What if Gyms were Energy Factories?

I love running. It is the only form of exercise that I feel needs no hand-eye coordination, no endless hours at the gym, and is as uplifting as it is beneficial. Now, just to set the record straight, I am in no way saying your preferred form of exercise is bad, wrong, or pointless. I just prefer running and other forms of exercise like it, including hiking and snowshoeing (I’d also like to go swimming, if I had a pool or pond handy). In other words, I prefer exercise that doesn’t take much equipment or much money and can be done in the great outdoors (my personal haven).

Now, it being winter time in a land that has terrible air quality (on top of being lung-freezing cold) in the winter, lately I haven’t been doing much outdoor running. Instead, I’ve been going to my work’s on-site gym and hittin’ the treadmill. I don’t like the treadmill. Sometimes I loathe it. I run at the same pace, never slowing down, never speeding up, relying on the rubberized belt beneath me to determine speed, resistance, and energy exertion. If I slow down, I fall. If I speed up, I trip. If I want to take a breather, I either have to slap my hand on a tiny red button or perilously jump and spread my legs, hoping my feet hit the plastic railings instead of half-on the running belt. All while staring at myself in the mirror (I like to forget about myself as I run, and the mirror kind of makes that impossible).

As much as I don’t like the treadmill, it allows me time (too much time, one might say) to observe the gym and to think about the gym. And as I was thinking, watching people running and biking and stair climbing and working towards a better body, I thought of hamsters on wheels (me being one of the hamsters). And then I thought about energy consumption.

Each treadmill, each stair master, nearly every stationary bike in my work’s little gym runs on electricity. And why? Because it gives a steady pace and a steady resistance? Well, non-electric stationary bikes provide differing levels of resistance by a turn of a screw (and I’m assuming either a changing of gears or a tightening/loosening of a belt), and I’m sure if a simplified treadmill was made where the rate at which a person walked or ran determined how fast the belt moved, it would work too. And those stairs could be converted into something very like the outside of a hamster wheel, couldn’t it?

If you think about all the gyms with all the treadmills and stationary bikes and stair masters and canoe rower things all over the nation, and if you think about how all of them run on electricity, the numbers really add up. And depending on where your local electricity comes from, your gym could be a really energy-dirty place. But does it have to be? I don’t think so.

I read about a year ago about a prison with a stationary bike set up to car batteries. That one bike, ridden on for eight hours every single day (by different inmates, not just one inmate, of course), provided enough energy to light the neighboring village’s main street lights every single night. If one stationary bike can do that, what could all the stationary bikes in the US do? What if all the treadmills were converted to run on their runners’ own power, and what if they were connected to generators to boot? What if all the weightlifting machines were hooked up to generators? The gyms could at the very least make enough energy to run the televisions that help stave off gym boredom. At most, they could make enough energy to to contribute back to the cities in which they operate.

I don’t have the engineering capabilities to create this sort of enterprise, but I know that it would be a brave move in a world of energy consumption.

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