Champion rower and fitness center owner Andy Baxter of Ashland is taking his work in a whole new direction — inventing smart workout machines that loop into computers, allowing users to target specific muscles without forcing the whole body to join in.
His new Function C3, made by SciFit in Oklahoma, sells for $9,000 and already has been purchased by the St. Louis Cardinals, six universities and Aaron Anders Physical Therapy in Medford, where 15-year-old Alaina Thomson uses it to guide a dot down a "roadway" on the computer screen, using her injured hip and knee to do it.
"I can isolate my hip a lot better than on other equipment," says Thomson, a Central Point resident. "It's a great tool for athletes to target areas of their body."
The machine, one of seven Baxter has designed, is a "multi-planar resistance" device, meaning you can do standing pull-downs and — something almost impossible on any other machine or free weights — pull your hips backward, stretching elastic bands both on contraction and extension, with the screen showing you how much energy you're putting into it and for how long.
"It allows me to isolate certain muscle groups and actively work them," says Anders, a physical therapist. "I can set parameters of how quick you do it and how long you hold it and how fast you take it off. You can work the eccentric component (opposite of contraction) and go at your own speed. It's amazing what Andy's done."
The machine actually "trains the proper mechanics" desired in your body by "throwing two planes of resistance at muscles," says Baxter. "You get better muscle recruitment and secondary resistance by displacing the load in multiple planes."
Wires transmit data from key spots on the machine's moving parts to a "red box," which translates them to a flat screen that displays everything as a video game — a simple one — that makes users "drive" a dot back and forth.
"It's a biofeedback device," says Baxter, who is owner of Baxter Fitness Solutions in Ashland and Medford. "It enables you, on the roadway, to track and control your concentric, which is the shortening of the muscle, and then your eccentric (pronounced e-centric) phase.
"It's a higher intensity of work with less resistance, so it's a lot safer."
"It gives me an anchor to work different body parts," says Anders. "It's an exercise platform."
The machine comes with a balance board that goes in the center of the machine's floor, allowing users to do balance testing and send the data to the screen, helping retrain balance after injuries and showing the load-bearing happening to injured parts.
"It helps seniors with balance issues for testing, teaching and improving balance," says Anders, noting the machine and its biofeedback screen have "limitless" applications, not just for training, but for rehab and "prehab," which is about injury prevention.
In videos at www.scifit.com, Baxter explains use of the machine for functions called terminal knee extension, compound core flexion, compound trunk extension and others — some of them demonstrated by patients in rehab from injuries or surgery.
The machine was introduced earlier this year at the National Athletic Trainers Association convention — and a demo machine is on view at his Ashland gym, 330 Oak St.
Baxter focuses on fitness in later life and is the author of "Rowing Yesterday," the story of his tryouts for the 2008 U.S. Olympic rowing team at age 41. He is a two-time Masters World Champion in the sport.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at email@example.com.