Making the Grade: An Exploration of Incline Running on a Bodyweight-Supportive Treadmill

in Journal of Sport Rehabilitation
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Context: Bodyweight-supporting treadmills are popular rehabilitation tools for athletes recovering from impact-related injuries because they reduce ground reaction forces during running. However, the overall metabolic demand of a given running speed is also reduced, meaning athletes who return to competition after using such a device in rehabilitation may not be as fit as they had been prior to their injury. Objective: To explore the metabolic effects of adding incline during bodyweight-supported treadmill running. Design: Cross-sectional. Setting: Research laboratory. Participants: Fourteen apparently healthy, recreational runners (6 females and 8 males; 21 [3] y, 1.71 [0.08] m, 63.11 [6.86] kg). Interventions: The participants performed steady-state running trials on a bodyweight-supporting treadmill at 8.5 mph. The control condition was no incline and no bodyweight support. All experimental conditions were at 30% bodyweight support. The participants began the sequence of experimental conditions at 0% incline; this increased to 1%, and from there on, 2% incline increases were introduced until a 15% grade was reached. Repeated-measures analysis of variance was used to compare all bodyweight-support conditions against the control condition. Main Outcome Measures: Oxygen consumption, heart rate, and rating of perceived exertion. Results: Level running with 30% bodyweight support reduced oxygen consumption by 21.6% (P < .001) and heart rate by 12.0% (P < .001) compared with the control. Each 2% increase in incline with bodyweight support increased oxygen consumption by 6.4% and heart rate by 3.2% on average. A 7% incline elicited similar physiological measures as the unsupported, level condition. However, the perceived intensity of this incline with bodyweight support was greater than the unsupported condition (P < .001). Conclusions: Athletes can maintain training intensity while running on a bodyweight-supporting treadmill by introducing incline. Rehabilitation programs should rely on quantitative rather than qualitative data to drive exercise prescription in this modality.

Wagner is with the Physical Therapy Department, D’Youville College, Buffalo, NY, USA. Dames is with the Kinesiology Department, State University of New York at Cortland, Cortland, NY, USA.

Dames (kevin.dames@cortland.edu) is corresponding author.
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