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Workouts to watts: does all the energy we produce in exercise have to go to waste?

Posted by Trish O'Flynn on 5 January 2017 at 1:05 pm

It’s 2017 and for many of us the number one New Year’s resolution is to get fit or at least burn off the Christmas excesses. But should all that energy we produce in exercise go to waste? As new gym memberships peak in January YouGen is taking a timely look at the potential for gyms to generate watts from the workouts of gym goers.

With environmentally aware consumers increasingly looking for sustainable options, the fitness industry is looking at how the kinetic energy produced in exercise could be captured to reduce their carbon footprint.

How does gym equipment turn my workout into watts?

In the gym, both cardiovascular and weights machines have been adapted to produce power from the energy burned in exercise and self-powered fitness equipment is claimed to save energy and money. With no mains electricity required, the energy that’s produced during exercise is either used in real time or stored in an internal battery. It is then used to power the machine display, TV screen and internet connection.

The University of Leeds has installed self-powered cardio equipment in its fitness centre and in six months the members generated a total of 574 kWh of power and saved 258kg of CO2. This is enough to power a Plasma TV for 4991 hours, light a room for 399 days or power a fridge for nearly two years.

Many local authorities in the UK have installed free-to-use outdoor gyms in parks to encourage physical activity, with the option to charge portables like mobile phones and tablets while you exercise as an added attraction.

Although most of us would be unlikely to generate enough energy output to power more than one piece of equipment, some gym equipment uses micro-inverters to pump energy back into the grid.

David Barnickle at Cranlea Human Performance, UK distributor for Woodway self-powered treadmills, suggests that the fitness industry is increasingly prioritising user experience and that environmentally friendly gym equipment is not a second best option.

“The priority for the user is getting their best performance and our self-powered treadmills burn 30% more calories because the user is the sole energy source. It’s a win-win, the user benefits and the environment benefits.”

Yet, gyms are notorious energy guzzlers with heating and air conditioning, exercise equipment, TV and sound systems, swimming pools, showers, saunas and lights - all often running 24/7 to meet customer demand. Is this just greenwashing?  

“We are seeing more mainstream fitness businesses installing self-powered machines and there are clubs where the customers can turn off equipment and TVs. It’s good for people’s awareness of energy use and small changes soon add up“, David Barnickle says.  

How can my gym go green?

So, could your gym be greener? Apart from energy generation, gyms, like any other business, could reduce their energy consumption by:

  • measuring and monitoring energy demand
  • heat recovery
  • water saving
  • thermal insulation
  • investing in energy efficient equipment, lighting and other technologies
  • using recycled materials and environmentally friendly cleaning products, and
  • encouraging behaviour change in staff and customers, such as switching off equipment when not in use.

So, before you take out that new gym membership, why not ask your club about how they manage their energy use? And don’t forget you can do your bit by walking or cycling to the gym.


Image credit: Tim Dorr


1. The Guardian

2. University of Leeds Sustainability Newsletter

3. Grid enabled fitness equipment

4. Woodway self-powered treadmills

More information about Energy Saving and Renewable Energy on YouGen.

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About the author: Trish is a web content writer with the National Energy Foundation.

If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.

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