Climb on and enjoy the Trip
Ever fancied virtual cycling under water? Well now you can, finds Stephen Heard.
Remember the giant dome at Rainbow’s End that screened 180-degree projections and generated the feeling of living inside a film? That immersive technology is now being used in the fitness world to create full sensory workouts or ‘‘exertainment’’. Virtual cycling is not your average cycling class. Take a lineup of stationary exercise bikes, a cinema-size screen with animated projections and an accompanying club soundtrack. Your mind and stomach react naturally to the dips and curves as the scenery floats past. Riders are also encouraged to adjust the resistance of the bike to match the gradient on the screen. The version at Les Mills, called The Trip, takes participants on an immersive journey through virtual mountains, oceans and rabbit warrens.
Les Mills’ The Trip is found in a blacked-out room with 30-odd exercise bikes facing a giant screen. After adjusting my bike to suit, the instructor revealed that, should anyone feel sick during the class, the best way to shake it off was by simply closing your eyes. As the screen came to life, a further disclaimer was presented about the perils of motion sickness.
For this 40-minute class we would be taking a trip underwater. The experience started at a comfortable pace riding along an open road. As the road undulated and we were prompted to move with the screen from side to side, my innards mimicked the sensation of riding downhill. A mutual ‘‘whoa’’ from the room proved that I wasn’t the only one experiencing a bizarre sensation.
An incline approached in the distance and the instructor advised us to dial up the resistance and move to a standing position. Like the real world, the screen allows you to see (and prepare for) the regrettable terrain approaching on the horizon. The breathy air conditioner filled in for an authentic breeze.
As the road came to an end we journeyed underwater and the bike’s resistance was matched to the intensity of treading water. We pulsed through a vortex, followed jellyfish and battled uphill at the highest resistance at 30 and 45-second intervals. The high-intensity section continued with sharp inclines and rapid pedalling downhill. We also waved our hands in the air for some reason. The mesmerising projections – namely, fluorescent sea creatures, animal-shaped rock formations and aurora borealis – often overwhelmed the feeling of exercise, and the level of perspiration and muscle fatigue at the end didn’t seem to match the 40-minute timespan.
Les Mills Immersive product manager Chris Richardson says that The Trip ‘‘lies somewhere between cardio peak-training and high-intensity interval training’’. A study by Penn State University and the University of Auckland that compared exercise with the audio and visual elements of The Trip found that novice exercisers experienced a reduced perception of intensity, and the programme may help in keeping a regular exercise regime. The beauty with virtual cycling is that you can take the intensity and resistance at your own level. The smokescreen of the audio-visual content also distracts from the near-vertical plane you just climbed.
The beauty with virtual cycling is that you can take the intensity and resistance at your own level.
After two disclaimers, motion sickness appears to be the main hazard with virtual cycling. Those who have a history of seizures and light sensitivity should perhaps avoid The Trip, while those with previous heart and back problems should consult a medical professional, then inform the trainer. lesmills.com/workouts/ fitness-classes/the-trip/
The Trip ‘‘lies somewhere between cardio peak-training and high-intensity interval training’’.