By People Staff
Updated January 15, 1990 12:00 PM

There you are, stuck in the middle of three giant steel hoops, feet clamped into ski boots, a doughnut-shaped brace snapped to your waist All trussed up with no place to go, right? Wrong. Grip those two handles and shift, twist, lean or pull. That will start you spinning forward, backward, sideways, upright, upside down, vertically, horizontally, diagonally, every which way but loose.

While this may sound like some sort of high-tech horror movie—say, Freddy Goes to Fitness School—it is actually an Orbotron—”Orby” for short—which its inventor, Chris Altare, of Winnetka, Calif., describes as a “21st-century workout”

Orby is an anchored, 1,000-pound gyroscope-like contraption with three concentric rings, each one revolving independently on its own axis. The strapped-in exerciser provides the power by leaning while pulling with the arms and pushing with the legs. The spinning rings create centrifugal force, and “that’s what gives you the workout” says Altare. “Your cardiovascular system pumps harder to pull the hoops. The physically active say they feel the same way after two minutes on Orby as they do after 20 minutes of either aerobics or weight lifting.”

Orby, which came on the market last summer, has not undergone a full study by sports medicine specialists. Dr. Arthur Wershaw, an Albuquerque osteopath, ordered one after trying it at a sporting-goods trade show. He plans to test the machine on himself before devising a workout for patients with back ailments. But Wershaw is skeptical of Orby’s quick aerobic benefits. “With any form of exercise,” he says, “if you want cardiovascular benefits, you have to do it for 20 minutes.”

Altare, a 40-year-old bachelor with his own weight problems (he now weighs 250 lbs. spread over a 5’11” frame), is a largely self-taught science whiz who designed his own X-ray inspection system while still in high school. He launched Orbotron Ltd out of his Winnetka home last year, with $150,000 from his savings and investments from friends. Because of Orby’s size (the outer ring is 9½ feet in diameter) and cost ($7,000 per), the machine is necessarily aimed at the health club market with more than 30 sold so far. Meanwhile he is working on Baby Orby, a cut-down model designed for babies (it moves gently in horizontal figure eights but not upside down), which Altare guarantees will be more exciting than seesaws or swings.