High-tech workout aids athletes and convalescents

Article. High-tech workout aids athletes and convalescents

Imagine a computerized exercise machine that uses a micro to "maximize" your weight-training workouts?


Published on Wednesday, June 1, 1983 by Tom Shea

June 20, 1983

The Newsweekly for Microcomputer Users

Volume 5, Number 25


apeaai Feature

High-tech workout aids athletes and convalescents

By Tom Shea, RV Staff

Some athletic coaches have been labeled cold, heartless and unfeeling. But can you imagine a computerized exercise machine that uses a micro to “maximize” your weight-training workouts?

Despite the Frankenstein-type possibilities, the actual machine is quite humane for handicapped and injured users, and supposedly it allows for more efficient workouts with fewer injuries for athletes and all types of people who work out with weights.

According tp its creator, Gordon Ariel, the Computerized Exercise Machine (CEM) is probably more efficient

for increasing muscle strength, wind (cardiovascular aerobic endurance) and limb speed than the usual methods of weight lifting and running.

Ariel, a former Olympic discus thrower and shot-putter who has a Ph.D. in exercise science, has done controlled experiments testing the device against regular weight-training and running methods. His results show computerized workouts to be more effective by a statistically significant margin.

There are actually two different types of computerized exercise stations. One is a multijoint station for bench presses and bench pulls, squats

and sitting presses. To use this one, you sit on a padded bench, grasp the handlebars of a big hinged lever and push and pull the bar up and down.

At the other end of the bar, where you’d expect to see weights and pulleys, is a video display sitting atop a metal cabinet. On a table to one side are the computer keyboard, disk drives and electronics.

The other unit is a single-joint station for leg and arm extension/flexion, sit-ups and unilaterajr-motion exercises. This machine looks like an industrial-strength high chair with various contraptions hanging off it. It, too, is connected to a computer.

The working element of both ma-, chines is a hydraulic cylinder with a computer-controlled valve to vary the resistance the machines give to the exerciser. Both devices are controlled by advanced software. The computer is a special design, based on the Motorola 68000 microprocessor.

The mechanical system is simple, but the scope of what can be accomplished by someone with special needs or by someone who’s interested in the fine points of athletics is great. The efforts to keep the machine simple to use, even for a jock who’s afraid of computers, have paid off in a simple user interface. The user commands the exerciser by small movements of the handlebars and by occasionally keying in requested values.

The computer counts the repetitions of each exercise; it beeps and a horizontal line sprouts multicolor bar graphs for each push and pull of the

A video display is attached to the coinputerized ercercise station.

har. In fact, the computer performs an

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A video display is attached to the computerized excercise station.

bar. In fact, the computer performs an incredible amount of analysis for even small amounts of work. Every timeyou press the bar tip, you get an approving beep and a display of side-by-side bar charts showing the maximum force you just exerted and the average force over the push.

Meanwhile, the computer stores those values and figures them into the averages for the whole workout. That overall figure is also compared with your earlier workouts, and the whole thing is plotted against the ideal performanceyou’r a striving for. Afteryour workout, you can get a hard copy that plots all this on a graph and includes a statistical table.

Early versions of Ajiel’s machine required a minicomputer, but as computers got smaller and cheaper, so did Ariel’s Computerized Exerciser. Each unit now costs $15,000. About 100 machines have been sold so far, mostly to rehabilitation centers and physicaltherapy departments of hospitals.

The computerized exercisers were developed at Ariel’s Coto Research Center in Trabuco Canyon, between Los Angeles and San Diego, California. The research center looks like a country club. Surrounded by rolling hills dotted with expensive homes, the center features an Olympic-size swimming pool, tennis courts, outdoor track and more than $2 million worth of hardware-computers, biofeed

16 InfoWorld

Volume 5, Number 25

apraat as s Caasacc

back machines and other electronics.

The computer controls and monitors the weight training by DACs (digital-to-analog converters) and ADCs (analog-to-digital converters).

Signals from the computer create a voltage that drives a stepper motor controlling the hydraulic valves on the exercise cylinder. This affects the resistance the user strains against. The computer updates the stepper motor 16,000 times a second, giving it very close control of the force the user strains against. Strain gauges, accelerometers and transducers allow the computer to measure an exerciser’s activity and keel) track of forces and angles.

