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Assistant athletic trainer Spencer Thomas gets a test ride on the Altra-G Anti-Gravity treadmill.

Tuesday July 29, 2014Injured But in Motion: Gators Athletic Trainers Get New Rehab Toy

Assistant athletic trainer Spencer Thomas gets a test ride on the Altra-G Anti-Gravity treadmill.

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Andre Debose knows all too well (unfortunately) that there is no easy road back from a serious injury.

Twice the Florida senior wide receiver has lost football seasons; once as a true freshman when he arrived on campus with a wicked hamstring tear that took months to rehabilitate; then again last summer, when he blew out his left knee in preseason practice and eventually got a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA.

On the rehab front, Debose is an expert.

But with his most recent road to recovery, Debose didn’t get the full benefit of the newest toy in the Patrick South End Zone Athletic Room, yet it didn’t take him long to realize future Gators on the mend are going to benefit from the innovative Alter-G Anti-Gravity treadmill.

“It’s going to save time,” Debose said. “It’s going to instill confidence.”

The Alter-G treadmill can reduce gravity’s impact on injuries during rehab by adjusting an athlete’s actual body weight anywhere from 10 to 100 percent and thus allow for less pain and pounding in the process.

Athletes in the recovery stage of injuries literally can walk or run using their normal gait -- and do it pain-free.

“It’s a game-changer,” said Paul Silvestri, UF associate director of sports health. “And not just for football, but for all our sports.”

Alter G Injured Gators climb into a pair of special (and very tight) shorts that zip into an inflatable bubble that encloses the treadmill. The Alter-G then calibrates actual body weight with the preferred body weight while the lower bag inflates.

From there, the treadmill’s speed and incline is set like normal.

“You have to get in it to really understand it and experience how it works,” assistant athletic trainer Spencer Thomas said. “If you want, you can set it so it feels like you're walking on the moon.”

Indeed, if the body weight settings are 20 percent or below, there’s a feeling of weightlessness that allows for a normal stride without the concern of repeated foot-to-ground impact taking a toll on the injury.

Example: Last week, Thomas was working with an athlete recovering from a stress fracture. A normal rehab routine would have started that athlete working and moving in the swimming pool or on a stationary bike.

“Instead, he came in and ran, which means you're working on cardio and getting their fitness level up,” Thomas said. “You’re doing it almost immediately.”

Silvestri spoke of a 305-pound football player dealing with a sore hip. When the player ran sprints outside, he experienced a discomforting pinch.

So Silvestri set the Alt-G at 70 percent of the player’s body weight and turned him loose.

“Now, he can run full speed, but he’s running at 215 pounds,” Silvestri said. “It’s taking that much weight off of him.”

The Alter-G will be the ideal tool to wean athletes back into playing shape or to re-introduce them to movement coming off major surgery.

In the case of the former, a soccer player that, say, sprains her ankle during preseason drills next month and might have to be sidelined a couple weeks will still be able to maintain her conditioning and get her heart rate up by running full speed using a custom Alter-G program that varies simulated body weight as the ankle heals.

As for the later, basketball player DeVon Walker is a prime example. Walker, the junior guard, suffered an ACL injury in offseason workouts two weeks ago. The basketball training staff won’t have to wait for Walker’s wound to heal, as would be the case if his rehab began in a pool. And not only will he be able to begin jogging much sooner post-surgery (as opposed to three or four months), the Alter-G belt can be locked in stationary mode, so that Walker can work on his jumping and landing at 20, 30, 40, 50 percent the impact.

“It will be huge for him,” Silvestri said.

For everybody, actually.

“At the beginning of rehab, it’s all about confidence and trusting that you can take the weight and pressure on the injury,” DeBose said. “Knowing you can do that is going to help everyone make it back.”


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