Jeff Brown's sweat soaked through a gray T-shirt as he passed 120 minutes running on an elliptical machine Tuesday night at the Hixson Rush.
The Soddy-Daisy native left the Navy in 1990, right before his buddies headed to Operation Desert Storm. When he found work as a medical van driver at Baylor School, a bit of post-combat gloom set in.
"The only action I got was turning the steering wheel," he said.
His six foot frame ballooned to 303 pounds by November 2008, but that started to change when he found the elliptical trainer, a stationary exercise machine used to simulate running with minimal impact to the joints.
He said he chose it because he started feeling pain in his ankles and lower back after treadmill workouts. Constant elliptical workouts dropped his body weight to 195 pounds.
"I've almost lost a whole person," he said. "The pounds dropped a lot quicker than the treadmill or the bike."
A former high school football player, Mr. Brown runs on the elliptical machine two or three hours a night before heading into third shift as a pipe fitter at Norfolk Southern Railroad.
"Instead of being tired, it's like once you cool down (for) about 10 minutes, you're ready to go again," Mr. Brown said as he ran, adding that he was close to burning his usual daily total of 2,400 calories.
Doctors increasingly point to the elliptical machine as the fountain of cardiovascular youth and a viable alternative to regular running. Dr. Richard Pearce, an orthopedic surgeon at Spine Surgery Associates in Chattanooga, said he sees many former long-distance runners with spine problems.
Maintaining aerobic health is important, he said, and he admitted that no one knows whether the elliptical or treadmill is the better tool for overall conditioning.
But as far as avoiding pain, he said, there is a clear choice.
"I advocate the elliptical machine because there's no impact whatsoever," Dr. Pearce said. "I'm looking at wear that it would do on your back, knees, hips, whatever."
*Start on a beginner resistance level to get the feel of the machine.
"Like any kind of athletic activity, it's good to take things easy at first," Dr. Pearce said.
*Gradually build up endurance on the machine
"If you go in and the first day you do it for an hour, you're going to hurt everywhere you can imagine. Start with 15 minutes with other exercise," he said.
*Don't go every day to start,
"It's all about reconditioning if it's been a long time since running. Go every other day and build up your strength," he said.
Source: Dr. Richard Pearce, Spine Surgery Associates
He said it can be difficult for some to go from running outside to inside, but an intact back and a healthy heart may be worth the switch.
"It's hard to get people to stop doing what they want to do," Dr. Pearce said. "They enjoy being outside, and obviously the elliptical is an inside toy."
He said there is no equitable replacement for running alongside a beautiful lake or underneath shady trees, but emerging technology can make the elliptical run a little more fun.
"Most people can listen to music or watch the TV," Dr. Pearce said. "You've got that other distraction there rather than just looking at a wall."
Treadmill thumpers still remain fervent in their belief that nothing can take over a good, unimpeded run. Brittany Rollet, 23, a recent Illinois State graduate and Red Bank Baptist Church staff worker, said she fights through old knee injuries to keep her treadmill adventures.
"Compared to the elliptical, it's a more efficient workout, a better sweat," she said. "If I'm coming in for a really good workout, I go straight for the treadmill."
Chris Carroll covers federal politics for the Times Free Press. A Chattanooga native, he went to Red Bank High School and graduated with honors from East Tennessee State University. Chris investigated violent crime, municipal government and hospitals before taking the political beat. For tornado coverage, he and Pam Sohn won a first-place Tennessee Associated Press Managing Editors deadline reporting award. In 2010, Chris won the Golden Press Card Award of Merit and another deadline reporting ...