As I pedal away on a spin bike in a studio beneath the railway arches in West London, Michal Homola, founder of the first chain of eco-gyms in the UK, is full of encouragement.
‘You’ve already generated 0.4 kilowatts,’ he cries. ‘To boil a kettle you need 40 watts. Over an hour more and you can have your morning tea!’
My laborious pedalling is, indeed, generating a paltry amount of electricity, 74 per cent of which is being harnessed and fed back to the grid (the rest is lost in the conversion).
A screen on the wall records what the green energy produced equates to in terms of carbon dioxide emissions cut and lightbulbs powered, and informs me I’ve ‘improved the world’.
Anna Maxted gives verdict on a session at eco-gym Terra Hale in West London. Pictured: Anna Maxted converts her own energy into electricity
I feel this overstates my contribution, but as Michal says: ‘The little things you do in day-to-day life make a huge impact. That’s why this gym exists, to let people know that a small change can make a big difference.’
Michal, 37, was a snowboard instructor in his native Slovakia. When he moved to London in 2004 there was little call for snowboarding instructors, so he turned to personal training. He set up his first gym, Terra Hale, three years ago, based on the fundamental concept that our wellbeing is synonymous with the wellbeing of the planet.
And that precludes wasting the earth’s resources. Michal says: ‘When people want to get fit, lose weight, or gain muscle, all they need to do is to release energy. Why wouldn’t we harness this energy?’
After all, bicycles that convert power generated by the rider to electricity are hardly revolutionary. As Michal says: ‘Fifty years ago my grandfather had a bicycle and there was a dynamo on the front wheel. At night you’d flick it, and as you cycled the light would come on. This is not something new; it’s just never been put into practice.’
Most gyms are big contributors to the carbon footprint. ‘You’ve got all the treadmills which usually take around 3,500 kilowatts an hour of electricity consumption, all the towels being washed in a non-sustainable way, all the plastic bottles, which are rarely recycled, and all the lighting and air conditioning.’
Terra Hale has three small London sites. (It’s pay as you go, and clients must book in either for a class or to workout with a personal trainer, which makes social distancing easy. In the West London gym, the maximum is six people training.)
Meanwhile, MDL Fitness is opening an eco-gym in Plymouth next month, the Green Gym Group operates in Brighton and SO51Fitness is based in Romsey, Hampshire.
But beyond that, there are surprisingly few studios in the UK truly committed to sustainable fitness. Why?
Terra Hale encourages people to bring their own towel and has ecological LED lighting that requires very low electricity. Pictured: Anna Maxted with trainer Ed
Michal says: ‘It’s a question of profitability. Why do it sustainably if you can order it from China ten times cheaper?’
For instance, he says, normal spin bikes cost £600; his eco-bikes cost £3,000.
It becomes swiftly apparent that Terra Hale’s ecologically-sound credentials are no gimmick. There’s no air con, but ecological low-power fans instead. They don’t wash towels — they encourage people to bring their own. ‘The lighting is very modern, ecological LED lighting that requires very low electricity.’
I’m mortified at having brought along a plastic water bottle. Michal says: ‘We don’t allow people to enter with plastic.’
Instead, as I put on my wraps for a boxing session, he presents me with a sleek re-usable flask, made of bamboo and metal: ‘This is 100 per cent plastic-free.
That’s the least of it. The floor in the main gym is made of recycled truck tyres, and the wood panelling on the walls is reclaimed from local building sites. The bumper plates — that you slide onto barbells to do deadlifts — are made from recycled tyres, too (you can’t tell; they look normal). Unfortunately, the gym can’t run on pedal power alone — the electricity is topped up via a green energy provider.
Every time someone signs up, a rubber tree is planted in a plantation in India, overseen by a non-governmental organisation of which Michal is a director, and tended to by the community.
Michal advised Anna to do rowing to improve her posture and strength. Pictured: Anna Maxted with trainer Michael
‘One rubber tree absorbs one tonne of carbon dioxide in its lifetime,’ he says. ‘And three to five years after planting it, you can tap the sides, harvest the rubber, and produce latex. We make resistance bands, yoga mats and everything we use in the gym that’s made from rubber.’
The team’s commitment to sustainability is whole-hearted. I learn that Ed Chattey, my boxing coach, is wearing shorts made from recycled ‘ocean waste’ — plastic salvaged from the sea. In fact, all the staff wear uniforms made by sustainable brands.
Ed gets me to jog and twist on the spot to loosen up. We’ll be using leather gloves and pads handmade by a family in Pakistan. (They were shipped by air, but Terra Hale offsets the carbon footprint by planting trees.)
‘Boxing is like dancing,’ Ed tells me. ‘It’s not about having a fight: it’s about relaxing, breathing, not getting frustrated, controlling your emotions.’
Michal also puts me through my paces with a ‘warm-up’ that makes me want to collapse on the sustainably-sourced rubber flooring. We perform side lunges, forward lunges, straight leg kicks. We perform weighted lunges with ecologically-sound weights made from leather pouches full of tiny metal balls, with oak handles.
Michal says: ‘You were very tight in the back and hamstrings. Your posture is not correct due to weakness in your muscles and lack of flexibility. Your stamina is OK, but your strength needs to be improved.’ He recommends rowing: ‘It works 86 per cent of your muscle groups, it’s good for your posture and your back.’
Michal told Anna (pictured) most of Terra Hale’s clients are people who use the gym because they live nearby and are aged between 35 and 55
I hop on one of Terra Hale’s bespoke electricity-free WaterRowers. Made of sustainably sourced wood, its resistance is provided by water inside a clear recycled plastic container, which swooshes as I pull back and forth. It’s gentler on your lumbar spine than a traditional rowing machine, Michal explains, as ‘when you go back, the water is still spinning, so it’s a much smoother stroke’.
I had imagined sustainable, environmentally-aware fitness would be less exhausting than the wasteful energy-guzzling kind. I was mistaken.
I wonder about Terra Hale’s clientele. Are they all eco activists? Actually, no. Most are between 35 and 55, and patronise it ‘because they live nearby and it’s a good gym’. (Clients pay from £55 to £80 per session).
Michal is now planning to take Terra Hale global. It makes perfect sense: Terra Hale means strong earth. He adds: ‘Without the planet, we are nothing. We need to treat it as a whole ecosystem — our body, our mind, our planet.’
Guilt-free gym accessories
Eco Rise Yoga Mat: Made from sustainably-harvested tree rubber, recyclable and biodegradable, this mat is free from toxic chemicals and dyes.
NOHrD Swing weights Tower: Free weights handmade from sustainably-sourced solid wood and a hand- stitched leather pouch containing weighed iron pellets (a set of four weights.
Bambaw BPA-free steel and bamboo flask: This reusable 500ml flask (right), helps the Marine Conservation Society protect endangered seagrass.
WaterRower A1 rowing machine: this machine is made from sustainably-sourced hardwood from the Appalachian Mountains in the U.S.
Leggings: From recycled polyester.
Veja Rio Branco suede and mesh sneakers: The mesh is crafted from 100 per cent recycled bottles and the rubber is sustainably sourced from the Amazon forest.