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(NEW YORK) -- You probably already sensed this little known fact was true: The treadmill was originally conceived as a form of punishment.
An English civil engineer, Sir William Cubitt, designed the first treadmill in 1818 as a way to discipline prisoners while at the same time generating power for grinding corn and pumping water. Not until the 1960s was the machine transformed into the workout staple of the calorie-burning obsessed.
Putting aside the torture aspect for the moment, Cubitt may have been onto something by making exercise good for something other than melting pounds and producing piles of sweaty laundry.
After all, the calorie is simply a unit of energy. Why not put it to good use?
With a hat tip to treadmill's origins, here are five workouts that convert human power into something practical.
EcoMill: The EcoMill is a totally self-powered treadmill that produces enough wattage to power its own display plus charge up a smartphone. No electric motor means the curved belt relies on gravity and the push of the user's feet to move it along. It's hard work, but you burn up to 30 percent more calories than on a motorized treadmill.
Human Dynamo: Plenty of exercise machines turn sweat into an energy source. What makes the Human Dynamo unique is that it's both a lower and upper body bike to help maximize power output. The average person generates between 50 and 150 watt-hours during an hour-long ride, which can be stored in a battery or sent into the main power grid. That's enough to charge up a laptop, tablet or a few smart phones. Human Dynamo founder Mike Taggett points out that the technology isn't as green as it seems after you factor in the materials and energy it takes to manufacture the devices. He discontinued sales last year to think through sustainability but says interest remains high, especially from eco-conscious gyms, universities and hotels.
Gamercize: Gaming typically pumps up thumb muscles but not much else. With the Gamercize hook up you must keep exercising either on a treadmill, bike, stepper or elliptical trainer, or the console shuts down and you can't play. You're only required to maintain a slow and steady pace to keep the game active. But in terms of fitness, every little bit adds up. An 150-pound person might burn 80-100 calories per hour while playing a sedentary video game, according to an estimate from caloriecount.com. Even walking at a very slow pace during play ups the calorie count by at least 30 percent. That's just enough to power the game.
Champ Couch: You never know when a "ragey" moment will strike. But if it happens to be while you're lounging around doing nothing, ideally you'll be sitting on "The Champ." German furniture designer Tobias Fraenzel designed this gorgeously modern couch to double as a punching bag. Simply flip up the back for an instant exercise session, and then flip it back again to revert to couch potato mode. This form of high-intensity anger management may be beautiful, but it's a bit pricey. The piece costs about $5,000 plus packing and shipping.
Subway Squats: Throughout the month of November, Moscow subway riders can pay for their tickets in squats. As a way of promoting the upcoming Winter Olympics, the Russian government and the Olympic Committee are allowing riders to pay for their trip in 30 squats instead of 30 rubles (about .92 cents), according to The Wall Street Journal. Riders will also find other physical challenges for a healthier commute throughout the month, such as exercise bands in place of hanger straps and bike stations to charge up smartphones.
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