Can Gyms Use Human Power?

Most of us rely on technology to make our lives easier, but physical labour has been human-powered for much of...

Most of us rely on technology to make our lives easier, but physical labour has been human-powered for much of our history. Whether it was the treadwheel that Romans walked on to raise building materials, hand-threshing to aid in agriculture or the treadle on a sewing machine, until relatively recently, muscle power was a significant way of life for individuals and manufacturers. Technical advancements mean that we now have the equipment and automated processes to do much of the heavy lifting for us. It’s hardly surprising then that talking about human power can sound unappealing or old-fashioned, even a little dystopian.  

Human power is often criticised for its inefficiency. Criticism often centres on the massive amount of effort a person must physically exert in a single session to capture a meaningful amount of energy, but this isn't true for a gym or cycling studio 

Firstly, your gym equipment is used regularly and consistently. Class after class, day after day, fresh legs are clipping in and eager to ride. Your riders aren’t focused on the amount of energy they’re generating – at least not primarily – they're aiming for a solid workout. 

The more bikes in your studio and the more classes you run, the more energy you’ll generate. The same goes for the intensity at which your instructors run their sessions or the riding style they’ve adopted. It’s a group effort.

What makes this type of energy generation special is that it doesn’t require a behaviour change on behalf of the person generating the power. Your riders are there for a workout that’s specifically designed to push their performance and make them sweat. The class runs in exactly the same fashion. The difference is that whereas other fitness bikes will lose the energy generated as heat, an electricity-generating bike, like the RE:GEN, captures and stores it

The energy generated by these types of classes is then converted into clean electricity and stored inside a central battery system. The gym can then draw upon this power as needed, especially at times when energy usage is priced at its peak.  

This is the electricity-generating system that Energym installed into STORM Cycle Studio in Berlin.  



What is a human powered gym? 

Human power is a form of microgeneration. This is small-scale energy generation. Think solar panels on the roof of your house or electricity-generating bikes in your gym. The power is generated and used locally, often in the same building. The opposite of micro-generation would be a coal-fired power station or nuclear power plant. This is where energy is generated on a much larger scale with the electricity then travelling many hundreds of miles from its source to its end-user.  

Power stations and power plants can generate significantly larger amounts of energy, but they’re far more environmentally and financially intensive and, often, politically sensitive.  

Microgeneration can produce a significant amount of energy over time, but unfortunately, our overall energy demand in the UK is so high that it can’t come close to equalling what we use annually.  

USwitch uses an example to highlight this. The UK’s largest wind farm generates 1367 GWH per year. 41.62 GWH are generated by the UK’s gym population across the same period. That’s a big difference. 

But it’s not an either/or scenario.

We can use a mix of different energy sources to support our energy needs, especially as we look to decarbonise the economy in the future. This also improves energy security as we’re not reliant on a single source of power.   

Unlike other industries where clean energy generation can be disruptive, expensive or inconvenient to customers, clients and shareholders, gyms already have a means of generating clean energy via their members and equipment. There’s no behaviour change required. It’s a process that’s literally happening right now in every gym around the world.  

Most gyms just don’t have the means of capturing it yet and so the energy is lost as heat.  


But how can gyms capture human power? 

An article by Stanford University breaks the process of generating clean energy down so that it's easier to understand.  

‘the rotational force of peddling the bike causing the wheels to spin, this spins a rotor that spins a generator, ultimately producing electricity which is then stored in a battery.’   

A human-powered gym, therefore, finds a way to capture mechanical energy and convert it into clean electricity. The power can then be stored inside a central battery unit or, in some cases, pushed back into the building via a micro-inverter. The benefit of using a central battery unit is the power can be generated during off-peak hours and then stored and used at times of the day when energy prices are higher.  

But could you run an entire gym using human power?  

Technically, it’s possible. If you had a very large volume of bikes and a consistent and committed community of riders. It would also depend on the size of the gym and the energy required to run it. 

What’s more realistic is that human power would support a gym’s energy requirements. Our installation at STORM Cycle in Berlin means that with between 5 and 7 classes daily, the studio is expected to generate between 50 and 60 kWh, enough to power its air conditioning, lighting, and sound systems.   

Human power has had efficiency problems, however. Even with a generator and battery, there will be some level of loss during the process. This is inevitable but frustrating given the small-scale nature of the process already.  

It’s why Energym designed and developed an innovative generator and battery system to capture and convert human power at higher efficiencies than other companies. This means more power is stored for the gym.  

One of the biggest benefits of having a central battery system over a micro-inverter is that solar panels can also be integrated into the energy storage system, leveraging clean energy from more than one source and maximising a gym’s green energy options.  

This is good news for gyms that don’t own their own premises. It’s far harder to install meaningful clean energy systems when you don’t have permission (or the financial support) to install solar panels or heat pumps, etc. Adding electricity-generating equipment to the gym floor is more accessible.   


 Are there gyms that generate electricity?

STORM Cycle Studio in Berlin currently generates electricity from its classes. There are other gyms too, but they are vastly outnumbered by gyms that don’t have the capacity to capture and convert human power.  

There are several reasons for this. Boutique gyms may be more likely to adopt the technology as a USP, especially as more people advocate for sustainability, but these are more likely to be smaller independent facilities. Large commercial gym chains may have the buying power but may be less likely to adopt new technology without being certain of its viability and costing.   

Suppliers may not offer gyms the option of electricity-generating equipment as it’s still quite small-scale but it’s likely this will change as the benefits are more clearly understood by buyers. Suppliers may continue pushing more mainstream brands. 

It can also depend on the number of bikes, classes, and the intensity of riders’ participation. Some gyms may not feel it represents a significant enough or fast enough ROI.

Some electricity-generating bikes have a more utilitarian design which won’t look as smart or attractive on the gym floor. This is why Energym has designed a slicker studio bike. Our bike also has software that monitors performance for individuals and instructors. There’s also instructor-controlled digital resistance.  

Inefficient systems can make it a harder sell to gyms, especially if the upfront cost is more than regular equipment. It’s easy to criticise short-term thinking, but it has been a difficult few years for gyms, especially independent ones, so it’s understandable that they may be wary of opting away from tried-and-tested options. Energym has worked hard to improve the efficiency of its generators, but gyms may have looked at other companies with lower rates and found the ROI unachievable.  


How can my gym be human powered?  

You can find out more about our electricity-generating indoor bikes on our RE:GEN for gyms page







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