The revolutionary device, typically favored by distance runners, has found a new user: sprinter Sanya Richards-Ross.
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NEW YORK — When Olympic gold medalist Sanya Richards-Ross had toe surgery last September, she turned to an unusual aid to help heal her ailing right big toe: the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill. Commonly used by elite level distance runners, Richards-Ross is one of the few known top level sprinters to use the expensive machine which can cost as much as $75,000.
Diagnosed with Hallux Rigidus, a condition where two bones in the toe rub against one another, Richards-Ross had been dealing with pain in her foot for close to five years. In the month following her Olympic win in the 400m, surgeons shaved down a pair of bones in the 28-year-old’s foot, giving the big toe more flexibility.
Following the surgery, Richards-Ross was anxious to return to her Olympic form. But her toe would not cooperate.
“It’s been a rough road getting back to this point,” Richards-Ross told reporters this week ahead of the adidas Grand Prix, the first of two stops for the IAAF Diamond League in the United States.
Introduced to the AlterG by coach Clyde Hart, Richards-Ross has reaped the benefits of the machine, which lessens the pounding and stress on one’s body by using “Differential Air Pressure technology” to “unweight” the runner, according to the company. Simply put, the AlterG allows athletes to train while lessening the impact on their body.
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Hart advised the 400m American Record holder to try the AlterG, having seen the machine’s benefits in both distance runners and his own athletes. Baylor University sprinter Trey Harts had used it in 2009 while injured and wound up winning the NCAA 200m Indoor title.
“Coach Hart was fascinated with it,” recalled Richards-Ross. “Of course, I wasn’t using it when it first came out [at Baylor, where Hart coaches]. Most of the distance runners that were injured would use it.”
For years, the AlterG has been well known in distance running circles. Arguably the most notable force in the growing AlterG trend has been Nike Oregon Project coach Alberto Salazar.
Salazar is quoted as saying, “I think it’s the best piece of equipment made for running in the last 30 years, the most revolutionary piece of equipment, without a doubt,” on the AlterG website. Among his athletes training on the machine are 2012 Olympic gold and silver medalists Mo Farah and Galen Rupp.
While use of the machine has grown among distance runners, Richards-Ross is among the first world-class sprinters known to use it.
“It allowed me to run on my toe at about 50-percent of my body weight,” she said. “That’s what I was using to stay in great shape. Coach Hart and I were pleasantly surprised when I got back on the track three weeks ago how fit I was.”
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Using the AlterG at both Baylor University and the University of Texas, Richards-Ross has drawn attention from distance runners when they see an Olympic sprinter using the machine.
“When I was in Austin, some of the guys were shocked to see me on it,” Richards-Ross said with a laugh. “They started calling it the Sanya-G.”
Hart scheduled daily workouts on the machine, approaching one hour’s length in total time. One example session included three sets of three minutes at 12 miles per hour.
“My coach found a way to kick my but every single day,” she said.
Richards-Ross swears by the machine, crediting it for her return to form.
“I would recommend anyone who is injured to use it because it really did help me stay fit and allowed me to really push without putting too much pressure on my toe,” she said.
Others in the running industry have had similar feelings.
On the product’s website, Runners World Editor-at-Large Amby Burfoot is quoted as saying, “The AlterG is the most significant advance in training equipment for distance runners in the last half century.”
Healthy and ready to return to the track, Richards-Ross will lace up her Nike racing spikes Saturday when she takes on Olympic silver medalist Christine Ohuruogo and current world leader Amantle Montsho. If it wasn’t for the AlterG, Richards-Ross says she may not have been back so soon.
“There’s no way I would have been able to get that kind of work in on my toe without the AlterG. To get that kind of mileage in and that kind of endurance training would have been impossible,” she said.