354. How and Why to use an AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill

Using an AlterG | Ann Ning Learning How

I’ll refer to an AG Treadmill simply as an “AlterG” bc in my mind it’s like how “Band-Aid” is considered synonymous for an adhesive bandage. The only other kind of AGT I’ve used is a ZeroG (the giant Baby Bjorn) at Planet Rehab. I don’t know of any other ZeroG’s anywhere else so for convenience I’ll talk about the AlterG. I’m not affiliated with this company – I’m just providing information I wish I’d known before I started.

I have spent 2.5 years perfecting my outpatient persona – e.g. to accept the Therapist assigned to me, learn whatever I can, and make his/her day go by fast. I’ve tried not to be picky. It’s been easy bc I have consistently been given real winners. I made a genuine effort not to harbor unreasonable expectations (esp. after M37) but one of the marks of God’s care for me throughout this process is that everyone keeps on being a highly proficient practitioner. So now as I near the end of my outpatient career I’ve gotten choosier.

I’ll get back to the AlterG in a minute – this is related, I promise. As I transitioned to Medicare via Kaiser I chatted with a Rehab Receptionist to set up my eval and told her I needed someone with an appropriate skill set. When I went to The Gym I indicated that my work ethic would be strong but I needed my trainer to know what (s)he’s doing. When I started talking about core strength during that initial “interview” Trainer D’s eyes almost fell out of his head in a retrospectively hilarious moment of resonance.

33.  *Are you using your core?!?!?*

33. *Are you using your core?!?!?*

This is a central tenet of long-term Recovery: signal to the market. Let people know you’re in this to win it by having the forethought to indicate what you want, what you can do, and what you need. Making your intentions clear increases the likelihood of getting your goals met and (if an issue) gives the organization a chance to assess the risk-level they are taking on when you come in.

84.  I Come in Peace

84. I Come in Peace

I did this with Coach R. It paid off bc while I was expecting a simple transaction (time rental on the AlterG) I ended up signing an important ally for ORFR. I told him I was going to get picky simply because at this stage in the game I can and if I was going to get treatment it was going to be from him. When advising me on what to do, I think Coach R used the phrase, If you want to do this right… We’ll work on balance, strength, and spatial awareness so I won’t always have to depend on an AlterG. But while we’re working on it I am SO thankful to have the opportunity to use the equipment available to me. This is why and how you can, too:

Why to use an AlterG

  • Choose the body weight % you want to load (20%-100%)
  • Great for rehabilitation of injured athletes, or those who wish to keep training (e.g. pregnant marathoners) without high-impact workouts
  • Eliminates falling risk (!!)
  • 59.  I'm not doing that.

    59. I’m not doing that.

    There are harnesses you can put over a treadmill making it impossible to fall out, but most do not have anti-gravity/unweighting capabilities. Even if it does M37 explained that a harness allows the practitioner to move your legs for you if you need it, but the AlterG requires a higher level of mobility bc your legs are sealed in the bubble – training is eyes-only. People usually peer through the large “windows” around the bubble and offer feedback. Some machines come with cameras and a screen in front so you can watch your feet. I used to watch mine all the time at The Southern Gym (the PT practice where I used the AlterG last summer) bc my left leg strays beyond the confines of the belt when tired. I must rein it in intentionally.

How to use an AlterG

  • Find one: Go to AlterG.com. On the top right and side-bar there are zip code fields that yield a list of local AlterG’s. (I think this is a U.S.-based service presently – sorry, international friends!)
  • Weed through the list: Many of the places will be clinics requiring you to be a patient with an Rx – the machine is not for public usage. Some boutique gyms or running stores have an AlterG. Sports teams might have one, too, but this is not helpful for most. I prefer PT practices that rent time on the AlterG. If you can’t tell from their website, give them a call: 1. Confirm that they have an AlterG on site. 2. If yes, do they rent AlterG time to the public?
  • Make your initial appointment and think of the package you’re interested in – e.g. # of minutes per week. Some places give you an initial training on how to use the machine (this could be an extra fee). Others have their own people always on hand to help you in.
  • Be prepared to wear funny shorts. Some places ask you to purchase your own if you’re going to be a regular user (around $75) and others keep an assortment of sizes on hand for your use. They are like neoprene bike shorts with a narrow rubber tutu around the waist that you slip over whatever you’re wearing. The tutu has a zipper around the edge. When you step into the deflated AlterG you’ll step into the circular hole in the middle. They’ll pull the frame up to your waist (Coach R prefers it to sit slightly lower to allow for greater freedom of movement in the arms). It locks into place and then you/they connect the zipper on your shorts to the one on the AlterG. Now you’re zipped in to the bubble.
  • Turn the machine on, or your practitioner will do it and advise you on arm placement to promote an accurate weigh-bearing calculation by the device as the bubble inflates. Choose your % load, speed, and enjoy your walk/run!

PS. The title picture is me at The Southern Gym with my niece Hannah. Ai Ai was reluctant to let me walk the 50 feet inside the building to the Southern Gym but occasionally allowed H to accompany me – but she had to hold my hand. I haven’t held Hannah’s hand since she was 3-4 and we’d zip around town and have fun in general. I had no idea my sister took this picture. I was too busy looking at my feet on screen.


