20 Jul 2019 World leisure: news, training & property
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Health Club Management
2019 issue 6

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Leisure Management - What a drag

Training trends

What a drag

Currently a US trend, mainly among elite athletes, is parachute training something that could filter down to the mainstream in health clubs globally? Kath Hudson reports

Kath Hudson
Parachute training is mainly used to develop explosive power for sprinting, but can give distance runners a psychological edge, as they won’t feel disheartened if they hit wind resistance during an event SHUTTERSTOCK / JACOB LUND
Parachute training offers accommodating resistance – the faster you run, the harder it resists – which is hard to achieve and optimises training time. PHOTO: COURTESY of ASPRIA
Technogym’s Skillrun has been adapted to offer both sled and parachute training modes

Reported to feel like running with a 20lb bag on your back, parachute training is a majorly effective workout, which offers a double whammy of resistance and cardiovascular training – normally done at intervals.

It involves running with a small parachute strapped around your waist – once you pick up speed the parachute deploys, causing drag, which makes running feel as though you’re wading through mud.

Then, when the parachute is detached mid-run, it sends you sprinting into overdrive, making the average runner feel free, light, liberated, powerful and faster than ever before.

Popular with Olympic track runners, football players, basketball and baseball players, parachute workouts are designed to improve speed, power, strength and explosive power. The resistance provided by the parachute – there are different sizes – helps to strengthen legs and core.

The explosiveness of a parachute workout builds the fast twitch muscle fibres, leading to faster run times and improved vertical jumping ability.

A gruelling workout, it also gets the heart rate up and burns fat, so combining it with intervals offers an extremely effective workout.

Getting it right
Sounds fun? There are a few things to watch out for. Firstly, it can be technical and there are reports that it can cause problems with technique and sprinting biometrics, so should only be used by experienced athletes. London based PT, Murat Gecmen of FitInFitness sometimes uses parachute training with his regular one-to-one clients, but agrees you need to be a decent runner before you try it.

“You have to lift yourself up on your toes, get a really good push-off and accelerate quickly, so the parachute deploys and creates resistance,” he says. “If you’re flat footed or have a small foot strike, then the parachute might not deploy, plus you’ll be more prone to injury.

“Sometimes the parachute can push you off course, so you need to be strong enough to cope with a change of direction, but if you can manage to contol it, then it will definitely activate more muscles.”

Centre of attention
There are practical issues with outdoor parachute training, including having a large enough space to do it. It requires either an appropriate outdoor space in a health club – high-end operator Aspria offers parachute workouts in specially fitted-out outdoor areas, for example – or a running track, park or beach. Ideally a place without too many people around.

“I have to make sure the area’s clear before runners set off, or they could sweep people up,” says Gecman. “And if there are dogs around, they chase the parachute!

“It’s not something you see every day, so people always stare, although I’ve found this to be good marketing,” he says. “My clients want something different, so it’s good training, at the same time as being fun. Parachute training is a niche methodology and likely to stay that way, but niche activities have appeal for avid trainers.”

Running specialist, Lou Nicholettos, founder of The Cornish Physio, says the effects are very specific: “While parachute training can be effective for sprinting, as a way of increasing load, I can’t see there being great benefits for distance runners – certainly none that can’t be more easily achieved using a weighted vest or anti-gravity running.”

Possibly not, but Gecman argues that for people who like running, it’s fun, motivating and a great thing to do outside in the sunshine. Also there’s the argument that it can give middle- and long-distance runners a psychological edge, as they won’t feel disheartened if they hit wind resistance during an event. For those who do a lot of running, it adds interest and motivation. And for those who love running, it means that they don’t have to miss a run in order to do some strength training.

Indoor parachute training
The main drawback to parachute training is that it can’t easily be done in a health club setting. Or can it? Technogym is currently in the process of patenting technology which incorporates parachute training into its new Skillrun treadmill. This reproduces the feeling of parachute training in optimised conditions.

The resistance starts at null, but kicks in as the runner gathers speed and the “parachute” catches. Users can also choose the size of their parachute on the Skillrun to make it easier or more challenging.

Technogym’s Craig Swyer says this functionality was added in response to operator demand. “Operators told us that the Skillmill, our non-motorised treadmill, was a great offering for something different, but there was still a core market out there for traditional running for people who want a treadmill to do quick and easy intervals,” he says.

“This challenged us to reimagine the Skillmill. It already had a sled function, but we improved the way that function works so that it imitated real sled training more closely. Then we looked around at what else we could incorporate that would engage traditional runners and give them added results and motivation.

Parachute training is still in its infancy in the UK,” he explains, “but it’s popular in North America –especially at universities and with NFL teams.”

Initially Technogym thought the parachute training would only appeal to facilities with a performance angle, such as Team GB and the top sports universities, however Swyer says it’s popular when it comes to engaging goal-orientated members. “Both Nuffield Health and London boutique Sweat It are offering successful treadmill classes which utilise the parachute function and are using it as a point of differentiation,” he says.

The Skillrun has been pre-programmed with three user-friendly programmes, which include coaching tips, intervals and video tutorials. They’re between 33 and 45 minutes long and promise better results than just running on the treadmill for this length of time, as they engage more muscles. Swyer says this also enhances motivation.

So, will parachute training go mainstream? Possibly not, but that doesn’t mean it won’t appeal to a lot of people and it could work well for clubs looking to offer something a bit different to get members motivated.

It’s also an effective form of accommodating resistance, as the parachute exerts more drag the faster the runner goes, so it’s a very effective way to train.

Murat Gecmen, FitInFitness
"My clients want something different, so it’s good training, at the same time as being fun" - Murat Gecmen, FitInFitness

Originally published in Health Club Management 2019 issue 6

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