A gym powered by the people working out inside it.

How I got the idea

I was at a science museum a few years ago, and I saw a bike exhibit. As I pedaled, a light bulb, a little television, and a fan turned on. I was impressed that, without too much effort, the bike and I were able to produce enough energy to power these three appliances. Riding a stationary bike made me think about how I don’t really like going to the gym, because stationary bikes aren’t much fun. But then, I thought, at least you can watch TV in a well-lit, air-conditioned room. The best parts of indoor workouts (TV, lights, and air conditioning) were exactly the things this bike exhibit was powering.

Light bulb!

As a side note, I had also recently finished reading Chris Anderson’s book Free. That may seem unrelated now, but it really is relevant. Read on (and read the book—it’s excellent).

The Idea

My idea was to start a gym where the equipment would generate electricity, and that electricity would be used to power the gym. I’ve always felt that stationary exercise equipment is a waste of energy, and wouldn’t it be great to actually be able to use that energy? Then I took the idea a step further (this part was inspired by Free). The more energy a gym member generates, the less they have to pay for their gym membership. If you produce enough energy, you could go to the gym for FREE!

I really love this idea and I spent quite a bit of time looking into what it would take to turn this dream into a reality. I even found a gym in Oregon that stores the energy generated by their equipment. Obviously I was on to something. The idea has some great strengths, and some serious weaknesses.


  • The idea would motivate people to go to the gym. You may find this hard to believe, but a lot of people who sign up for a gym membership don’t actually go to the gym very often. With my idea, the more you go to the gym the less you pay, so people are more likely to go more often.
  • If the equipment could be made to efficiently generate and store energy, the gym would be relatively good for the environment. It could be called “The Green Gym” (though that kind of makes me think of people getting sick at the gym, so maybe not).
  • The human-powered gym is a lot like TOMS Shoes. TOMS doesn’t just sell shoes; they sell a story. This gym idea has a pretty great story to sell.


  • Most exercise equipment doesn’t generate energy in a very capturable way, and some just consume energy. I’m pretty sure only stationary bikes and ellipticals are really well suited for energy production. Machine weights might be able to generate some, free weights and fitness classes would produce none, and the treadmills would consume all of the energy produced by any of the other machines and more.
  • The second weakness is related to the first. The gym cannot possibly be powered solely by humans, and for me that cheapens the whole experience. The story is ruined because it can’t live up to its promise, like if TOMS were donating shoes made of newspaper.
  • I’m not passionate enough about the idea (see below).

Why I’m Not Interested Anymore

I really do like this idea, but in the years since I first thought about it, I have realized something—I don’t like gyms. I do like fitness, but I don’t like working out inside, and I especially don’t like stationary equipment. I do think this could be a vialbe idea, though, despite its weaknesses, because it is really two ideas in one. The first, original idea was generating energy with exercise equipment, and I don’t think that is a very practical idea. The second idea was reducing the cost of a gym membership based on how much someone actually uses the gym. I think the second idea is strong enough to stand alone. I’m just not the person to make it happen.