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Innovation at Work in Today's Best Gyms

Earlier this month,, a health and fitness website targeted at a younger, social media savvy population released its list of the 21 most innovative gyms in the United States, and it had me wondering how "innovative" was defined.

Kicking off the list are Athlete's Performance, Phoenix, and Reebok CrossFit Back Bay, Boston. Boasting an elite athlete following and all-too-common training features such as physical therapy and nutrition planning, Athlete's Performance, which is sponsored by Adidas, makes up for innovation in its performance innovation labs, where its team of "innovators" explore new ways to help individuals perform better. Reebok's gym, on the other hand, is taking it a step further as it introduces a new mindset of competition, confidence and camaraderie to working out. The first gym associated with the CrossFit brand, CrossFit Back Bay is moving away from weight machines and treadmills and embracing group training sessions as a sport. With more than 68,000 athletes registered to compete in Reebok's CrossFit Games, it might be on to something.

The Green Microgym, Portland, OR, is third on the list with its electricity-generating bikes and ellipticals. These high-tech machines capture the energy that users create while pedaling and convert it to electricity before channeling it into power outlets. According to Time, an average workout creates enough watt hours to power a phone for a week, and if all the equipment is used at one time, it can produce twice as much electricity as is needed to run the facility.

The list turned a bit more ordinary with gyms four and five, DeFranco's, Wyckoff, NJ, and MizzouRec at the University of Missouri-Columbia. DeFranco's is nothing more than strength and conditioning without the air-conditioning, and MizzouRec doesn't even look like a gym anymore with its beach club and lazy river, complete with palm trees. Though the recreation center was the only college facility to make the list, innovation doesn't seem to be the reason why it made it to number five.

Other highlights from the list are Nike World Headquarters, Beaverton, OR, which features a running track made from 50,000 recycled Nike shoes from the company's Reuse-A-Shoe program, Athletic Republic's treadmill workouts on ice skates, Crunch's antigravity yoga and David Barton Gym's nightclub theme, complete with deejays.

Renaming the list "21 Best Gyms" or whittling out the more obvious "bigger is better" gyms would have made the list more accurate. Just because Arnold Schwarzenegger works out there or Gerard Butler used the gym to get ready for his role in "300" doesn't make a gym innovative. Narrowing the gyms to those that created a more effective workout experience or technology, I give the nod to Reebok, Green Microgym, Nike World Headquarters and Athletic Republic. Keep up the good work, and for the rest of you, try taking a step away from the ordinary.

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