Treadmills, unplugged: Machines you have to power

To rev-up your workout on the treadmill, many gyms are cutting off its power.
fitwalker_class_unplugged treadmill
The Superstar Gym’s Fitwalker class uses treadmills that you have power.


While treadmills are a fitness-goer’s staple for sprints, intervals, and a metabolism boost, a handful of gyms are giving the treadmill an upgrade that seems counter-intuitive: they’re cutting off its power.

Self-powered treadmills, sans electricity, play a starring role at the new Superstar Gym in Tribeca, where European-inspired group fitness classes are taking off. At Right Fit NY in the West Village, owner Romeo Gousse added a Woodway Curved treadmill to his facility after an NFL player-client suggested it. Even Barry’s Bootcamp occasionally gets in on the unplugged action, by occasionally having class go-ers switch their treadmills into “dynamic mode” so your run moves the belt.

“It requires you to engage more, as you need to work harder to keep the machine going,” says Superstar Gym co-owner Joe DiAngelo. “You’re constantly working to power the treadmill.”

Woodway Curve
NFL player Robert Griffin III trains on a Woodway Curve self-powered treadmill.

Woodway, the company that makes the treadmill Gousse has at Right Fit, estimates that individuals burn “up to 30 percent more calories” than on a regular treadmill because of the effort needed to keep it moving. It’s a number that would be difficult to verify, but when on the machine, I immediately felt the extra effort in my legs.

The NFL and other athletic organizations also love “the manual machine” because of its ability to better approximate the feel of running dynamically on the ground, in more than one direction. “Being able to control your own speed is more realistic,” says Gousse, “and it’s great for directional running for athletes. A lot of the routines are back-pedal to side shuffle to forward sprint, and you’re going to change speed as you turn and rotate and go.”

For boutique fitness types, self-powered treadmills offer another benefit: they can be used in choreographed group classes, like Fitwalker at Superstar, which offer the synchronized movement of a Zumba class, only with less dancing, and more heart-rate-revving walking. DiAngelo says the Fitwalker classes are huge in Italy, where more than 200 participants will work out with multiple instructors in a club setting. (Would this fly in the Meatpacking District?)

“People enjoy the classes because they offer unlimited moves and the workout can vary—there can be cardio-themed Fitwalker classes, strength training, and even Muy Thai,” he explains. “The great thing about Fitwalker is that you’re never bound to one monotonous motion; instead, you take a foundation and build upon it.”

Of course, unplugged treadmills come with an eco-friendly benefit, too. Without electricity, you’ll get your butt kicked, but the environment won’t. —Lisa Elaine Held

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