Guest Blogger: Aaron O’Connor on “Treadmills of the Future”Treadmills of the Future
By Aaron O’Connor
While most of the big news in health technology seems to always focus on advanced surgeries or diagnostic instruments, there have been great advances in other areas as well. Treadmills have long been and remain a staple of the indoor exercise lineup, and have served countless people as an easy and convenient option for an aerobic workout. However, the treadmills of the future are not just the same old machines with a bunch of electronic gadgets attached, but push the limits of how the treadmill can be used and redefine its primary purpose. The treadmills of the future are here now, as can be seen from three new types: the pressurized treadmill, the vertical treadmill and the omnidirectional treadmill (ODT).Pressurized Treadmill
The pressurized treadmill, also known as the anti-gravity treadmill, is primarily used by NASA in astronaut training, and by patients in physical therapy. This type of treadmill puts the runner or walker in a chamber suspended above the treadmill. The chamber supports some of the weight of the runner, effectively reducing the gravity on the treadmill. This reduction in effective gravity of almost 50 percent reduces the pressure on the runner’s legs, joints and feet. It is especially helpful in rehabilitating the injured.
The pressurized treadmill works by raising air pressure around the lower half of the runner, who is in a tent-like chamber. The Rocky Mountain News reports that a pressurized treadmill can provide a substantial aerobic workout while lowering “the peak force of heel impact by 44 percent.”Vertical Treadmill
The vertical treadmill is basically a standard treadmill used for vertical or angled movement such as that required for climbing. All of the benefits of climbing and learning the skills necessary for climbing can now be accomplished in rooms with a limited ceiling height. Since the climber never really gets more than a few feet off the ground, there is little need to even wear a safety harness.
One of the most popular vertical treadmills is the ClimbStation. It uses hydraulic lifts to tilt the treadmill from 15 to -39 degrees for difficult climbs. Climbers first select a level of difficulty from 1 to 12, but this does not control the speed, which is determined by how fast the climber is moving. This allows the climber to slow down or even stop to rest or think about the next move.
In the US, NASA is using vertical treadmills in order to keep astronauts in space fit and healthy. The best part about NASA’s vertical treadmill is that astronauts can actually use the vertical treadmill for running. Using this treadmill in space has shown to promote physical well-being in zero gravity situations.Omnidirectional Treadmill
The omnidirectional treadmill (ODT) allows for movement in any direction instead of just forward. ODT systems are currently being used for research and training in immersive virtual environments. These treadmills allow the user to move as he or she normally would for an unlimited distance through virtual space. As a result movement feels natural and unrestricted, even though the user remains on the ODT pad for the entirety of the workout.
The ODT was actually developed in parallel with virtual reality systems, and the first working system was produced in 1997 for the US Army. This first ODT used a system of plastic belts and rollers. The first fully belt-based system was invented in 1999. In 2005, the CyberWalk Project began to make great strides in developing the technology by allowing European universities to collaborate on the project.
While the first ODT systems were made for military and government use, Wired Magazine and the popular tech blog Engadget both report that ODTs are being developed for use in virtual reality video game systems. William Thompson at the University of Utah says that omnidirectional treadmills also hold promise for treating serious medical issues such as Parkinson’s disease.Moving Forward
There is no doubt that technology has not been standing still in the world of fitness equipment. In terms of health, these new applications of a tried and true exercise technology not only have rehabilitation applications, but potentially broaden the range of ways in which users can get a workout. With the increasing prevalence of these sorts of machines, widespread issues like obesity and heart disease may finally begin to diminish as people take advantage of innovative new approaches to fitness. Before long, treadmills of the future will completely change the nature of putting one foot in front of the other.