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Exercise. We all need it, but few people actually like doing it. These days people are pretty sedentary. We have jobs that involve sitting in front of a computer all day and not swinging a big hammer or walking around. The solution has been to get on a treadmill or stationary bicycle and go at it for an hour every day, but by gosh – is it boring! If it weren’t for my iPad and some quality time with my Hulu playlist, I doubt I could make it to the end of cardio. I’d love nothing more than to actually go riding for exercise, but who has the time?
VR might very well be the answer to relieving the tedium of using the gym. By making exercise more interactive and taking your mind off the tedium, we might see people get in shape again. So let’s have a look at the sorts of exercise experiences you can have in VR today. Who knows, perhaps it’s finally time to get that beach body back. And no, I don’t mean “beached whale”.
Using virtual game technology to help people get in shape is not a new idea at all. If you think about it, game consoles such as the original Nintendo Wii, the Xbox with Kinect, and the Playstation Move all had titles available that were aimed at getting people off their couches and burning some calories.
From games like Dance Dance Revolution to more on-the-nose fitness games such as Sports Champions on the Playstation 3 – while these fitness games didn’t require an HMD strapped to your face, they all involved some sort of motion tracking translated into the virtual world. They urged you to move your arms and legs as you simulate taking part in outdoor activities.
With such an established genre of entertainment it shouldn’t surprise anyone that VR brought with it attempts at combining virtual worlds with real exercise. Let’s look at how you can get that heart pumping while escaping the sweaty confines of your gym.
Dedicated VR Exercise Machines
Specialized VR exercise equipment is starting to get a foothold in fancier, more daring gyms. While most modern gyms will do you the courtesy of sticking some TVs on the wall, it’s now possible to buy equipment for which you can hook an HMD and have the full-body experience. It works best with stationary exercises that can be measured easily. If the VR software knows what your pedal rate is, for example, that can be translated to real speed in the VR world. The most impressive example I’ve seen of this is from a company called VirZoom.
VirZoom has made it a mission to provide a platform for stationary cycling to become much more. There are a host of games and experiences that couple to your cycling activities – from a pedal-powered F1 game to a wild-west bandit hunt from atop a horse. This is very different from trying to get through your cardio with nothing but an iPod to keep your mind off how much your butt hurts.
VirZoom also supports quite a few platforms. It has versions that run on the PSVR and on PV VR platforms. However, I personally don’t think I want to be tethered to a PS4 or PC while on a bike, which means it’s a good thing it also supports mobile platforms.
Getting the headset and software sorted is only half the battle, though. It only works if you have a stationary bike equipped with the right hardware. VirZoom itself sells stationery bikes that are ready to go out of the box, but what if you already own a bike? That’s where the “VZ Sensor” comes in. It’s a tiny little sensor unit that only costs $99 and connects to a wide range of popular stationary bikes. An even better development is that some commercial gym bikes will soon be equipped with VZ sensors, so you just have to bring your own mobile headset to gym and get to it.
VR Exercise Games
Sometimes you’re exercising without thinking of it as a workout. Playing sports such as football doesn’t usually feel like exercise. Your head’s in the game and you’re trying to win. That’s usually enough to push the fact that you’re working hard into the background.
Some VR games are also such a sneaky form of exercise. Armed with an HMD like the Vice and a pair of motion controllers, you’d be surprised how intense things can get. For example, the VR game Holopoint is an intense VR archery game that will have you twirling in place, drawing and firing virtual arrows in rapid succession like some sort of weird cyber Robin Hood. It’s a simple premise, but in practice you’ll quickly find yourself out of breath.
Audioshield is another VR game for the Vive which doesn’t present itself as a very physically demanding game on the face of it, but see it in action and you realize it’s actually a sort of shadow boxing rhythm game. Each one of your VR hands is covered in a colored shield, and you have to block incoming sound visualizations of the same color.
See? That seems like a workout to me.
Let’s Get Physical
This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to merging VR and exercise. VR can solve the time and motivation problems that plague people all over the world, preventing them from getting as much exercise as they really need. What’s stopping you? Hop on that VR app store and go find your perfect exercise companion.