Worth getting off the sofa for?
It’s spin, but not as you know it
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!’
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)