353. Team Tanimal

Team Tanimal | Ann Ning Learning How

Obviously, Ed Blueberry is Captain.

My Post-Rehab Recovery Starting Line-Up has a new name: Team Tanimal.

There are no benchers or subs on Team Tanimal.  If you’re here plan on working hard.  We’re playing for keeps and I will extract every ounce of your expertise.  I have ways and means.

“Tanimal” was a nickname from my first job.  I only heard it once (to my face) but I thought it was hilarious.  I showed up one day to visit the Maryland Brokers (I used to work in corporate real estate) and as I walked in I heard, Here comes the Tanimal.  I used to click around the office in heels and pearls, wearing very Washingtonian twin sets etc.  But they could see beyond the cover and knew I would not be leaving until I got what I needed.

These days I’m not always sure what I need – so I gather knowledgeable people around me.  To that end, I successfully recruited Coach R to join Team Tanimal last week.  Coach R is the one who wanted more info on the atrophy thing he saw going on with my left side.  But when he asked me to do a squat I was convinced that Team Tanimal could use him.

This is how my squatting skills have developed:

June 2011:  RIO (3rd Hospital)

A(2) :  Let’s do some squats!  (enthusiastically)

Me:  snicker snicker

A(2):  What’s so funny?  (in the usual longsuffering voice)

Me: Umm….I don’t think I could do those in normal life.

October 2013:  The Gym – entry evaluation

Trainer D:  Can you do a squat?

Me:  Pshaw! (scornfully) Can I do a squat?

Trainer D:  It was a theoretical question!  (I was already halfway off the table – I interpreted the question as an order.  That’s how it usually works.)

February 2014:  The Running Gym

Coach R:  Do a squat.

Me:  I need to hold something – (looking around) – do you have a kettlebell? (Realizing Coach R wouldn’t give me anything – now he hands me a weighted ball) Will you demonstrate first?

Coach R:  No.  I want to see how you do it.

Ummm…hello?  I have a brain injury. Tough crowd.  PS. He was not satisfied with my plié.  But for once it’s not Trainer D’s fault – I did a plié in protest when Coach R declined to demonstrate.  Heh heh.  The last time I saw him he upped the ante by producing a tension belt, holding one of my arms, and informing me that we were going to do standing single-leg squats.  I burst into spontaneous laughter.  And then I looked at his face and realized he was serious.

But really, Coach R is super nice, so in the following week I pondered whether I should rent time on the Alter G (the anti-gravity treadmill) or sign up for Post-Rehab sessions with him.  I decided that given the concerns voiced by my PT and CMD, my parents’ interest, and my habit of getting too excited about new pursuits when left to my own devices I’d do well to recruit Coach R in an official capacity.

So, unlike Trainer D, I gave Coach R a choice – and he said Yes, he’ll help me.  YAY!!  A couple of things he said on my first day – the “interview” – really intrigued me: 1) You could run on the Alter-G first and then when your muscles are fatigued it will be a better challenge to do the exercises after.  2) If you are able to attend to the deficits (e.g. in my hips – he had identified them within 10 minutes) you will see dramatic changes in your gait.

Prior to this I’ve been working on protecting my energy  But now I’m facing more scenarios that will require significant up-front energy  investments, and a robust chi as time goes on.  So building stamina in this context first is good.

Furthermore, it’s only lately that people (that means Trainer D) have proposed the idea of targeting certain muscle (groups) to help me reach specific goals.  I haven’t been ready to focus on isolated strengthening before this.  It’s been more about – use your eyes…walk…walk better…stay vertical…don’t lean to the side…  But now I’m praying I’m finally ready to attain a higher level of fitness beyond not falling down.

BTW when I say “run” I mean a very gentle jog on the anti-gravity treadmill.  It’s impossible to fall out, I can choose the body weight % I wish to use, and I only trot for 3-5 minutes at a time.  ORFR is an experiment to help manage my stress levels as they’ve increased lately.  That’s another reason I’m praying my body is ready for this – exercising really helps me feel better but I’m also half-waiting for something to happen.  My legs could already be showing signs of this new level of usage (it’s only been 3 weeks) – but that’s why I’ve got Team Tanimal – part of their function is to tell me if I need to go get checked out again.  (Please pray that I don’t.)  I feel like I’ve been building momentum since beginning acupuncture etc. last year, but I know from experience that regression happens and it’s disappointing but it’s a part of RecoveryLand.  My progress has been largely driven by people simply asking or just expecting me to do things – e.g. sit in a chair upright or do a plank.  So I have been busily recruiting people to do the asking and who can also teach me how to do things if I need to (re)learn.

Oh yeah – now that you’ve met Coach R fyi his name might change.  I call him “Coach” to differentiate him clearly from Trainer D, although Coach R’s certification is as an Athletic Trainer.  I’m going with “Coach” for clarity, but I’ll take his feedback.  However, the names Dr. Frankenstein, Gargamel, and Mr. Miyagi, are all taken. So I hope his heart was not set on any of those.  Otherwise, the sky’s the limit!