The power in getting fit

Photo: iStockphoto.com/Nickilford
Turn your sweat into energy with eco-friendly fitness equipment.

Of all the New Year’s resolutions that people make, getting fit is the one that appears in almost everybody’s top 10. People join gyms and vow to stay on the proverbial treadmill or stationary bike to become trim and fit. There is, however, a movement afoot – or, more accurately, underfoot – to turn human power into energy. A new generation of exercise machines creates electricity while you’re working out and working up a sweat. Talk about pedal power!

One of these systems, the Green System by SportsArt Fitness, sounds simple: You work out, and the electricity you generate with the machines is fed into the grid to help the gym save on its utility bills. According to SportsArt Fitness, the system “represents a novel way to harness ‘human power.’”

The company produces a variety of equipment, including ECO-POWR™ treadmills, which use up to 32 per cent less energy than traditional treadmills and generate energy when used. The company also makes elliptical trainers and upright bikes, which, when hooked together and routed to a box, capture 75 per cent of the electricity you generate in your workout. Boxes from several machines are then hooked together and routed through an inverter handling up to 2,000 watt-hours per hour. For a point of reference, 2,000 watt-hours are enough to power a clothes washer for six hours, a microwave oven for 2.5 hours or a 27-inch flat-screen TV for 17 hours.

Another cool thing about this system is that it is hooked up with the Victoria, B.C.-based company EcoFit, whose digital technology calculates the watts individuals generate during each workout and over time. The two companies hope to turn the eco-points a person generates into a currency that will be accepted at coffee shops and other retail outlets. Although currently people measure their gym visits in terms of workout time, distance biked or even calories burned, the paradigm looks poised to shift to watts generated, as more eco-conscious options like the Green System become available.

The University of Toronto is testing out another system, turning stationary bikes into free-standing power generators. Prof. Olivier Trescases and his team hope to encourage exercise, reduce carbon fuel usage and toxic emissions, and raise awareness. Their goal is to install a fleet of green bikes at the university’s Hart House gym and generate enough energy to light the room, thereby saving money and reducing the facility’s carbon footprint. After that comes finding a partner to mass produce them and distribute them to gyms across Canada.

Not into going to the gym, but looking for your own solution? There are options for home use. The Pedal-A-Watt Stationary Bike Power Generator has been around for 14 years. Riders create electricity that can be used for lights or small appliances. You can use any bicycle that’s in good shape, as the Pedal-A-Watt stand adjusts to fit any wheel size, including children’s bikes. The average rider can produce between 125 and 300 watts. According to the manufacturer, one 20-minute workout could run a laptop computer for more than an hour.

Coming soon: the Copenhagen wheel, an innovative device that turns any bike into an electric hybrid. Developed by a team at MIT, it has already attracted a great deal of attention. It recently won the U.S. round of the James Dyson Award, a prestigious international student-design competition.

The idea began in Copenhagen, Denmark, already known for its vibrant cycling culture, when the city asked the design team to come up with simple interventions that would dramatically improve the use of bikes.The team’s hybrid wheel generates energy during braking, similar to the regenerative braking of hybrid cars. The electricity, controlled via iPhone, can provide power boosts for hills or long distances. The designers hope that the wheel will make commuting by bike a viable option for more people.

When it comes to getting in shape, the future is looking green, with more and more ingenious options to help us keep both ourselves and our planet fit.