How Virtual Reality Could Change Your Exercise Routine

Don a headset and get to sweating

Key Takeaways

  • You can already use a wide range of apps to exercise in virtual reality, and manufacturers are trying to make the experience more realistic by using the tech with exercise equipment. 
  • A company is building an at-home fitness treadmill that has built-in virtual reality. 
  • VR might be able to lure non-exercisers into the cult of fitness, some experts say.
Someone doing yoga on a white floor in a white room while wearing a virtual reality headset.

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A new wave of home exercise equipment could get your heart rate pumping harder by using virtual reality. 

The company Virtuix is building an at-home fitness treadmill that has built-in virtual reality called Omni One. The treadmill's 360-degree experience enables users to walk or run in any direction inside their favorite video games.

Virtuix has shipped commercial VR exercise systems to entertainment venues in 45 countries, including Dave & Buster's locations. Virtuix's upcoming product, Omni One, is a consumer version of the Omni treadmill optimized for the home.

"With Omni One, your home becomes a portal into new worlds and gaming adventures like never before," said Jan Goetgeluk, Virtuix's founder and CEO, said in a news release. "For the first time, you're no longer restricted by the limited space in your home. You can roam endlessly around immersive virtual worlds as you would in real life, using your whole body."

Sweating in a Headset

With the release of relatively affordable and highly capable headsets like the Oculus Quest 2, exercising in VR has become a reality. A range of software such as the app, Supernatural, already lets you pump up your muscles using nothing more than bodyweight exercises and the VR controllers. 

Now, manufacturers are turning to VR to make using exercise gear more immersive. For example, there’s Holofit, a VR program that lets you use a cycling machine, rowing, or elliptical while in a virtual world. 

There’s also VZfit, which offers virtual workouts on an exercise bike. The software lets you virtually travel to places like Hawaii and the Alps while riding your bike indoors. 

"VR is the first digital format that tricks the body into believing the experience is real,"  Amir Bozorgzadeh, the CEO of the VR company Virtuleap, said in an email interview. "So it offers not only a cognitive experience but a physical one that engages our motor control and spatial orientation skills, which is what we can describe as an inherently 'exergaming' medium."

VR might be able to lure non-exercisers into the cult of fitness, some experts say. People who enjoy exercise are likely the minority based on exercise regimen failure rates and gym attrition rates, Jeff Halevy, the CEO of Altis, an AI personal training company, said in an email interview. And sports are not suitable for everyone because most require some level of innate skill. 

"VR exercise offers an escape from the perceived difficulty and boredom that tends to afflict even the most motivated of us," he added. "VR exercise deemphasizes the exercise experience and allows users to enjoy whatever experience the software provides."

But No Fresh Air

As realistic as VR can be, there’s no substitute for getting out in the real world, some observers say. 

"Games eventually get boring, and people crave the real thing," Halevy said. "As good as the VR experiences get, nothing will replace biking the Avoriaz trail in the Alps."

Two people exercising while wearing VR headsets in a living room.

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VR tech also isn’t advanced enough to fully replicate the experience of exercising in the real world. One problem is that VR devices are still quite bulky, even though they are getting smaller and more comfortable,  Bozorgzadeh said. 

"What is necessary is the roll-out of 5G networks so that VR devices can offload a significant amount of the processing over to edge servers," he added. "Only then can we expect to see much lighter and slimmer form factors become readily available to the market, which is currently a deterrent to many people."

Like it or not, VR exercise is likely to stick around, Halevy predicts. The convergence of computer science and exercise science will likely completely change personal fitness, he said. 

In the near future, users will slip on headsets linked to physical devices, "powered by robust machine learning models, that provide bespoke gamified workouts based on user preferences and personal health data," Halevy said. 

"The treadmills and other machines we’ve grown to love will soon look as technologically current as a rotary dial landline phone," he added.

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