How to Run Without Impact: The Zero Runner from Octane Fitness
“Fuel Your Addiction.”
In one of their taglines, Octane Fitness proves that they get it. They get how obsessed, addicted, neurotic and crazy runners can be. They also know that these qualities tend to get runners injured, and that while we may tolerate the elliptical, the bike, and the pool for rehab, all we really want to do is run. That’s why they’ve brought us the Zero Runner.
I recently had the opportunity to visit Octane Fitness headquarters in Brooklyn Park. I sat down with company leaders (and runners themselves!) Tim Porth, Tina Nibbe and Jeff Lasch to talk running, injuries, addiction, and the Zero Runner.
What is Octane Fitness?
Octane Fitness was founded in 2001 by Tim and fellow fitness equipment veteran Dennis Lee. Their goal was to focus solely on zero-impact machines and make them the best in the world. They started with ellipticals, then got creative, introducing the first recumbent elliptical, a lateral elliptical, and the XT 1 - an elliptical with elevation.
In 2014, at the Boston Marathon expo, Octane launched their newest innovation. An elliptical-like machine, but with pivot points at the hips and knees, the Zero Runner allows a true running stride without the impact of a treadmill or running outside, and with over twice the stride length than an elliptical.
The Zero Runner is truly like running on air.
The Zero Runner is currently available in 2 models for consumers, with a third, gym-specific model coming soon. It is small and compact, taking up much less room than either an elliptical or a treadmill. It has no motor. It is quiet. And it comes with a couple interesting and different perks than your standard piece of fitness equipment:
- SmartLink Custom App for Garmin smartwatches and iPads/iPhones allows runners to track their indoor work on the Zero Runner just as they would outside. Get data on your pace, time, distance, heart rate and more.
- Stride tracing - through the SmartLink app, runners can view the shape of their stride, and make the necessary adjustments to ensure good form, especially when fatigued.
- Cross CiRCUIT provides combined cardio and strength workouts right in the SmartLink app. Using the straps, bands and other accessories that come with the machine, you can create a total body strength workout that includes running! The workouts and videos are updated frequently, giving you new workouts and challenges and avoiding boredom. The app also includes training plans from 5K to the marathon.
- Customizeable Resistance - There’s no incline on the Zero Runner, but you can customize the resistance. Decrease the resistance to focus on sprinting and activating your back side, or increase it to focus on strength work.
Who Should Use It?
The Zero Runner is for anyone looking for a good workout. It’s also for injured runners, prone-to-injury runners, new runners, aging runners, runners looking to take their running to the next level, and for anyone looking to improve their running form. The possibilities are endless.
Octane Fitness EVP Tim Porth mentioned that he used the Zero Runner for about 30 percent of his training for the Twin Cities Marathon. His coach, Coach Rick Muhr, is a big believe in form and efficiency, and would have Tim wrap up some of his runs on the Zero Runner to reinforce good form as the body tires. Tim plans to supplement his outdoor mileage with the Zero Runner this winter, especially by using the machine to warm up his muscles before he heads out into the cold and snow.
The Zero Runner has also made a splash in the elite running community. Tim and Tina mentioned that there are two units going into a Kenyan training camp, and one unit is going into an Ethiopian training camp. Alberto Salazar bought one for Mary Cain. Kara Goucher has used hers to come back from injury and win two recent half-marathon as she builds up for the Olympic Marathon trials in February. Paula Radcliffe has one.
Local elite runner Carrie Tollefson is a spokeswoman for the Zero Runner, and I reached out to Carrie to ask how she uses the machine. She said:
I have used the machine for many different reasons but mainly to lighten the load on my body. It is a great workout and one I love to use to supplement mileage when I am coming back from a layoff from running or pregnancy or if I just can’t handle the pounding outside. I have been spoiled this year with the weather so I have to say I am trying to stay outside as long as I can but have a feeling I will be on the Zero real soon logging some nice ‘runs’ on there…my favorite is to go for a short run and then jump on it for 30-40 more minutes at a normal pace. Just feels so good during and after. Almost like I am recovering while still getting fit!
My Impressions of the Zero Runner
I was able to test all 3 models of the Zero Runner. The ZR7 was the first model, and it is a very steady and stable ride. The ZR8 is the new, performance model with aluminum legs and performance grips. The aluminum legs are more responsive, and the ZR8 allows most users to go faster and harder. The ZR8000 is the new club model, which will be going into Lifetime Fitness Plymouth this January, and into other gyms next summer. It has a slightly different console than the other two models, but still features the same information.
With all 3 models, it took me about 5 minutes to really get a feel for the actual running motion. Upon Tim’s recommendation, I started by hopping from foot to foot, and let that naturally develop into my running motion. Really, once I stopped thinking about it and just DID it, I was running. Even though the ZR8 was the hardest to get going on - it felt really twitchy at first - it ended up being my preferred model.
I spent about 30 minutes testing the three machines and by the end, my legs felt like jelly. My core was sore. Something felt a little off in my hamstrings and glutes. My butt was kicked - literally! I could really focus on my butt-kick with this machine. I felt like I had gotten in a good run. I was sweaty. Zero impact does not mean zero effort!
I know you’re wondering…would I buy it? Maybe…maybe! I loved pretty much everything about it - the small footprint, the lack of a motor, the all-in-one cardio/strength combo with the CROSS CiRCUIT program, the actual feeling of using it - but I still have trouble letting go of the idea that one needs to pound on the treadmill or road in order to race on the road. I know intellectually that that’s not true (what about those people that use the Alter-G and then blow everyone else out of the water at their race?), but it feels true. Still, if the elites are using it…
I might be most interested in it for how it could help me improve my stride. Octane Fitness shared a story on their blog about how the Ann Arbor Running Company in Ann Arbor, Michigan is using the Zero Runner to help runners improve their form. The post discusses using the Zero Runner to transition from a heel striking stride to a mid-foot stride, but the main thing I noticed on the machine was how I could more easily activate my glutes and complete a full stride, including the pull-through phase. Using the Zero Runner for a portion of my weekly mileage, and focusing that time on form, could lead to an improvement in form and running efficiency.
And let’s face it, I’m not getting any younger. I’ve been fairly lucky in my running life to be a part of the 24% of runners that DON’T get injured every year (knock on wood), but I know that eventually I may need to consider zero-impact cross-training, especially if I want to stay competitive. Supplementing my outdoor mileage with the Zero Runner could significantly lengthen my running life.
Sadly, I don’t have the bread to spend on either a treadmill or the Zero Runner right now, but I look forward to when this machine becomes available in more gyms. I’d definitely like to try it a few more times before I would decide to invest.