Power workout

Create energy as you burn your own with eco-gym technology

There are ways to turn human energy into electrical energy using eco-gym technology.

There are ways to turn human energy into electrical energy using eco-gym technology.

Trotting along on my gym’s treadmill, I notice the man running next to me quicken his pace to a sprinting 9-plus mph. He goes for about 30 seconds, then straddles the machine to rest for about a minute while the machine continues its pace alone. He repeats this sequence for about 15 minutes.

“Geez, what a waste of energy,” I think to myself, regarding the electrical output, not the man’s exertion. I quickly realize my hypocrisy. For while I’m not making a machine run without me on it, I am using emission-producing energy to do what I could easily do with just my own two legs on this sunny spring day.

It can be hard enough to get motivated to head to the gym without carbon-emission guilt rearing its ugly head, but eco-gyms are in the making. A few inventive minds are already turning physical energy into the kind of energy that powers lights, though the technology has yet to reach the mainstream.

Personal trainer Adam Boesel is opening The Green Microgym in Portland, Ore., which runs off solar and human-produced power. The human part is done through patrons at the gym as they go about their regular workouts. They hop on a cardio-machine, like a spinning bike, which is connected to a generator, which ultimately produces electricity to power the gym’s lights, TVs and music. In effect, the harder the workout, the more electricity produced. Boesel would like eventually to tie this energy to the city’s power grid.

Human-powered electricity is nothing new. Boesel says there are stories of Europeans during World War II having used it to produce small amounts of power when they had no electricity. “The technology is there, it just hasn’t been used,” he says. “This is just kind of a no-brainer—you’re exercising anyway.” So you might as well produce some clean energy.

Boesel got the idea from a gym in Hong Kong—California Fitness, a subsidiary of 24 Hour Fitness Worldwide—whose “Powered by You” program is connecting modified exercise machines to individual light fixtures and batteries. When gym patrons use one of these machines for their workout, they also produce electrical power. California Fitness president Steve Clinefelter said in a press release that a person can produce 50 watt-hours per hour when exercising moderately. Someone running an hour per day on the machine “could prevent 4,380 liters of CO2 released per year,” he said.

According to Treadmills USA, the average treadmill uses about 1500 watts—the equivalent of about 15 of the light bulbs of yesteryear currently being replaced by compact fluorescents. While there are no Energy Star treadmills on the market yet, SportsArt Fitness has developed the EcoPowr treadmill motor. The company claims its motor uses up to 32 percent less energy than traditional motors while having comparable performance.

These machines may not be at your gym anytime soon, but just as energy efficiency became a goal for cars, homes and offices, gyms won’t be ignored. And fitness centers currently marketing themselves as “eco-gyms” will need to look further than organic protein bars and recycling plastic energy drink bottles.