Michael FranzIn my nearly two decades with a spinal cord injury, there hasn’t been much new exercise equipment that has intrigued me. Most new equipment is too expensive and complex to use at home, so I stick with what’s tried and true. Recently, however, an old favorite has been resurrected and updated to keep pace with modern options. The newly redesigned Vitaglide offers a combination of strength and cardio training that can be done in the comfort of your own home.

SCI veterans might remember the original iteration of the Vitaglide. First released in 2003, the Vitaglide was unique in that it provided users a way to perform a cross-country skiing motion while seated. The first model was very much a product of its time. The resistance was adjusted mechanically, the only information that could be gathered about your workout was the time displayed on a small LCD screen, and the whole thing felt rickety and cheaply made. The concept behind the new Vitaglide remains the same, but there are many significant improvements.

Michael Franz finds the new Vitaglide design to be much improved.

Michael Franz finds the new Vitaglide design to be much improved.

Assembling the Vitaglide is a two-person job that would be difficult for anybody — let alone a wheelchair user — to do solo. The machine arrives in two large boxes that are quite heavy. My brother and stepdad used a dolly to wheel the boxes into my house. Once the parts are removed from the boxes, putting everything together is fairly straightforward. The biggest challenge is manipulating the large pieces of the machine in order to align the parts to fasten together. The only tools necessary for assembly are an Allen wrench, a Phillips screwdriver and an adjustable wrench. The whole process took approximately 90 minutes.

Once assembled, the Vitaglide has a footprint of 56 by 48 inches. The height is controlled by a gas spring and can be raised or lowered to accommodate any type of wheelchair. Having no hand function and poor balance, I was unable to adjust the height independently. However, once the user finds the proper height, it will not need to be changed. Everything else is controlled by a touchscreen attached to the frame. The touchscreen allows the user to adjust the resistance, the duration of the workout (which can be counted up or counted down) and the Glide Factor.

The Glide Factor is an algorithm developed by the makers of the Vitaglide that enables users to set goals and monitor their performance. It tracks energy expended through reps completed and the resistance level at which they were completed to give you a Glide Factor score for each workout. I found the Glide Factor useful — being able to quantify my results was helpful to track my progress and challenge myself to improve.

The biggest improvement on the new Vitaglide is how the arms of the machine can function independently of each other. On the original version of the Vitaglide, the user could only do a cross-country skiing motion in which the two arms operated together. If the user pulled back on the right side, the left side would go forward automatically, regardless of whether the user exerted any force to move the left side. In my experience, this led to my stronger arm dominating the workout. The new model eliminates this problem. The arms move independently of each other and give resistance going both forward and backward, resulting in a more balanced workout for both arms. For those with strength imbalances, the resistance can be adjusted for each arm in order to accommodate the difference. For instance, the resistance on the left side could be set to three while the right side is set to four. The new design also allows users to perform a rowing motion in addition to cross-country skiing. The motions can be changed on the fly, so if the user gets tired of one exercise, they can switch to the other at any time.

The new Vitaglide is not without its shortcomings, however. Retailing at $3,299 plus shipping, it is expensive. I find it to be worth the money, as it is a huge upgrade over the original, and I like to exercise as much as possible. But it might not fit in the budgets of many. To date, the Vitaglide has not been covered by insurance, though some people have had success getting funding through the VA. The company recommends that those who purchase the Vitaglide have their doctors write letters of medical necessity to help with reimbursement. Options for financing are currently being explored.

Considering the price, it would be nice if the Vitaglide stored and tracked workout information. It isn’t a major inconvenience, but I have to track my progress using a spreadsheet on my phone. I think it would be beneficial to be able to see your progress over time as you are working out. Lastly, at the moment there is not an option for tri-pin handles to be added to the Vitaglide. Personally, I prefer to use adaptive gripping aids over tri-pin handles, but this could be an issue for some. The developers are working to find a cost-effective way to offer them as an option.

All things considered, I would strongly recommend the Vitaglide to anybody looking to add to their workout regimen. In my opinion, it is suitable for those with injuries C5 and below. It offers a great cardiovascular workout while simultaneously strengthening the arms, shoulders, back, chest and core. The makers of the Vitaglide achieved a tremendous feat by combining so many exercises into one machine that can be used independently or with minimal assistance. The price point might scare some people away but, in the long run, I feel that the benefits of using the Vitaglide will outweigh the cost.

The Vitaglide is available for purchase for $3,299 plus shipping at vitaglide.com.