New footwear puts ultimate pep in step

March 18, 1993|By New York Times News Service

Imagine a cross between a pogo stick and an in-line roller

skate, and you have an Exerloper, a fitness device that takes jogging to new heights.

At first glance, an Exerloper looks like a skate. The footwear is made of a molded plastic boot with laces. But underneath the sole, convention gives way to the unexpected.

Attached to the bottom of the boot are two elliptically shaped springs of plastic with a tension band sandwiched between them. As you walk or run in the boots, the springs cave together, then bounce apart. The motion lifts each foot slightly off the ground with each step.

Gregory Lekhtman, a Russian neurophysiologist with a doctoral degree from the Moscow Academy of Medical Science, developed the running device as an offshoot of his work with medical electronics.

Dr. Lekhtman, who immigrated to Canada in 1974, designed prostheses in the late 1970s near Montreal for leg amputees.

"When I started to use the knowledge of neurophysiology, I realized we are not designed to run," Dr. Lekhtman said, noting that running is stressful to the joints.

That conclusion prompted Dr. Lekhtman to create the Exerloper, which he says reduces leg strain. But it wasn't until the last few years that his idea of a low-impact alternative to running footwear evolved into a marketable product.

Dr. Lekhtman introduced Exerlopers last August. In October, he founded a company, Unique Life and Fitness Products of Lachine, Quebec, to distribute Exerlopers in the United States and Canada. Right now they are available only through Exer-science, a fitness-products store in Palo Alto, Calif. A pair costs $199.

The Exerloper is as colorful as it is quirky: It is black and purple, accented by green springs and a yellow band. Taking a first step in the odd footwear feels like walking on green cheese. It is like nothing you have ever done before.

The boot adds 6 inches to your height and a wobble to your walk. But after a few minutes, the urge to lope takes over. You find quickly that the higher you leap, the more spring there is to each step.

Running in an Exerloper takes substantially more energy than does jogging in regular flat-soled running shoes.

You aren't likely to be competitive in a race wearing the Exerlopers, because the springing motion slows you down. But the footwear is apt to give you a better workout in a shorter amount of time.

The company advises buyers to use their Exerlopers only on dry, flat surfaces like pavement or dirt paths. In the rain or on a wet surface, you could easily slip. The bottom of the spring has a rubberized tread, but t has limited traction.

You can also run in place on Exerlopers. If you're in the house, it is best to stay on a carpeted surface rather than a floor that might be waxed. If you slip, you are in danger of turning an ankle and falling from a higher foot position than normal.

The Exerloper springs are made to pop apart if you hit a hard object, like an unseen rock in the road; the springs can easily be put back in place. But the jolt of hitting the object itself might knock you over.

Exerlopers are available for both men and women, in sizes 3 to 12. Your weight determines the rigidity of the tension band. Exer-science asks customers their weight and determines the correct tension band. The telephone number is (800) 445-2209, Ext. 674.

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