Portland Gym Allows Patrons to Power Their Own Workouts

At the Green Microgym in Portland, OR, gym-goers can expect to get a little something more out of their workout than simply feeling the burn. By using special stationary equipment like exercise bikes, ellipticals, and stair machines, the gym generates nearly 40% of its own electricity — and saves 60% on electricity costs. 

The gym uses machines made by Plugout, an American company that produces exercise equipment that harnesses and converts heat waste into A/C electricity. With the equipment, all one has to do is simply plug in the power cord to an outlet, which returns the converted electricity into the building’s electrical supply.

The gym was founded in 2007 by trainer Adam Boesel, who was looking to found an environmental gym and bring the technology of converting exercise into electricity into the mainstream. What he founded was a neighborhood gym that is accessible to most of its patrons by foot or bicycle, and a place that has formed a community with a like environmental mindset. 

But just how much power is generated at the gym? The numbers are certainly impressive. In 2010, the gym generated 36% of its own electricity and saved 85% more electricity than a traditional gym of the same square footage. That 85% — 37,000 Kilowatt hours, to be precise — is equal to 74,000 lbs. of carbon emissions, 81,400 miles not driven by a car, and 15 acres of trees planted.

To look at it from another perspective, though, the impact is just as encouraging. According to the Green Microgym’s website, a vigorous workout can generate up to 50 watts of electricity. To put that in terms of real world applications, 50 watts is enough to power a stereo, two LCD screens, five CFL lightbulbs, five laptops, or even 10 smartphones. 

In addition, Boesel has developed what he calls the “Human Dynamo,” a contraption that consists of four bikes and a crank attached to a generator. If put in use by four users who all pedal and turn the crank, the dynamo can produce between 200 and 600 watts of energy in an hour’s time. 

The Green Microgym sees a workout there as meaning much more than just getting in shape or even seeing how many smartphones one can power in one go on the elliptical. Rather, the gym sees its role as creating a community of individuals “sweating it out together” for a common goal. The gym claims that their clean energy model offers a more meaningful way to work out, both in that one is conserving energy, and also working as a part of something greater and promoting a collective “green” state of mind. 

The gym follows other environmental practices to help conserve energy and boost the awareness of its members, as well. The building also gets power from solar panels, and requires all users to power off the machines when they are finished using them. Members are kept cool by energy efficient ceiling fans rather than air conditioning, and the building also uses only recycled paper products and eco-friendly construction materials. Boesel is also trying to spread the message of the Microgym. He has emerged as an expert on the matter, and offers one-on-one consulting with other like-minded individuals interested in setting up their own gyms.

But the Green Microgym is not the only one that has its patrons help power their own workouts. Two other high profile green gyms include the New York Sports Club in Manhattan and California Fitness Gym in Hong Kong, that operate under a similar guiding principle.

The successes of these gyms would lead one to ask, “well, if this technology is so easy to use and has so many benefits, why isn’t it used by every gym?” The answer to that question lies both in economics, and in that the green gym experience may not be for everyone.  

The technology does not produce enough electricity to pay for itself — according to a study by IEEE. The machines generate an estimated $18 worth of electricity per machine per year, so from that standpoint it is not an economically viable option for many large gyms out there. The size of the gym also plays a role in the type of workout members are seeking. The Green Microgym is a small, basic building without a pool, pristine locker room, steam room, or many of the other amenities that large gyms can offer these days. 

“If you want basketball courts and swimming pools and hundreds of different machines…then you should go to a big gym,” Boesel said in an interview with CNN. 

In the end, though, gyms like the Green Microgym in Portland offer a more rewarding — and important — experience. The world won’t see mammoth chain gyms shutting down any time soon, but gyms like these are building green communities and raising people’s awareness about how much energy they are using — and more importantly, how much energy they have the power to save. The amount of attention these gyms are getting, though, is a sign that they are starting to get people talking. The Green Microgym’s website says that Boesel has been contacted by over a thousand people from all over the world interested in greening their own gyms. With progress like this, neighborhood green gyms look to be on the rise, and could soon be appearing in towns and cities all over the world. Be sure to keep an eye out for one near your home, and soon enough you could be sweating your way to saving energy, as well.

Photo Credit: thegreenmicrogym.com/wp-content/gallery/ap-article/007ap.jpg

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