(855) 321-7473

M-F 9am-5pm Eastern

Sustainable Home Gym Header

Sustainable Home Gyms: How to Set Up Your Own

By Tobias Roberts Rise Writer
Jul 6, 2020

Across the United States, there are around 36,000 membership-based exercise facilities centers. For millions of people across the country, a morning, afternoon, or evening trip to the gym or their local fitness center is vital to their daily routine. Sedentary jobs have increased 83 percent since 1950, which means that the hours we spend at the gym is often the only moment for exercise that we need to keep our bodies healthy.

However, during the current pandemic, the vast majority of gyms, fitness centers, and exercise facilities have closed down to reduce infection rates. Stay-at-home orders are undoubtedly an essential part of "flattening the curve" and lowering the pandemic's scale. But, millions of people have found that their exercise, health, and weight loss goals have moved to the backburner without access to a gym. Fortunately, home gyms offer an opportunity to stay in shape without ever leaving home. For environmentally-conscious homeowners, many home gym manufacturers are incorporating several sustainability characteristics into the equipment they market.

Free Weights

Home Gym Popularity

According to a recent poll, 47 percent of women and 22 percent of men admitted to gaining weight "due to COVID restrictions." Similarly, a recent study titled "Self-quarantine and weight gain related risk factors during the COVID-19 pandemic" found that spending more time at home during the current pandemic increased stress levels. This added stress subsequently was considered to be a significant factor in unwanted weight gain in those surveyed.

Even 20 minutes of exercise each day can reduce stress levels, regulate our metabolism, and maintain our preferred body weight. As uncertainty regarding the COVID 19 pandemic continues to keep us away from fitness centers and other crowded areas, the home gym market is in full growth mode. Statistics from just last month found that home fitness equipment sales have soared by over 170% since the start of the pandemic. Like other businesses, many gyms and fitness centers are also offering online classes for their members. Having some essential equipment for exercise, spinning, Pilates, Yoga, or the dozens of other fitness routines is often a prerequisite for these online fitness routines.

Sustainability Issues to Consider for Home Gyms

Unfortunately, not all home gym equipment is an excellent addition for homeowners who worry about their interior air quality and other health and sustainability aspects. Below, we take a quick look at some of the sustainability issues to consider for home gyms.

Volatile Organic Compounds

Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are among the primary sources that negatively affect our homes' indoor air quality. Found in interior paints, the formaldehyde in plywood, the Memory Foam in your mattress, and the synthetic fibers in your carpet and furniture, VOCs are a serious potential health hazard for homeowners. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) even says that VOCs' levels may be up to 10 times higher inside our homes than in the outside area. Luckily, there are several things that homeowners can do to lower and even eliminate all together VOCs from their home (check out our article on how to find the best VOC-free paints here).

Gym Mats

Gym tiles and flooring often emit high levels of VOCs that could lead to respiratory problems. Some rubber flooring materials might include flame retardants that add additional VOCs to the interior of your home.

Energy Use  

A couple of barbells and a yoga mat will not add to your monthly electricity bill. However, many home gym equipment pieces can use a substantial amount of energy, thus reducing your home's energy efficiency. A standard treadmill, for example, will most likely use an average of 700 watts of electricity. One hour on your treadmill or running machine then is equivalent to leaving one 7-watt LED light bulb on for 100 hours.

Hazardous Chemicals in Cleaners 

In most gyms across the country, users are encouraged to either wipe or spray down their equipment after each use. While this might be considered hygienic, reliance on chemical cleaners, disinfectants, and detergents can lead to environmental and respiratory problems.

What Off-Gasses the Most in Home Gyms?

Of the sustainability issues outlined above, the most evident and discernible problem is related to the robust and rubbery smell of home gym equipment. It should be apparent that the heavier-than-normal breathing during exercise should not occur in an area where harmful and potentially toxic chemicals are freely floating around. Most people don't have an extra exercise room in their home, and thus the off-gassing from individual pieces of gym equipment can permeate other places as well. Unless you want to be stuck in an uninsulated garage exercising in the middle of winter, finding low-VOC or zero-VOC home gym equipment should be a priority.

