Men's Fitness

VR Fitness

Fly to distant galaxies or fight for the heavyweigh­t title from your own front room


Once seen as the sole preserve of kids and reclusive bedroom coders, video gaming has come a long way since rst making a seismic cultural impact in the early 1980s. And there is no area of gaming that holds such transforma­tive potential as virtual reality, where motion-tracking headsets and other integrated peripheral­s are used to transport the user into a fully enveloping 360-degree 3D virtual environmen­t.

It’s di cult to describe just how immersive VR can be unless you’ve experience­d it but, simply put, it’s bleedinged­ge tech capable of fooling your senses in any number of ways. For the modern tness enthusiast, progressin­g one’s performanc­e through incrementa­l gains is often as much to do with psychology as it is to do with physicalit­y, and therefore VR’s potential to ‘hack’ our senses and shift our psychology is particular­ly intriguing.

One of the easiest critiques of VR tness is the notion that technologi­cal innovation can actually inhibit workouts rather than enhancing them; those of us who have navigated lockdown tness with nothing more than oorspace and bodyweight may be wondering whether technologi­cal advancemen­ts are sometimes distractin­g us from our core goals. But for Ianthe Mellors, head of tness for FitXR, a leading company in the virtual-reality tness space, VR actually allows you to feel more in tune with your body.


Mellors argues that FitXR’s boxing app BoxVR – the highest-selling tness applicatio­n on the Oculus, PlayStatio­n and Steam stores – improves how attuned we are with our bodies.

“Virtual-reality tness is a great way to train speed, reaction times and endurance,” she says. “roughout all the workouts you’re also working on propriocep­tion, because you can’t physically see your body in space.

is improves balance, coordinati­on, body awareness and focus.”

BoxVR is an engaging workout that places you in a choice of environmen­ts, from a regular gym to a far- ung, cosmic digital frontier. Only your gloves are visible and you spend sessions – ranging from ten minutes to an hour – dishing out well-timed hooks, jabs, crosses and uppercuts to swooping patterns of neon nodes while squatting and weaving under glowing girders. Mellors’ argument that VR improves propriocep­tion feels true. With your body no longer visible, your mind works that much harder to process real-time feedback on your movements, making you much more aware of balance and technique.

In a socially distanced world, where close-range, partnered activities like sparring may yet be prohibited for some time to come, BoxVR o ers all of the bene ts of individual shadow boxing in an accessible package that is far more fun than throwing punches at thin air. As an LA-based tness instructor, Mellors frequently uses it as part of her routines with clients.

“BoxVR is a great tool to increase the cardio in anyone’s workout programme,” she says. “I do one-to-one strength training with them and give speci c BoxVR workouts to do for their cardio. I also have them utilise it when they are travelling, especially if they don’t have access to or time to go to a gym. e varied workouts available on the game means it can be used really exibly to complement overall training plans.”


e strange duality of virtual reality is that, despite its ability to allow you to attune yourself with your body via the loss of your convention­al senses, that sensory disconnect also facilitate­s a sense of escapism that can help with making physical gains. It’s the core principle that underpins the range of services o ered by HOLOFIT, an integrated VR tness platform that is compatible with any rowing, recumbent and upright bike, or even elliptical machines. By giving you the opportunit­y to combine virtual environmen­ts with physical tness machines, you can traverse fantastica­l locales, such as

“Virtual-reality tness is a great way to train speed, reaction times and endurance”

Saturn’s rings or a cyberpunk cityscape, without leaving the seat of your rowing machine.

By moving your mind beyond the immediacy of your present, argues Bojana Knezevic, COO and founder of HOLOFIT, performanc­e can be enhanced. “We believe in the ability of our content to distract users from what they are actually doing in order to bring them tness results,” she says.

It’s a view endorsed by Sylvain Davril, a tness enthusiast who is part of the HOLOFIT community, where users can compete against each other and be guided through selected workouts to meet their individual goals. He says, “Rowing in front of your wall is kind of boring, but here [with HOLOFIT] you are immersed in whole new worlds, even when you turn your head… rowing went from being a burden to something I was eager to do every day, because I would discover new worlds and collect trophies. at changed everything.”


e principle of sensory disconnect­ion as a tool for physical gain is echoed by Preston Lewis, Co-owner of Black Box VR, the world’s rst series of dedicated VR gyms. He says, “e crazy thing that’s unique to virtual reality is time dilation. Virtual reality as a standalone technology has some compelling studies looking at this, but with regards to

tness in VR you can compress that time by having immersive, engaging experience­s.”

Interestin­gly, Lewis also states that the principle of disconnect­ion extends to physical sensation, too. “A lot of people say ‘Feel the burn’,” he says, “but at Black Box you can do more in VR before you feel the burn. We can fully immerse you in a completely unique experience where you can be the hero, you can be at the centre of the narrative; you can not only level up your character like in a traditiona­l video game, but you can also level up your physical body.”

Existing as a bricks-and-mortar gym means that Lewis is also supremely con dent in the technical prowess of their customdesi­gned, proprietar­y cable-resistance machines, designed by ex-Tesla engineers.

ey can run a range of workouts from HIIT through to pushing lifters to challenge their one-rep max, going up to 100kg in exercises like chest press, cable overhead press, cable squat, deadlift, bicep curls, triceps pushdown and more.

Lewis is so con dent, in fact, that he’s willing to pit their VR workout against regular routines. “It’s serious tness,” he says. “We’re still doing compound movements, we’re still looking at volume charts, progressiv­e overload, in fact we’re doing a full university study with UCLA to study the e cacy of our Black Box experience against a traditiona­l workout.”


Black Box is not the only gym to take VR seriously. At Lanserhof at the Arts Club, an elite London health club, Head of Fitness Jason Reynolds is working with HOLODIA

“Research has shown that muscle activation and metabolic rate are increased during VR”

– the company behind HOLOFIT – and ICAROS, creators of an innovative VR workout machine that creates a feeling of

ight, while still working users’ muscles and core. Reynolds argues VR tness can bene t all, from elite athletes to tness enthusiast­s.

“With ICAROS we have had some great progress with our members,” he says. “For example, a member with a hip replacemen­t who had struggled for years came to us to help improve propriocep­tion and balance. Our testing showed leg strength was OK, so it was more of a cognitive response that they were lacking. We used ICAROS in combinatio­n with balance and coordinati­on drills to improve that rapidly. e member felt the VR experience meant they couldn’t rely on looking at their body for position, so had to recruit the right muscles to balance.”

Much like Lewis, Reynolds agrees that, ultimately, scienti c evidence will prove VR’s value in the tness sphere. “As a company, ICAROS have done some research with Munich University that has shown muscle activation and metabolic rate (calories burned) are increased during VR,” he says. “ese are the exact reasons anybody trains, so for VR to help improve those areas is hugely important.”

Since the world went into coronaviru­s lockdown, VR tness has exploded, with

HOLODIA reporting a 300 per cent increase in their customer base. With technology quickly becoming cheaper, lighter and more functional, it may not be long before, instead of squinting up at the lights of your local gym, you will nd yourself star-gazing on a distant planet.

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