Our quest for 'green' workouts

summer beach WOD
© Brent Latimer (used with permission)

As part of our ongoing series about modern green living, Margaret and Katherine discuss how they think about making exercise green.

Margaret: Less is more for me

I don’t like workouts that require a lot of gear, partly because machines, weights, bands and other equipment just seem too fussy to me. I also think it’s a bit more eco-friendly to power your workout with just your own muscles; you can sweat plenty without a gym membership.

I go through phases with my workouts, but recently I’ve set a goal to run 100 miles over the course of the summer. I’m no marathoner, two miles at a time is plenty for me. I love that running requires next to no gear, just a pair of shoes. (Sure, there are barefoot runners too, but let’s not get into that.) I have recently begun using my phone to track my runs and play music (it also helps me stay honest about reaching that goal), but I like an unplugged run too.

Like Katherine, I’m a big fan of yoga, as we’ve written about in this column before. Similar to running, yoga requires minimal gear. If you take classes at a studio, you don’t even have to own a mat, as most have them available to rent. Many studios also provide tools like blocks and straps, a great example of the sharing economy.

I’m a minimalist when it comes to workout clothes. Sure, there are some really cool eco-friendly brands that make nice things, but when it comes to getting sweaty, anything you can move and feel comfortable in will do.

I usually do about three formal workouts per week. However, I’ve found that trying to reduce my carbon footprint often dovetails nicely with staying physically active. For example, taking the stairs instead of the elevator uses less electricity and gets my heart rate up. Walking instead of driving serves a similar purpose.

On the other hand, I don’t want to knock people’s passions. If your best workouts involve say, a kayak or a full suit of hockey pads, more power to you. What gets to me are all the really gimmicky goods, the silly ab machines and workout DVDs and fancy pedometers. We should do what we love, and only buy the gear that we’ll use often and wear out.

Katherine: You have to love it to keep at it

It’s been over two years since I fell in love with CrossFit. As someone who never played group sports, nor worked out in a gym for a single day in my life, it has been wonderful to discover a ‘sport’ that works for me. Twice a week, I head to the gym as soon as my husband gets home from work, leaving him to make dinner with our kids while I burn off steam and calories. It’s a sweet deal!

Strangely enough, the gym has become my Zen, a place where I push myself physically, and tap into another side of my personality that I never knew existed. I’m a literary nerd who would happily spend the entire day reading and writing, so who knew that I could get so excited about pull-ups and deadlifts?

I like how ‘green’ CrossFit is. I’ve written about this before for TreeHugger, arguing that CrossFit is the new eco-friendly gym, as it doesn’t rely on energy-guzzling machines to function. Most CrossFit ‘boxes,’ as they’re officially called, don’t even have A/C. They occupy old industrial spaces and feature bare-bones interiors that allow members to focus on the work at hand.

Even CrossFit superstar Jason Khalipa agrees with me. In a phone interview several weeks ago, he told me:

“You’re absolutely right. CrossFit is a very green form of fitness. I used to work at a conventional gym, and there was always air conditioning and/or heat pumping because people want it to be the proper temperature for them to work out. Then you have tons of treadmills and ellipticals, all using electricity. CrossFit doesn’t have any of that. All we have to plug in is our music and the lights.”

That being said, there are aspects of CrossFit that I opt out of, namely the Paleo diet, which I consider too meat-centric, and the inevitable consumerism that has everyone buying the same brand of workout gear. (This seems to happen in most sport, thinking of what Lulu Lemon is to yoga, Adidas is to soccer, and Nike is to basketball.) I prefer to stick with regular old clothes for working out, or support alternative eco-friendly companies.

As much as I love the gym, I do enjoy finding ways to exercise outdoors. I ride my bike all over town, dropping my son off at nursery school and picking up groceries. I enjoy walking, going on family hikes, canoeing, swimming, and yoga… but not running. Try as I might, I always feel like a lumbering bear.

I know CrossFit isn’t for everyone, just like running isn’t for me. That diversity is precisely what makes the world so interesting. If a particular form of exercise works for you, then that’s great. You have to love what you’re doing in order to make it a regular part of your lifestyle. That’s the only way exercise can truly be sustainable.

Our quest for 'green' workouts
As part of our ongoing series about modern green living, Margaret and Katherine discuss how they think about making exercise as green and eco-friendly as possible.

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