Worth get­ting off the sofa for?

It’s spin, but not as you know it

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - Contents -

Here’s a ques­tion: what hap­pens when you cross James Cameron’s 2009 sci-fi film Avatar with the Tour de France?

Why do you ask?

Be­cause I think I’ve found the an­swer. In an air-conned gym stu­dio some­where in Lon­don, I’m flay­ing my­self on a sta­tion­ary bi­cy­cle along­side a pelo­ton of other rid­ers.

It’s a spin class, but not as con­ven­tion knows it: in front of us, a gi­ant curved screen shows an an­i­mated road wind­ing through com­puter-gen­er­ated worlds; as the road tilts up and down, so does the speed of the Daft Punk-es­que mu­sic that’s pump­ing into the room. On the bike next to me, the in­struc­tor keeps shout­ing things like, ‘There’s a moun­tain ahead, get ready to go HARD!’

Sounds trippy...

That’s why the mar­ket­ing bods chris­tened it The Trip. This up­date on the nor­mal spin class is the lat­est in­no­va­tion by Les Mills, a chain of gyms that – if you’ll al­low me to lapse into Cal­i­for­nian for a mo­ment – ‘changed the game’ back in the 1990s with Body­pump, a group fit­ness class that added weights to the tra­di­tional aer­o­bics cir­cuit. Body­pump used a flick of sci­en­tific un­der­stand­ing – lift­ing small weights many times over helps your car­dio­vas­cu­lar and func­tional fit­ness – and made a global fran­chise out of it. The Trip aims to do roughly the same.

Hang on. Where’s the science in watch­ing a car­toon while you cy­cle?

OK, firstly, ‘car­toon’ sounds a bit pa­tro­n­is­ing. This isn’t you vs Road Run­ner: the vi­su­al­i­sa­tion fol­lows a jour­ney through amor­phous nether­worlds of (what looks like) float­ing lava fields, sub­aquatic mush­rooms, and, err, Hong Kong. And se­condly, that’s ex­actly the point. The sen­sory over­load is de­signed to dis­tract rid­ers from the re­al­ity of their sit­u­a­tion. So, rather than con­cen­trat­ing on the pain in my legs, I’m think­ing Avatar and per­suad­ing my­self that my film de­gree wasn’t a com­plete waste of money.

Does it work?

It cer­tainly seems to. When a pro­fes­sor at Penn State Univer­sity in the US looked into the ef­fi­cacy of The Trip, he found that novices rated their per­ceived ex­er­tion to be lower than dur­ing a non-im­mer­sive spin class, even though they were hit­ting the same level of in­ten­sity. In lay terms, peo­ple didn’t re­alise they were work­ing as hard as they were (although it’s worth adding that cy­clists with more ex­pe­ri­ence found no such ben­e­fit).

That sounds use­ful. Does it have other ap­pli­ca­tions?

Univer­sity Hos­pi­tal of Wales in Cardiff re­cently in­tro­duced VR as a pain man­age­ment tool for women in labour. Let’s just hope they’re not us­ing vi­su­al­i­sa­tions based on Rose­mary’s Baby…

Class prices/mem­ber­ship deals vary around the coun­try. For more info, go to Les Mills (lesmills.com)

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