has qualified for the Olympics (1996) in the marathon. Keith certainly knows a thing or two about running particularly since he has worked with a span of coaches and professional athletes to truely understand the sport...plus, his wife Kim is an exceptional runner herself!!

Keith gave a very motivational talk about being a runner as triathlete and I took away a few key points that I wanted to share with everyone on this blog about how to better improve their run training and racing.

1) Pacing - certainly a topic I have learned to appreciate in my racing career. Last night I had a few people come up to me and congratulate me on my past few races. I suppose I have had a great season but I have to be frank and say it is nice to train and race injury free. The first year I dove into endurance sports, I qualified for the IM world Championships (2007) and Boston Marathon (2006), after my first IM and marathon attempts) and despite having 4 years of obstacles in my racing carrer, I still have the competitive drive to race and to see what I am capable of doing when I set a goal.
Now, I am not without an ache here or there so I have to keep up with my stretching, rolling, massages, epson salt baths, strength training and cross training in order to maintain a body in good health.
However, on paper, I am not that fast compared to some of the girls that are out there in our sport. I strive to get faster and stronger and that is what training is all about, to me. I don't see a deadline in my triathlon and running career and my driving force is to set goals to see what I can accomplish. But with my races, I pick races that I can pace myself efficently and be smart with my race day effort. Keith really stressed the importance of pacing and gave a few stories of how he has failed (ex. Boston Marathon) with pacing, particularly when running downhills or in windy conditions. My take away from this topic was that we should not only know what our pace should be on race day (in addition to HR) but we should also be training our body and mind with every training session so that even without gadgets, you know exactly what the body is capable of, how to adjust on race day depending on the conditions and/or course and what is most practical for maintaining that effort.

2. Intervals and tempo - Another topic that I believe in no matter what distance you are training for in running or triathlons - intervals. There was a recent article in Competitor Magazine that talked about intervals as well. Keith brought up the example of doing an interval within an interval such as doing 6 x 1 mile repeaters on the track (he believes in track workouts)  and doing 1/2 mile @ race pace, 1/4 mile at slighter faster race pace, then 1/4 mile recovery...then stop to officially recover by walking 2-3 minutes. This reminds me of the over/under intervals that I have learned to love/hate thanks to Karel.
You pick a power number (watts) and then do a long-ish repeating set with recovery (such as 8-20 minutes for the set) where you are going above and below that power so you aren't really recovering when you drop below but you aren't holding that above wattage for too long when you push hard. For example, let's say your threshold was 150 watts, you could do 1 min @ 155-160 watts and 2 minutes at 140-145 watts and keep repeating that for 9 minutes and then recover. I really believe in intervals and they also make for great quality training. As for tempo, that is simply picking a pace around 75-85% max HR and holding it for a certain amount of time. Even for tempo, I do believe in "recovery" and not trying to go "race pace" for more than 20 minutes if training for a long distance event, without adequate recovery.

3. Drafting - "You don't owe anything to the person you are running with. The only time you should be in the lead is at the finish line." Well said Keith. Keith talked about the importance of drafting on the run which is something that isn't talked about a lot, especially compared to biking. Even for swimming, if you have ever swam behind someone or slightly to the right or left of them in open water (depending on where the current is going) you can instantly feel that reduction in effort to make your swim more efficient. Certainly, there is a reason why drafting is illegal in triathlons on the bike but it will make you faster in training if you are being pushed when drafting (once again, a love/hate workout when riding with Karel and trying to stay on his wheel).
Keith explained that in a race, do not run side-by-side with someone if they are keeping the same pace as you or if you are holding the pace of someone else. Find where the wind is coming from and draft to reduce your effort. Then when you are nearing the line, do your thing to put that reduction in effort to the test. Some may say this is unsportmanlike but hey, it's sports and certainly considering this unethical would be silly compared to some of the other things that people have done in sports to gain the competitive edge. On the flip side, I can't tell you how many people I have thanked at the finish line (or have thanked me) for being pushed.  Karel has always told me to try to get behind someone and stay with them during the run but...that is really hard when they are running faster than you...but if you are being pushed within your limits, the person ahead of you  may beat you to the line but you may find yourself with a PR or an age group ranking all because you had that other person to kindly show you what you are made of.

