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Human-powered gym machines are the latest eco trend in the fitness industry. Photo: SportsArt

Sustainable fitness: the gyms where the energy of human exertions is harnessed to power the machines

  • The latest trend in fitness involves exercise machines that produce electricity to help power gyms or which can be sold to utilities for cash
  • The idea of sustainable fitness is starting to catch on as gym goers look for greener ways to work out

Millions of people the world over are running, cycling and rowing on machines that devour electricity. Now, eco-savvy gyms are harnessing the energy their exertions generate to power the equipment.

Last year, an “ecogym” opened in Rochester, New York. It uses 21 cardio machines – 16 indoor cycles, two recumbent bikes and two ellipticals – to produce human-generated electricity.

As yet this sustainable fitness trend has barely begun to catch on in Asia-Pacific.

According to a report by Deloitte and IHRSA, the Asia-Pacific region’s fitness industry was worth approximately US$16.8 billion in 2018, with more than 25,000 clubs catering to around 22 million members.
SportsArt equipment produces human-generated, utility grade electricity.
While the energy produced at the Rochester gym is not enough to power the whole facility, the collected energy, combined with the energy produced by a 26-kilowatt rooftop solar power system and two 8.9-kilowatt small wind turbines, is sufficient to power the building. The gym is equipped with all the standard weight-loaded machines, but its energy-collecting cardio equipment is supplied by green fitness technology company SportsArt.

Founded in 1977 in Seattle, Washington, SportsArt has been working for more than four decades to develop the potential for human-powered machines to produce energy. “It wasn’t until recently that people really understood what human power could do and understood how much energy that they were currently wasting by having equipment that pulled energy as opposed to producing it,” said Britt Harris, SportsArt’s marketing manager.

Human-powered fitness machines generate enough electricity to run the machine and return some power to the grid.

Ecopower, or Eco-Powr as the company refers to it, is SportsArt’s energy-converting technology that can turn human output on cardio exercise machines into a usable power source.

Once a machine is plugged into a live outlet, the moving belt turns a generator, producing energy. The patented microinverter converts the electricity from DC to AC, returning it to the circuit for other electrical devices to use.

SportsArt’s director of international marketing and sales in Taiwan, George Chang, says the technology has caught people’s attention at trade shows and events, but hasn’t captured market share. Chang puts that down to a “lack of environmental awareness”.

62-year-old Lester Lin won an Xare Fit green energy competition in Taiwan where members competed to see who could produce the most electricity.

More than a dozen gyms worldwide now have SportsArt equipment, though, including Xare Fit in Taiwan. The fitness centre’s owners saw the opportunity to incorporate the equipment as a step towards sustainability.

In August, Xare Fit hosted a month-long green energy competition in which members competed to see who could produce the most energy. The winner, 62-year-old Lester Lin, pushed himself far beyond what he would normally commit to at an indoor gym, generating a total of 441,639 watts.

“Generally, I find exercise bikes boring, but this competition taught me a lot,” Lin says. “I love data that I can gather during exercise, and the SportsArt equipment with the Xare Fit app makes it easy. Every session records your time, watts generated and calories burned.”

Lin generated 441,639 watts of electricity on an exercise bike in Taiwan. Photo: Xare Fit

For his efforts, Lin received a SportsArt spin bike that he can use to capture the power he generates at home and convert it for other uses.

SportsArt was able to convert the 2.7 million watts Xare Fit produced from the event into cash and donate the profit to two local green energy advocates – Taiwan Environmental Information Association and Green Citizens’ Action Alliance.

Jose Avina is the founder of Sacramento Eco Fitness. Photo: Eco Fitness

“Our members sought us out because of what we’re doing here,” says Jose Avina, founder of Sacramento Eco Fitness in California. “Many of them have opted out of their original memberships with other gyms to come here and become a part of the ‘revolution’ as they call it.”

Members are rewarded with discounted memberships – the more they work out, the less they pay – as they create more energy for the facility, saving its utility costs.

“[Our members] love the idea that their membership is going toward something really positive and something that’s great for the environment,” says Avina.

Many of [our members] have opted out of their original memberships with other gyms to come here and become a part of the ‘revolution’ as they call it.
Jose Avina, founder of Sacramento Eco Fitness

“We do offer incentives for individuals who generate the most energy after each month, although they rarely take the discount … they prefer the money to go back into the gym to hopefully find new ways to generate more energy.”

According to a Nielsen survey, three out of four millennials and 72 per cent of Generation Z say they are willing to pay more for sustainable products.

“Everybody is looking to go green and find sustainable options,” says Harris. “It’s where the market is going and people are understanding that it is important to be part of the movement.”

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