The Zero Runner: A Whole New Breed of Running Machine

Low-Impact Cardio Machine That's Better Than an Elliptical

Zero Runner
Octane Fitness

The Octane Zero Runner is best defined by what it's not. It's not an elliptical, and it's not a treadmill. It's a running machine, and it's awesome. If you're looking to start a running program, but you're worried about the wear and tear that repetitive running places on your joints, consider this no-impact option for starting a program at home.

The Zero Runner Basics

The Zero Runner is a residential piece of self-propelled fitness equipment that enables the user to run indoors without the impact of a treadmill or a track. The truly unique design of the equipment comes down to its two "leg joints" that bend at the location of the hip and the knee.

This unique design sets it apart from elliptical machines and treadmills because it offers flexibility of movement without added impact. Take elliptical machines as an example. Most ellipticals feature a pre-determined, ellipse-shaped "track" for you to follow with each step. You have little control over maximum stride length or gait. With the Zero Runner, you have complete control—you can adjust your stride length with each step and even work on your running motion by adjusting your knee drive or heel kick. Of course, you have the ability to do both of these things when running on a treadmill, but the Zero Runner allows you to do it without any of the impact you'd expect from pounding away on a treadmill belt and deck. 

Testing the Zero Runner

Several years ago I tested out a Zero Runner at my local Fitness in Motion store, and really enjoyed the experience. So much, so, in fact, that I arranged to use a Zero Runner to train for a 15k trail running event to see how well the zero impact training would transfer to real-life running. The results were impressive. But the Zero Runner isn't as intuitive as some other plug-and-play cardio equipment you can find at your gym, so if you're interested in trying one out, here's what you need to know:

  • The Machine Takes Getting Used To. Even a fitness buff like me needed an intro to the machine before trying it out. The guys at Fitness in Motion gave me an overview and had me start by just shifting my weight from side-to-side before working my way up to a jog, then a run. Even though the movement is a natural running motion, it feels unnatural at first because you're not coming in contact with the ground to help push off and kick back like you would when running outside. In fact, if you're used to using an elliptical, you may have trouble remembering to bend your knee backward after each "foot strike" to follow with a heel kick. It won't take long to get the movement down, but you will have to think about it at first.
  • It's Completely Self-Powered. One of the things to keep in mind is that the machine is completely self-powered. This is a big change from elliptical machines, where you control the resistance and the incline mechanically to alter intensity. In this respect, the Zero Runner is once again much more like running outside. Just like you would pick up your pace and lengthen your stride to increase your intensity when running on a treadmill or outside, you simply pick up your pace and lengthen your stride to increase your intensity on the Zero Runner.
  • It Offers an Incredible Stride Length. One reason I don't like elliptical trainers is that their pre-determined stride length tends to be short. I'm tall and I have long legs—I hate feeling like I have to alter my gait to short, choppy steps when using an elliptical. The Zero Runner's moveable hip and knee joints make it possible to extend your stride up to 58-inches—a crazy-long stride length.
  • It Feels Really Good. Once you get the hang of the motion, it feels really good. Because you're not experiencing the impact of the ground, and because you're able to move with a natural stride and gait, the experience is much more pleasant than other machines.
  • Tracked Mileage Isn't Exact. While using the Zero Runner to train for my race, I spoke with one of the Zero Runner coaches, Rick Muhr, to get a few tips on training. Muhr pointed out that the mileage tracked by the machine isn't an exact reflection of mileage logged by foot, and is actually about 80-percent of what you'd do outside. So, for every mile tracked by the machine, you can assume you'd have run the equivalent of about 0.8 miles outside. 
  • Form Is Important. Muhr also pointed out that a lot of people struggle initially with proper body mechanics when trying the Zero Runner. Rather than leaning forward or relying too heavily on the handlebars for support, you should keep your torso tall and your core engaged. Your hands should lightly grip the handlebars, but you shouldn't use them for balance. You should also try to keep your feet "light" on the pedals, allowing your heel to move naturally, rather than jamming your foot flat on the pedal the whole time. 
  • The SmartLink App Provides Helpful Information. Octane offers a free SmartLink app (available for iOS and Android) that syncs with a number of their cardio machines. If you use the app with the Zero Runner, you can create a profile, follow preset workouts, and see your real-time gait pattern as you take each step. It was this last feature that I found particularly helpful. Muhr said each heel kick (what shows up as the vertical height of each stride) should be at least 10-inches high, and that shorter heel kicks often take place when someone's tired or doing more of a walking stride. By watching my gait pattern, I could see exactly how high my heel kick was and how long my stride was, and I could cross-compare my gait pattern with my estimated pace. Ultimately, this made me more efficient and helped me improve my overall form.

The Zero Runner Is Great for Long-Distance Training

The Zero Runner also makes it possible for individuals training for long-distance events to reduce the total impact on their joints during training. Anyone who's ever run a marathon or ultramarathon knows that the body takes a beating during training. While the Zero Runner shouldn't completely replace outdoor running for races and events, it's an excellent tool to use to reduce the total impact during training. For instance, if a runner has an eight-mile run planned, the first four miles could be done outside, with the last four miles done inside on the Zero Runner, reducing the joint impact of training by about half.

In fact, Muhr says as much as 60- to 70-percent of training can be done on the Zero Runner, so for individuals who frequently experience chronic injuries or pain from high-impact sports, the Zero Rummer may offer a lower-impact solution that helps prevent injuries.

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