Running at the speed of lightA local physical therapist and ultramarathon runner is already making an impact in the exercise community with his invention, and the future looks to be full of possibilities for his fledgling company.
By: Valerie Clark, Duluth Budgeteer News
A local physical therapist and ultramarathon runner is already making an impact in the exercise community with his invention, and the future looks to be full of possibilities for his fledgling company.
Malcolm Macaulay and his partners Vern Johnsen and Dan Stein are excited for what the future might hold for their invention, the LightSpeed treadmill harness system. Jumping in with both feet, Macaulay filed for a patent on July 11 and recently placed his largest manufacturing order to date, for 10 units.
So what is the LightSpeed system?
Equal parts physical therapy method and athletic training technique, the LightSpeed system capitalizes on a well-known concept: Taking weight off a subject greatly enhances performance. The LightSpeed harness takes off 15 to 25 pounds of the participant’s body weight, yielding large dividends.
“Even taking off what seems like a relatively small amount is significant, because every time you hit the ground when you’re running, it’s about four times your body weight force that it hits with,” Macaulay explained. “Twenty pounds is actually 80 pounds.”
Multiply that impact over thousands of steps, Macaulay said, and athletes are putting a lot of pressure on their joints and spine. For people who have sports injuries or are overweight and trying to start a new exercise program, that impact can be too much to handle.
“We’re designed to have impact and our bones do well with that, but if you get too much and the body’s not used to it, you get into trouble,” he said. Athletes who don’t have any injuries but are looking to improve their overall fitness and running technique benefit as well, Macaulay added.
“You’re actually training the body to get used to the impact, but with not as much impact. As close as you can come to walking or running, the better off you are,” Macaulay said, adding that several members of a beginners’ running club had recently tried out the harnesses to great success after having trouble getting started.
“All of a sudden, they’re like, ‘Now I get it!’ Mentally they get it. Cardiovascular-wise, they can get it more,” Macaulay said.
Athletes use the system to improve their speed and performance.
“It starts to teach your body to run more efficiently, and get your legs to move faster,” Macaulay said.
The system was honed from several years of research and trial and error. The subject wears a special pair of shorts that attach to two bungee cords, one in front and one in back. The cords are clipped to a metal frame built around the treadmill, and the participant runs on the treadmill as usual, but feeling much lighter on his feet.
The concept is difficult to describe or even show in a video, so Macaulay plans to adopt a door-to-door sales approach, allowing potential buyers to try it out for themselves. He’s hoping that word-of-mouth will start to spread nationwide, especially from the YMCA, which has had great success with the device already.
“They’ve had a good response from their members,” Macaulay said.
There are currently six units in use; in addition to the one at the Y, there are two prototypes at Achieve Physical Therapy, where Macaulay rents space. One is in use at the University of Minnesota Duluth’s athletic training room, Evolve Fitness has one, and the Center for Muscle and Joint Therapy in Superior has one as well. The YMCA has already ordered a second unit.
The idea for the LightSpeed system was born in the early ’90s, when Stein suffered a severe neck injury.
“He was an addicted runner and couldn’t run,” Macaulay said. “It was driving him crazy.”
In designing the earliest version of the LightSpeed system, Macaulay deviated from what was available at the time. Bulky body-weight-support systems were traditionally designed to come down from above, grabbing the runner around the rib cage to lift him. Macaulay’s challenge was to come up with a less cumbersome system.
“It took me a long time to come up with different ways of attaching a lift to people that didn’t affect running mechanics, that was easy, that was inexpensive, and that would work with most every treadmill,” he said.
The result of years of tweaking is the LightSpeed system.
The LightSpeed system is simpler and costs only a fraction of the “anti-gravity treadmill” systems currently on the market, said Macaulay. Systems like those are used by professional sports teams across the country and around the world. They utilize technology originally developed by NASA to train astronauts. More high-tech than Macaulay’s version, they operate with the user’s legs encased in a weight-reducing bubble. Trainers are able to fine-tune the contraption more closely, taking off as much as 80 percent of body weight, Macaulay said, but the system requires a dedicated treadmill. LightSpeed offers the same type of training benefits with a much simpler design and lower price.
“We were looking for a simple, convenient way to lift that weight off, which we knew was significant as a help. But it had to be comfortable and it had to be convenient, and you still had to feel like you were really running. I think we’ve got it,” Macaulay said.
All dedicated runners, Macaulay, Johnsen and Stein have used their running expertise to improve LightSpeed, and they’ve also received lots of help with the product’s development from Dinehery Fence and Ironworks owner Nick Dinehart, Louise Russell at Dogbooties.com, Frost River, Aerostitch, Kevin Kinney, Lake Superior College’s machine technology department, the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Small Business Development Center, Riverside Metal in Moose Lake, and Dusty’s Powder Coating in Superior.
The system’s shorts are now being manufactured out of state, but Macaulay said he likes to keep things local wherever possible.
As an entrepreneur, he’s excited to start spreading the word about the LightSpeed system; but as a physical therapist, he’s just glad to offer an option to his clients for when they complete their rehabilitation.
“Now I can send them to the YMCA where they can continue training,” he said.
For more information, visit www.lightspeedrunningandrehabilitation.com.