Let’s take a high-tech workout to get a feel for this smart weight-lifting device. Danv Saar, the director of fitness systems and research, explains some of the machine’s abilities.

First, you pu tyour personal diskette in the drive and look over the menu. “It’s all menu-driven,” Saar says. “We

ert isometric force against a static object. “That way, we can train people to increase their force at their weak points,” Saar explained.

The same technique, applied in reverse, releases the forces at points of weakness or pain for people in phys

Ariel’s Coto Research Center includes more than $2 million worth of computers, biofeedback equipment and other electronic devices that comprise a high-tech gymnasium.

ical therapy after they’ve had surgery or been injured.

The computer graphs a personal profile of the force you apply over the distance of travel. An injury-caused weakness would show up as a consistent low point on the graph. This fact makes the computerized exercise machine “useful in determining the extent of injury for insurance cases,” according to Saar. “If somebody doesn’t have the same force curve ever v time, it means he’s cheating usu

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A bar graph on the video screen shows a user howw he’s performed on each repetition.

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A bar graph on the video screen shows a user how he’s performed on each repetition.

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“When you first start to use the machine, it takes you through a diagnostic,” Saar continues. “it wants to know your strength, the length of your arc and other information.” The machine asksyou to place the bar in your natural starting position, push the bar up and down so it can note your normal length of travel, and to push up with all your strength.

“Most exercise machines are isotonic,” Saar explains, meaning they always resist you with the same weight. You select 100 pounds, and the resistance to your lift is 100 pounds all the time, even though you are stronger at some points in the lift than others.

“But most athletics and most of life is ballistic, not isotonic. The motions start off slow and end up fast,” he says.

“We had a world-champion shotputter use the machine. “‘hen most people put a shot, they have less force at the end of the arc-just before they release-than when they started. But the shot-putter put a lot of force into it just before the release. That’s why he was a champion.”

The computerized exerciser helped the shot-putter increase his strength at the crucial point just before releasing the shot. It did this by putting in a “sticking point.” The machine lets you exert the usual amount of force until you come to the sticking point. Then the bar resists strongly, lettingyou ex

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l olume 5, Number 25

InfoWorld 17

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puleranalvze the displacements, velocities and accelerations.

Finally, the staff can use the information to provide an evaluation of performance, including specific recommendations to the athlete or his coach.

It costs $2500 to haveyourgolfswing for whatever) analyzed by computer. The (:oto Research staff also evaluates horses to see if they have what it takes to be champions and to provide useful infornttttion to the animals’ jockeys and trainers; analyzing a horse costs


but the user would have to supply his driving swing. That takes about an

own tape player, and the instructional hour.

tape has not been produced yet. On Then it takes two weeks for the staf- This computerized exercise station at the other hand, users could simply fern to digitize the information, draw the (:oto Research Center is for watch IV to stave off boredom while stick figures for analysis, have the com- unilateral-,notion exercises. they’re building muscles or burning

off fat.

To help you use up calories with precision, there’s a “work training op

continued from preceding page


Saar said the researchers included a video interface that could enable peopie to watch an instructional videotape about how to use the machine,

or ds athletes “doing their particular thing” on high-speed cameras, then uses digitizing and computer-analysis techniques to chart the joints, accelerations and motions of the body doing sports.

The typical scenario is for a golfer, say, to he filmed as he performs his

Staff members of the Coto Research Center in

Southern California quantify and analyze human

and animal motion to a degree never done before.

Dany Saar, director of fitness systems and research, finds his “sticking point,” the point in the arc of travel at which the computer-controlled machine.stronglvresists his upward push.

tion” that lets you set yourself so much work to do. You can specify the amount of work in all sorts of measures: calories, ergs, foot-pounds. After you’ve chosen the amount of work, you can do it at any rate you want. The machine counts it down until you’re done.

Another option tells the machine to stop your routine when you’ve reached a certain fatigue level.

The Ariel Computerized Exercise Machine is the latest version of a product that has been a long time coming. It came out of Ariel’s work in biomechanics and his determination to “take the witchcraft out of coaching” originally and later to do the same thing with weight training.

“We quantify motion,” explains Ann Penny, an exercise physiologist who works with Ariel. Penny and others quantify and analyze human and animal motion to a degree that no one ever has before. In the Southern Calfornia research center, the staff rec

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18 Infoll’orld

Volume S, Number 25