The two primary sources of potentially dangerous VOCs from home gym equipment come from horse stall mats and cheap, inexpensive rubber weight plates. Horse stall mats are a type of rubber flooring that is intended for only outdoor use. The cheap plastic barbells might save you money compared to their metal counterparts. Still, they will also negatively affect your indoor air quality. If you absolutely must buy cheap rubber mats or barbells, make sure to leave them outside for 2-3 weeks while they off-gas the most dangerous VOCs. Also, consider storing them in the garage or on an outdoor patio after using them.

Man with Dumbell

How to Make a Healthy Home Gym

Home gym equipment doesn't have to stink up your home with off-gassing VOCs, increase your monthly energy bill, and leave your home smelling like a public pool. Several simple strategies can allow homeowners to create a healthy and sustainable home gym.

Prioritize Low-VOC Mats and Flooring

That strong, "rubbery" smell that many people associate with gym flooring has very little to do with the rubber itself. Instead, rubber flooring manufacturers use a variety of binding agents to fix the rubber materials. The two main binding agents are either sulfuric or urethane-based. Sulfuric binding agents will almost always have a much stronger smell and higher VOC content. Urethane based binding agents for rubber flooring will have lower VOC content. The best option is to find manufacturers that make their flooring from natural latex, sourced from the rubber tree. As long as you don't have an allergy to latex, natural rubber floors are your best bet for eco-friendly rubber mats or flooring.

Go Recycled

Everything from interlocking gym tiles to yoga mats to the barbells used for lifting weights can be made from recycled materials. Opting for home gym equipment with high recycled content is an easy way to reduce demand for natural resources while also lowering your home gym equipment's embodied energy footprint.

Make Your Own Electricity

Whether you are riding a stationary bike or running on a treadmill, new research discovers that human energy expenditures during exercise can be harnessed to create a sustainable energy source. According to one recent report, numerous grants have been given to universities and other research institutions to find cost-effective strategies that convert the energy output from rowing machines and static bicycles to usable energy. Large gyms are probably still a long way from becoming self-sufficient in terms of power consumption. But, smaller home gyms might be able to "offset" the energy they use by opting for clean energy-producing equipment. We briefly review a couple of the companies that are manufacturing and marketing gym-quality grid-tied electricity generating equipment below. 

Sustainable Brand Options 

A growing consumer environmental awareness has led to a fundamental shift in how many companies manufacture and market their products. In the specific case of home gyms, homeowners can today find a variety of low-VOC gym equipment, energy-efficient and even a line of equipment that produces its energy. Below, we list a few of the most sustainable brand options that Rise has found.

Eco Rubber Gym Mats
Eco Rubber Gym Mats. Photo Credit: Great Mats

Great Mats

This brand has a large selection of eco-friendly flooring for your home gym. They offer both natural and recycled rubber options and use the lowest VOC binding agents on the market. If you are looking for the most natural option, Great Mats also has a cork flooring used for your home gym setup.

Eco-Powr Indoor Cycle. Photo Credit: SportsArt


According to their website, this company imagines a future where "fitness facilities can transform into power plants that offset their building's electrical costs and earn points towards LEED certification, government incentives, and more." Their treadmills, stair machines, cardio machines, and elliptical are certainly not on the inexpensive side. However, the company claims that their grid-tied equipment can save up to 85 percent in energy costs, thus lowering your workout routine's carbon footprint. In the future, fitness gurus might be designing exercise routines around the amount of "watt-hours" you achieve instead of calories burned.

Natural Cleaners

How to Clean Gym Equipment at Home 

Once your workout is over, you can change a few simple things to increase the sustainability of your home gym and workout experience. Instead of quickly spraying down your bench, mats, and other equipment with a bleach solution or other chemical disinfectant, consider making your own DIY home gym cleaner. A simple solution made from vinegar, vodka, or rubbing alcohol and lemon juice is a much more environmentally friendly way to keep your gym equipment free from germs. Alternatively, thyme oil is often referred to as the "natural bleach" and is another healthy alternative.

Woman Lifting Barbell

Getting your exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. With many gyms around the country still closed due to the COVID 19 pandemic, the tips above will allow you to create a healthy and sustainable home gym to keep you in shape.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-01-25T12:57:11+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.