It’s no wonder I was skeptical when I heard virtual reality was branching out to fitness. When I first heard of virtual reality, I initially thought of it from a gaming perspective—geared toward the “gamer” demographic, especially guys in their teens and early 20s. Combine that with the fact I’ve also heard virtual reality can make people dizzy, and I wasn’t exactly sold.
What I didn’t realize is that virtual reality has come a long way, with improved technology (yep, no dizziness for me) and options that go well beyond video games. Now, there are plentiful and dynamic virtual reality workouts for people into lots of different types of exercise.
Virtual reality fitness, also called VR fitness, uses technology to immerse users into a new, virtual workout environment: Your body pretty much becomes the controller. That means if your avatar needs to throw some punches in a boxing game, you’ll be doing that in real life, too.As a personal trainer, I was really surprised by not only how much I’ve been loving these workouts, but also how effective they are for me. I’ve realized they have the potential to be a fitness game-changer for lots of people, especially those who want to start working out, who may be bored and burned out with the kinds of workouts they’ve been doing, or who want to rebuild their damaged relationships with fitness to focus more on fun.
Because virtual reality fitness does require some equipment, though, it might not be for everyone, especially for those who may have budget constraints. First, you need a headset, which you put on to transport you into that VR environment. I use the Oculus headset ($400, amazon.com), though there are other options like the HTC Vive ($799, amazon.com), the Sony Playstation VR ($600 for a bundle, amazon.com), or the Pansonite 3D VR Headset ($86, amazon.com). Then you buy the fitness games separately, which cost about $20 to $30 apiece. It’s not an easy buy, but if you have the financial wiggle room (and if you are looking to invest in some at-home workout equipment), you may find its benefits warrant the investment.
Although virtual reality fitness will never fully replace my “reality” fitness, it has definitely become a staple to my workouts—and something I end up using most days. Here are the top reasons I’m glad I gave virtual reality workouts a go.
1. I don’t feel like I’m “working out.”
There’s nothing worse than dreading a workout. But virtual reality fitness feels like play, which is something many adults lose as they cross the threshold from childhood. And when something is fun, it becomes sustainable. As soon as I put on my VR headset and hit start, I lose myself in the game and the distraction of staying on task. Yes, I’m sweating through my workout, but I also find myself squealing and laughing like a kid. Every time I take the headset off, I have a big smile on my face and a goofy, “let’s do it again” comes out of my mouth. My favorite virtual reality fitness game right now is FitXR, which offers boxing and dance programs ranging from beginner to advanced workouts. I can box through the sessions with trainer feedback, and work on my punching precision with targets simulating jabs, crosses, hooks, and uppercuts. These workouts come in a range of intensities, are taught by a variety of trainers, and vary in length from three minutes all the way up to 60-minute workouts. Sometimes I use these shorter workouts as my warm-up before I lift weights, and other times I’ll go longer for more of its own cardio workout.
Another favorite of mine is Beat Saber by Beat Games. It isn’t specifically a boxing game, but instead offers rhythm workouts with sabers that slice through moving targets to upbeat music. It gives a similar workout to a boxing program, as targets come from varied angles, and I definitely work up a great sweat with this one. There are other virtual reality games on the market geared towards fitness, such as table tennis, basketball, dance, personal training, even archery. We are just at the beginning of virtual reality fitness becoming more mainstream. In the coming years, I expect you will start to see even more variety.
2. It feeds my competitive edge.
OK, so I admit it, I am a competitive person—whether against opponents or against myself. This goes back to playing as a kid, I think, too: Sure, we played games for the fun of it, but winning them added that extra layer to it. In the FitXR games and in Beat Saber, I can compete against other people and against myself as I try to improve my scores. This makes me work out harder (harder punches mean bigger scores) to increase my position on the scoreboard and beat my opponents. Competition against opponents isn’t always available in traditional workouts, which makes virtual reality fitness more exciting for me.
3. It makes working out a family affair.
My number one virtual reality fitness opponent is my 13-year-old son, and we play almost every day. We have some friendly competition going on and take turns to try to beat each other, though my son usually wins. I have found virtual reality fitness to be something we can do together to have fun, get in some exercise, and laugh—all signs of a great workout, and all extra special when keeping in mind that a 13-year-old boy isn’t always that easy to connect with. And my 76-year-old mom gets involved, too. Heck, the dog even wants to play, no lie! Our Oculus has become quite the center of attention in our living room.
4. It builds technique and coordination.
virtual reality fitness is definitely helping my boxing workouts from a technical position. I have been boxing for years—not just as a participant, but also as an instructor, and love that these games really do build my coordination. In the boxing game, I can work on the precision of my technique because the targets are angled to make me imitate the motion of a hook, jab, or uppercut. If I don’t hit the target with precision, I don’t get the point, so precision and quickness count. When I first started playing, I wasn’t quick enough to hit the target and score max points, but as time has gone on, I am hitting almost all of them.
5. It works my brain-body connection.
I don’t know about you, but when I have things flying towards me, my brain goes into overdrive, firing motor neurons, telling me things like “punch!” and “take cover!” My brain has to take into consideration things like which side to punch from, when to duck, or whether a jab, a cross, or a hook is coming. It definitely keeps my brain and body working together. (That’s something you’d get with real opponent-on-opponent boxing, too, but not as much if you’re just working out by yourself, like with a punching bag.) And while fitness in general focuses on the body, I think there is a massive benefit to sport that requires a lot of brain recruitment to achieve the end goal.
6. It makes my workouts more convenient—and offers privacy for trying new things.
I love that I can throw on virtual reality fitness at any time. It doesn’t require much prep—I don’t have to gather any equipment, for instance—so I can pop it on for 10 minutes at a time throughout the day. Plus, there’s the benefit of being able to do this workout in the privacy of my own home. I work with a lot of clients who are rebuilding their relationships with fitness and often feel intimidated to enter gym settings, so at-home workouts are preferable to them. That’s especially true if they’re interested in trying a new style of working out (say, like boxing), but don’t feel confident to start from scratch in public. virtual reality fitness can be a great way to build fitness confidence in that way. (And having great workouts available from home is even more important now since many gyms still remain closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.)