Duluth physical therapist develops running aid

The lighter you are the faster you can run. That's the enticing premise for a piece of equipment developed by Duluth physical therapist Malcolm Macaulay as an aid to treadmill exercise.

News Tribune sportswriter Kevin Pates (right) tests out the LightSpeed treadmill devised by physical therapist Malcolm Macaulay (left). Using the attached cords, Pates is lifted slightly off the treadmill to allow for faster leg turnover. His effective weight on the device dropped from 128 pounds to 107 pounds. (Bob King /

The lighter you are the faster you can run. That's the enticing premise for a piece of equipment developed by Duluth physical therapist Malcolm Macaulay as an aid to treadmill exercise.

The LightSpeed Body Weight Support System lifts approximately 15 percent of a runner's body weight off the ground, producing a less-impactful and speedier workout.

Nine pieces weighing a total of 75 pounds bolt together and fit around a treadmill. Two 30-inch bungee cords are attached by Velcro to compression shorts and clip to uprights as the suspension system elevates from mid-hip. It went on the market this year and costs $1,800.

Running never felt so easy.

Angel Hohenstein of Duluth, a serious triathlete, tried LightSpeed and advised buying one for the Duluth YMCA, where she works as membership coordinator. The YMCA made the purchase in March and is considering getting a second.


"We look at the YMCA as being something of a pilot project for this system, and the members who have used it have been singing its praises," Hohenstein said Tuesday. "If you're injured, you are still able to run with the LightSpeed because of less impact. If you want to improve your running speed, it helps. It is a tool for an athlete and sells itself once you try it."

Macaulay, 60, an avid runner, started researching the subject in 1993 while working at Duluth's Isernhagen Clinic, using a version of the Pneu-Weight Unweighting System from Quinton Fitness Equipment in Bothell, Wash. There were 18 runners from the area in a study (including this News Tribune writer), which was directed by Macaulay and running coach Vern Johnsen of Carlton.

That overhead system, which included a tight Velcro vest, pulled the runner up off the treadmill.

The LightSpeed suspends the runner, is not restrictive and allows for free movement. There's no learning curve, other than first-time instructions on how to connect the bungee cords to the specially designed shorts and clipping the cord at both ends. The runner can conduct a workout without assistance.

Macaulay revisited the idea four years ago after getting an inspiration about lifting from below rather than above.

"My initial idea was to help in rehabilitation for those suffering back, neck, hip and knee injuries, but it really can serve so many areas," said Macaulay, who has worked as a physical therapist for 28 years. "It's an aid for those who want to run swifter and more efficiently. It can just be pure fun to feel lighter (by 20-25 pounds) and turn your legs over quickly."

The LightSpeed frame was developed with the help of Dinehery Fence and Ironworks in Duluth, Riverside Metal of Moose Lake and Mike Koppy, a machining instructor at Lake Superior College. The neoprene shorts were the idea of Sew It Seems in Duluth and the bungee cord connections are from Aerostitch of Duluth.

Word of mouth has been the best advertisement for Macaulay, who has an office at IST Training on West Michigan Street. He's offered a number of runners a trial run, including ultramarathon star Scott Jurek, a Proctor native. Macaulay is also doing out-of-state promotion, including a trip to Nashville, Tenn., this week to demonstrate at physical therapy clinics. A trip also is planned to a Boulder, Colo., running equipment store. He has a provisional patent and made a more formal application last week.


Duluth personal trainer Jessica Rossing, a Team USA triathlete, has used the system for a year and purchased a setup for her fitness gym, Evolve Duluth.

"I can hop on and do speed workouts and interval training, and use my treadmill on maximum speed (12½ mph). You can get your body acclimated to a quicker turnover without so much impact," said Rossing. "A novice runner can get on and experience the rush of running fast without the pain and it gives them hope that they'll enjoy running. It can be a help for competitive and non-competitive runners."

More information on the system is available at .

Malcolm Macaulay
Malcolm Macaulay is the physical therapist who devised the LightSpeed treadmill. (Bob King /

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