4. Long runs - I really like Keith's approach to long-runs but as someone who does encourage intervals within long runs, I can see a lot of flexibility in his approach and I am very interested in trying this out with me and my athletes. Keith explains a stair step approach to long runs, similar to what we are all use to with building up in long run mileage. However, Keith explains that he likes to back down every other week as someone is increase mileage, from what they consider their "long" run. For example....
Week 1: Longest run is 10 miles.
Week 2: Next week is 8 miles but last 2 miles are harder (certainly, I don't believe a person can be running race pace so early in training but this pace should be harder than the first 6 miles).
Week 3: Long run bumps to 12 miles.
Week 4: Long run goes down to 10 miles but last 2 miles are harder.
Etc.

Keith didn't mention anything about a "recovery" week, which I believe should come ever 2-3 weeks, depending on the time of the year and the fitness of the athlete. But, I'm sure he does one for his athletes, but every coach is different.
What Keith mentioned was that once a person can comfortably run 16 miles, he doesn't back down in mileage for those off weeks but rather, stretches out the harder efforts every other week. For example, once a person hits 16 weeks, the next workout may be 18 miles for the long run and then the following week, 16 miles are run but with the last 4 miles hard.

I really like this approach for the person who is trying to build a base but I find it important to always work back in miles from your race day so that you aren't trying to do too much too soon. I recommend 3-4 months of "race" prep gearing up for a race, with 1-2 months of building a base with an emphasis on strength and form prior to that build. I also recommend no more than 16 weeks of "training" without a 1-2 week break from structured exercise for we all need a physical and emotional break (whether you think you do or not - you do).


5. The 4 year plan - I really, really REALLY liked this part. Keith talked about his coach developing a 4 (or perhaps a 16 year) plan for him to reach his goals. If you think of an Olympian, certainly they have trials to qualify for the Olympics but they also have up to 3 years to train for that big day. Could you imagine if you had 3 years to train for an Ironman or marathon?? I believe there would be much less stress to "fit it all in" for many athletes try to bump up miles too quickly and often overlook the little things that help put the pieces together for a great consistent training plan and a great racing experience. I believe everyone who is committed to a healthy lifestyle should do this...for we all like to live in the now (as we should) but wrongfully, want quick results.
Breaks, off-season training, strength training, sleep, diet, vacations, peak training....there are so many components that make up a successful racing season yet athletes put so much pressure in the 16 weeks before race day to accomplish everything - mostly with an over-emphasis on miles.
If you have kept up with my blog for the past few years, you may know that I don't spend more than 12 weeks training specifically for an IM with the rest of the season devoted to getting me to where I need to be to Start my IM specific training. For my half IM, my long rides were 2.5-3.5 hours with no ride over 4 hours. Not sure of my miles...never looked at them because I was always doing intervals within the workout. As for my runs, my longest run was 12 miles (which included 6 x 1 mile repeaters faster than race pace) which I did 3 weekends before race day but I can only count a total of 4 runs between 9-12 miles that I did since April (including the Iron Girl half marathon race) in gearing up for the half Ironman. In an Ironman, I only do 2 long rides over 100 miles (100 miles and 112 miles) and the rest of my rides are around 5 - 5.5 hours (not worrying about distance) and I don't believe in running more than 2.5 hours or more than 18-20 miles before an IM for a long run.
  Of course, I also have a lot of fun with my training and it is also exercise for me so I really don't find myself getting burnt out from what I love to do. It is a hard balance to find and to keep but it is worth developing the mental strength to be ok with having both short and long term goals and not trying to rush the process.
 At the same time, with a 4-year plan, it is also important that you don't procrastinate. Especially for individuals who have weight to lose in order to be at a healthier weight, want to get stronger or need to get faster (who doesn't want to get faster?), it is better to devote a few months to your overall health goals while maintaining a healthy exercise routine, rather than trying to multi-task in an already busy and overwhelming lifestyle. For anyone who is new to the sport or has short and long term goals from being a veteran in the sport, I ask you to think about where you are now, where you want to be at the end of 4 years and then, work your way backward with the steps you will take to get you to where you want to be in a few years.

For with this long-term planning, you should see yourself always progressing and with that, comes a fire that keeps you excited to maintain a lifestyle that keeps you waking up everyday, wondering what you are capable of accomplishing for that day.

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