What the Tech: Virtual reality fitness

One of the more popular Christmas gifts last year was the Oculus Quest 2, a virtual reality gaming system by Meta (Facebook). While video gamers are using them for first-person shooter games and swiping objects to dance music, they’ve quickly become a replacement for gym memberships.

According to NPR, virtual workouts spiked during the pandemic when people could not go to their gyms and some say they won’t be going back.

How does a virtual workout work? Is it effective at burning calories and getting in shape? That’s what I wanted to find out. I downloaded Liteboxer VR, one of only a few Oculus apps with a free subscription model. As its name implies,https://liteboxer.com/pages/vr is a virtual reality boxing game that puts you in a virtual ring with an instructor.

Rather than facing off with an animated opponent, Liteboxer VR shows a panel with multiple targets. The trainer instructs you to hit those targets as they light up to the beat of up-tempo music. The free basic version of Liteboxer offers 25 music tracks and 29 classes. A paid subscription is $18.99/month for 300+ classes and over 100 music tracks.

I asked a couple of friends, Aaron and Nia Stout to give it a try with the question: “how good is this workout?” in mind.

Aaron punched through a 3 minute round of target hits and wanted to do more.

“It’s very effective,” he said. “I can do it from home. Like I said I need that motivation. I want to be beating my score or beating my friend. I would be more motivated to do it every day.”

Liteboxer does have challenges so Aaron can keep track of his score and compare it with friends.

Nia wasn’t satisfied with just one round. She immediately re-started a new challenge to try and
beat her previous score.

“A boxing workout is the most intense workout I’ve ever done in my life,” she said. “You can’t compare it to running or anything. It’s a full-body workout that is exhausting.”

After two rounds Nia had worked up a pretty good sweat even though she didn’t have to move or jog around the ring.

“I felt like it was real. It really was like you were there.”

How does it compare with a boxing class in the real world? I strapped on the headset and grabbed the controllers myself for a 9-minute workout. As I punched to the beat of the music the lights flashed faster. After that 9 minutes, the Liteboxer VR app showed I had burned 54 calories which is more than I typically burn on a treadmill for the same amount of time.

So does it work? Yes. The harder you punch the higher your score and the more calories you’ll burn. Is it fun? Even the free version was a lot of fun. I also tried a couple of other workout apps that give you the feeling of being in the gym even though you’re standing in the same spot.

Is it a replacement for the gym? Quite possibly if you typically hit the Stairmaster or treadmill. Virtual fitness can never replace weight training of course. But for a cardio workout, the Stouts and I felt it was more fun than walking on a treadmill for 30 minutes. And we all wanted to do it again.

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