Seven of the Most Innovative Gyms in the World

Go way beyond free weights and stationary bikes at these clever workout facilities

© Dan Forer/Beateworks/Corbis

It’s January, when so many of us find ourselves plodding to the neighborhood gym to shake off the holiday binge blahs. But while most of us will be doing the same old treadmill and weight routines, members at these gyms will be climbing up old grain silos, sweating away on computer-equipped smart equipment or even powering the very gym itself with the energy generated by their exertions. 

Upper Limits, Bloomington, Illinois: Rock climbing in old grain silos

As its nickname, “The Prairie State,” suggests, Illinois is lacking in the mountains department. So its climbing enthusiasts have to get creative with the resources the state does have. To wit: lots of grain silos. At Upper Limits in Bloomington, climbers tackle the 65-foot-high walls of once-abandoned grain silos near the city’s railroad tracks. In the creative reuse department, this gets a gold star.    

Orangetheory, various locations: Beat your neighbor’s heart rate

(© Burger/Phanie/Phanie Sarl/Corbis)

Is a regular fitness class a little too noncompetitive for your Type A tastes? Head to a location of the rapidly-expanding Orangetheory Fitness empire, where you strap on a heart rate monitor and have your workout intensity broadcast on a big screen for all to see. The concept uses Group Dynamic Theory—the idea that groups can energize and motivate their members—to push people past where they’d go on their own. The 60-minute classes are said to burn up to 1,000 calories through interval training, rowing and weights. The color of the lighting—orange, naturally—comes from color psychology. Orange, the chain says, evokes “energy, youthfulness, vitality and health.” 

The Green Microgym, Portland, Oregon: Human-powered electricity

(Green Microgym)

The “green” in this Portland gym’s name doesn’t mean organic bamboo towels, a kale smoothie bar or other surface signifiers of sustainability. It means that the facility is actually powered, at least in part, by its members. Pedal on the retrofitted spin bike or use the ellipticals, and your energy is converted into electricity. The result? A far smaller carbon footprint than other facilities.

Athletic Republic, various locations: Cutting-edge equipment

Geared towards elite and pro athletes, this chain of training centers has proprietary equipment you won’t find anywhere else. Their Super Running Treadmill goes from 0 to 28 miles per hour in less than three seconds, pushing runners to speed up on a dime. Their Hockey Treadmill uses an artificial ice surface to train hockey players to become faster, better skaters—all while staying in place. For more effective feedback, Athletic Republic uses a video program called Dartfish to capture and analyze movements, allowing athletes to review and fine-tune their performance. It’s worked for pros like Pittsburgh Steelers’ linebacker LaMarr Woodley and MLB All-Star Jim Thome. 

Gravity, Singapore: High-tech workouts for high-fliers

Designed for the needs of “business executives and individuals seeking exclusive, highly personalized and holistic wellness services” (i.e., the very wealthy), this brand new Singapore gym offers all the high-tech perks money can pay for. This includes a 3D body scan upon joining, which collects 400 data points used to build a 3D model of the client and track progress. The gym’s in-house physician will conduct a wellness analysis and prescribe you a vitamin supplement specially formulated for your needs. The gym also has its own app, designed to help clients keep track of their progress and interact with other members.  

Milon Premium Health Clubs, Australia: Replacing trainers with smart machines

Who needs a personal trainer when you have the “smart card” at this luxury gym in Australia’s Gold Coast? Insert the card, and the machines automatically adjust to your specifications. They remember things like your weight and body size, as well as the details of your last workout. Workouts are so targeted that the club, which uses German-made Milon equipment, claims you only need to exercise for 17 minutes to get benefits. 

Swerve, New York: Turning indoor cycling into a team race

High-intensity indoor group cycling classes—Spinning, SoulCycle—have been all the rage for years now. New York’s Swerve takes it up a notch, dividing classes into teams with stats displayed on a screen. Your exertion doesn’t just boost your own score, it raises the standing of your entire team. In other words, if you slack, you’re bringing down your neighbors as well. Individual trackers measure your own progress, so you know if you did better or worse than your last ride. 

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.