There is a strong space theme going round at the moment.
Major Tim Peake’s doing a spacewalk, Brian Cox is on the TV more, and we have also seen the sad passing of and space-age-esque music creating legend, David Bowie
So we wondered, how do astronauts workout in space?
Let’s “launch” our investigation.
Why is it important for astronauts to workout?
Physics and weightlifting go hand in hand. There are more forces and counter forces than you can shake a barbell at; and this goes further than just when you do a set of squats. Every time you move, pick something up or even blink, you are fighting against a resistance, mainly in the form of gravity.
In space there is no gravity, and that means there is no resistance, no load on your body and nothing with which to keep the body ticking over, let alone gain muscle!
Because of this, if you are in space and you don’t workout, your muscle will waste away and your bones will in fact begin to absorb back into your body! Even with a rigorous exercise regime, astronauts will lose between 0.4-1% of their bone density for every month while up there.
If you ever find yourself up in space, and need to do a spacewalk, put on your suit, do an emergency procedure or in the case of the USS Enterprise, land on an hitherto unknown planet; then make sure you do so after your very important exercises. Otherwise, you may well be screwed.
What is an astronaut’s workout regime?
If you are one of those who think that walking up the stairs counts as your cardio for the week, or if you look at weights and a veil of dread passes over you, then don’t become an astronaut. If you end up in space, you need to do a balanced workout of cardio and weight training. CrossFit athletes should love space exploration.
2-3 hours everyday. That is what an astronaut needs to do. Each person will have their data looked at, and if they need to do more, add weight etc, then they will be instructed, or ordered, to do so.
It’s a bit like having a team of ultra high tech personal trainers. Then, instead of some kind of delicious all in one protein, you get to have a dehydrated meal to recover. Yum.
How does an astronaut exercise?
This is where it gets a bit complicated, not Interstellar complicated, more explaining to someone how they should load creatine powder complicated.
First of all, there is a recumbent bicycle. This is like any other one you are likely to see in your gym, but with straps to keep the user in place, and of course, varying levels of resistance.
The treadmill is a bit more fancy, and uses a series of bungees and harnesses to not only secure the user, but also to create a load based on the user’s weight. As the mission goes on, the load is increased, from around 60% body weight at the start of the mission, to 85-100% as time goes on. This is in order to make the workout more challenging, just like you would in any training regime.
Here is where it gets proper fancy. The ARED (Advanced Resistance Exercise Device) uses vacuum cylinders in order to apply a load of up to 272kg/600lbs. This device allows an astronaut to perform squats, deadlifts, calf raises, and an array of other familiar weightlifting exercises. Without these exercises, these muscles just wouldn’t get worked.
These very clever machines are made even smarter, by the use of vibration isolation systems, which prevent the forces created by astronauts from messing up scientific equipment.
Great views, a chance to workout everyday, and kind of delicious (though rehydrated) food. What’s not to love? You could even break some records, like most “bicep curls while orbiting earth”. Sunita Williams has already beaten you to the first triathlon in space unfortunately!