Space-Approved Workout Methods That Will Take Your Fitness Regime to New Heights
How to Train Like an Astronaut
Astronauts around the world agree that making that first trip to the outer orbits of the atmosphere is nothing short of life-changing; seeing the Earth from above and experiencing what zero gravity truly feels like are said to be transcendental experiences. But preparing for, and living, life in space is another story entirely.
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Living and working in zero gravity is incredibly demanding psychologically and physically and as such, astronauts are required to take certain precautions in order to ensure they’re mentally and physically able to not just withstand life in space but remain in tip-top condition when returning to Earth.
What Is Special About Astronaut Training?
Training for space travel is very important for astronauts preparing to go to space for any amount of time. While astronauts need to be strong enough to withstand the extra G-forces of takeoff and reentry, the real need is to have as much muscle mass and bone density as possible going in so that they can endure a zero-gravity environment.
“In space, there will be some inevitable loss of muscle and of bone density despite performing exercises, as their body will not be under load from gravity 24 hours a day as it is on Earth,” explains Robert Herbst, 19-time World Champion Powerlifter and Member of the AAU Strength Sports Hall of Fame. “Like having a bank account, you want to have as much in it as possible so that there is more to spend over time and you do not run out.”
That said, training like an astronaut is really not all that different from what you might already be doing at home or in the gym. However, the focus strays from just gains and weight maintenance to the importance of overall bone health and core strength. According to NASA, zeroing in on these factors helps astronauts to prepare for life in zero gravity and working on the International Space Station (ISS) but also with recovery once they return to life on Earth.
“On Earth, your weight on your bones provides constant stress. You maintain your bone strength by doing regular daily activities like standing, walking, and running! In space, astronauts float – unloading that important stress and weakening their bones,” NASA explained in a statement. “Stronger bones will help astronauts stay safer while performing all of their assigned tasks – whether in a space vehicle, on the moon, Mars, or once back on Earth.”
Why You Can Benefit From Astronaut Training
Whether you’re hoping to be one of the first on the list of space tourists heading to the outer orbits of the atmosphere with the likes of Virgin Galactic and SpaceX or you’re simply bored of your usual workout routine here on Earth and want to mix things up a little bit, anyone can benefit from training like an astronaut — but especially if you’re hoping to build lean muscle and maintain a certain level of bulk or improve your agility.
“Astronauts must develop muscular strength and coordination. In a reduced gravity environment, astronauts are unable to walk like they do on Earth. Instead, they coordinate their hands, arms, and feet to pull and push themselves from one place to another,” NASA shared. “Whether inside a space vehicle or outside doing Extra-Vehicular Activities (EVA), strong muscles and coordination help astronauts move in space.”
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The NASA-Approved Workout Method
According to NASA, studies have shown that astronauts experience up to a 20 percent loss of muscle mass on space flights lasting five to 11 days, which means that speed and more reps are required to try and counterbalance the muscle loss in a zero-gravity setting. In fact, astronauts on the International Space Station spend a total of two and a half hours per day exercising to combat the effects of muscle atrophy.
And while the loss of muscle mass and bone density is something that researchers at the NASA Johnson Space Center continue to study daily, there are three science-backed methods that work in tandem to ensure astronauts maintain their strength as efficiently as possible both on the ground and in space.
The resistive exercise device (aka The RED) is used both on Earth and in space to help counteract the effects of muscle and bone loss, allowing astronauts to perform weight training exercises in zero gravity. It offers a relatively consistent resistance throughout its full range of motion.
Try it at home: Nobody likes to put in endless reps but that’s exactly what the RED allows astronauts to do — whether at home or in space. Thankfully, here on Earth, we have something called gravity, which allows us to replicate the results without needing to put in north of two hours. The following routine will ensure you’re gaining muscle and retaining bone density.
Squat: 45 seconds
Rest: 15 seconds
Shoulder press: 45 seconds
Rest: 15 seconds
Deadlift: 45 seconds
Rest: 15 seconds
Bench press: 45 seconds
Repeat three-four times before cooling off with dynamic stretches or a quick yoga flow.
NASA / GettyImages
The CEVIS or Cycle Ergometer with Vibration Isolation System is actually very similar to a standard stationary bicycle or spinning machine. It gets bolted to the floor and astronauts must snap their shoes onto the pedals. While it’s more complicated to get a good workout without gravity, astronauts are able to change the resistance of the bicycle to ensure consistent resistance.
Try it at home: Spinning has gained notoriety this year due to the relative ease of access to equipment and routines but it really is an excellent workout for strengthening leg muscles without putting unnecessary pressure on joints and bones. Crew members on the International Space Station typically “spin” 2-7 times per week for 30-90 minute sessions.
NASA / GettyImages
Named after the American comedian, the Combined Operational Load-BearingExternal Resistance Treadmill (COLBERT) is a free-floating treadmill designed to help astronauts prevent bone loss while helping astronauts continue to go through the motions of physically walking — even at zero gravity. Highly flexible wire rope isolators hold the machine together while astronauts strap a belt cord around them to ensure they’re able to walk in place.
Try it at home: According to Project Manager Kevin MacNeil of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, the typical astronaut will run about 4- to- 8 miles an hour given the lack of gravity. That being said, those of us at home looking to emulate the effects should be aiming for about 7- to- 8 miles an hour, whether on a treadmill or on the trails.
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