There are a number of reasons why athletes are hesitant to change up their workout plans. Any variation can be detrimental not only to their performance but also to their health. On top of that, there is the pure intimidation of taking on something new. However there is a new piece of fitness equipment in Chicago that hopes to win over runners and athletes of all kinds and fill a void in the fitness world.
Put simply, the Sproing Trainer is the next step in indoor endurance training. It was created to give the workout of a treadmill, mixed with a number of other pieces of equipment, without the health risks and side effects of its predecessor. The hard board and rollers of a treadmill have been replaced with an inflated, stationary airbed. Users simply step on to the machine, strap themselves in using a Velcro belt attached to a back support wall that is capable of supporting up to 3,000lbs of weight. This gives runners the opportunity to get the forward lean that they naturally have while running outside that is missed with the treadmill.
The most important feature of the Sproing is the airbed. While firm enough to feel safe it gives a soft landing for the body, preventing injury to joints or bones. When mixed with the cord holding users in place it encourages proper running form with full Pose Method approval. The Pose method, invented by famed Russian Olympic coach Dr. Nicholas Romanov, teaches runners to use their hamstrings to push forward naturally. Whereas running on a treadmill can often force runners to lift their legs using their quads and fall into the bad habits of slamming the heel into the ground.
The Sproing Trainer, and now Sproing Sport Studio, is the brainchild of Paul Toback and Steven Lenz who have decades combined working in the industry. Toback, an avid runner, was a senior fitness executive at Bally Total Fitness and was the former president and CEO of the company. Lenz had been an expert engineer and product designer with Life Fitness for over a decade. Over the last five years the two have worked through a number of different ideas on how they could improve the treadmill, a machine that Toback said hasn’t truly been upgraded in about 100 years.
The Sproing, as their final machine became known as, has become a hit in the world of rehabilitation and professional sports. Toback said trainers have taken to the machine for the simple reason that it doesn’t cause the impact on users that a treadmill, or even running outside would. Instead, it gives them the ability to use their legs and muscles in natural ways and progress along with their injury rehab. Similarly, Toback said that people who formerly were relegated to the elliptical have found their way back to active running while using the Sproing. On the other end of the spectrum, Toback said that professional athletes and teams have become very interested in the Sproing. Potential rookies in the NFL have been put on the Sproing at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis to test their endurance. Four different teams have bought their own Sproing Trainers to help their team stay fit without beating up their bodies any more than is needed.
The Sproing can be, admittedly, intimidating on sight. Toback said that they are working with health clubs, physical therapists and other groups to help teach them how to get people introduced to the machine. One of the other ways they are introducing it is with their very own studio, Sproing Sport, in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood. This past week I was invited to come check out the studio at 1652 N. Wells and take part in one of their fitness classes. There are two main Sproing machines, the Sproing Runner which is a simplified version which just has the bed and the strap, and the Sproing Trainer which I sampled. The trainer was the original machine Toback and Lenz created and is capable of delivering a full body workout with just a few small steps.
The studio is filled with Sproing Trainers all facing a mirror wall with the instructors machine facing back at the group. I was a part of a group of five and was one of three to use the Sproing for the first time. The class uses the popular High Intensity Interval Training method, or HIIT. We all strapped in and listened as our instructor, Jennifer, walked us through all of the different workouts we would be doing throughout the 45 minute class. As with all HIIT classes, we would be doing each exercise for 20 seconds before switching to another. Each set of two exercises would be done 4 times before moving on to a different pairing. There are also a number of ways to either simplify or step up the intensity of each exercise depending on fitness level. The exercises consisted of a combination of squats, lunges, pushups, backpedaling and most commonly running in place. The belt and strap allowed us to get in to positions that otherwise would have resulted in embarrassing falls or needed large amounts of space.
The workout was intense, by the end of it I was sore in places I didn’t even realize I was working. The coolest part, however, may have also been the simplest. Running on the Sproing took some getting used to, but after just a short amount of time on it I began to feel a similar workout to a true speed workout. The simplest way to describe it is like the feeling of running while pulling something behind you, whether that be a parachute or sled for speed work, I could feel the pull behind me as my body leaned forward driving down and back into the bed. The Pose Method, which Toback often refers to, is crucial in the Sproing design and because of this has been endorsed by Dr. Romanov. It consists of focusing the work on the hamstrings by never driving the ankle past the hips, instead lifting it into position and letting it fall. I could feel myself driving forward all while staying place and running at various degrees of intensity. Because of the wall strap I could push myself to move at a sprint level or stay more consistent with a distance running speed.
The studio itself offers many of the amenities of a full gym. The trainer has side and lower straps that can work the arm, back and chest muscles all while combining with a lower body workout, Jennifer ran us through nearly all of them. A certified trainer Jennifer came to Sproing when general manager Ingrid Kromer reached out to the fitness world. After doing some investigating of her own she joined the staff and has been training with the machine learning all the ins and outs over the last few weeks. Now she teaches a number of classes throughout the week. Despite only being open a week the classes have already seen noticeable growth from walk bys and curious onlookers. The studio has classes morning, lunch and after work to fit varying schedules. In addition to the machines, class participants can also use a heart rate monitor and watch their heart rate along with the rest of the classes on a TV in front of them to keep them working at peak performance. The studio offers a daycare for parents coming by with their kids and showers for those who need to quickly get back to work.
Before taking the class I was originally planning on simply writing a story on the opening of a new fitness studio. However while talking with Kromer she said that to truly get an understanding of what Sproing is I needed to come check it out in person. I now realize exactly what she means and trying to fully encapsulate all that the Sproing Trainer does would look more like a rambling list than a story. Toback said that he hopes one day the Sproing will have a place in gyms similarly to an elliptical where runners have the opportunity to use it and feel comfortable on it regularly.
After going in to the experience admittedly nervous to the intricacies of the Sproing I can now say that is all in the past. While intimidated at first by the sight of the machine it could not have been easier to use. Combined with its health benefits compared to the treadmill there is no reason this won’t be springing up in health clubs across the city, or more fittingly, Sproinging up.