Today we bring you the story of Alexander Azzi. Azzi hails from New Hampshire, where the snow falls liberally and the outdoors call every summer. Like most of us, Alex wondered if this VR Fit thing really works. Can you actually lose weight playing video games?
So he set out to answer this question for himself with a 30-day fitness challenge.
Azzi’s journey began with the Oculus Quest. The all-in-one headset makes it easy to play to bring your workout with you, and we believe it’s the future of VR fitness. It’s untethered experience adds to your sense of freedom in movement and immersion, and like all VR must be tried to be believed.
Azzi is 43-years old, and he works as a Student Support Specialist helping the youths of his local school through troubled times. As he puts it, “I process with students who are heightened and need someone to refocus them so they can return to continue their learning.” At the end of his day, all he wants to do is hit the waters for a good wake surfing session.
Except it’s December and it’s dumping snow in sheets. What’s a guy to do?
For Azzi, the answer is to don a Quest and get fit. Let’s check in with him to see how the fight is going.
Let’s begin with an easy one: who are you and what’s your story?
Hi there! My name is Alexander Azzi, 43 years old (at the time of this interview), and I live in Manchester, New Hampshire – USA. I like long walks on the beach, furry kittens… oh wait… it’s not that kind of interview is it?
Actually my story is based on choosing things in life that make me want to wake up each morning and face the day. I have an obsession with wake surfing. I absolutely love to wake surf. Shredding on a wave behind a wake boat is my ultimate “Zen”.
What are some of your favorite VR games, fitness or not.
For fitness, I love “Thrill of the Fight”, and “BoxVR”. Both of these games are beyond worth their weight in gold. The physical exertion needed from your own body to truly make the best of what these games offer is so intense. After these games push you to your cardio-centric limits, you still crave to put your VR headset back on and play again and again. Imagine standing in a room at your home, you put your VR headset on and choose “Thrill of the Fight”. Instantly, you have a life-sized digitized physically fit boxer, standing in front of you. The intent of his programming and coding is to beat you to a pulp. Trust me you will fight back, if anything, for your own self-dignity and pride.
Next, you decide, “let’s change it up a bit” and jump into “BoxVR”. Now you are immersed in an environment just like “Guitar Hero”, only instead of plucking a little tab on a cheap little plastic “guitar”, you are punching and dodging your way through the objects that are set to music at various difficulties in order to rack up points and burn calories. I also have to say there is a great selection of music to choose for the workouts. I personally love the bass face-melting musical drive of the included gritty Drum & Bass tracks.
Beyond that, like the rest of the world, I love “Beat Saber”. Then when “Pistol Whip” came out I jumped on that real quick for that ‘shoot em up’ secret agent adrenaline experience. I will say however that I am currently in love with “The Climb”. I used to rock climb when I was younger so I immediately bought this game when it released to revisit those memories. I am planning to get some weights for my wrists to enhance my cardio. Granted the arm workout would technically be in reverse since with real-life rock climbing you pull your body weight up to get the arm workout. However, in VR, you get your workout by means of reaching for the next hold with weights on your wrists.
I would consider the above-mentioned games in the fitness category depending on your perspective and intent for Saber, Whip & Climb but for non-fitness games, I am addicted to “Racket Fury: Table Tennis VR”. There is such a realness to the physics in the development of the game that I could find myself playing it until my Quest’s battery dies if I was not paying attention. I am also a fan of “Richie’s Plank Experience” simply for the experience. My own personal rule for anyone trying VR for the very first time with my system is that they start with ‘The Plank’. This is primarily for my own entertainment.
What inspired you to take on this challenge?
This is where my story gets a bit somber. While I love wake surfing, I am heavier in weight than I should be in proportion to my height. I have been wake surfing with a hypothetical “backpack of bricks” strapped to me, which is hindering my progress in the sport. I usually ride with very physically fit people and always in the back of my mind I am thinking, “Am I being judged?”
I am in a constant state of uneasiness which goes completely against wake surfing being my ultimate “Zen”. My weight concerns go beyond wake surfing, however, as I am always telling myself on a daily basis: “I hate my belly” and that “I need to lose weight” while at the same time stuffing my face with Mcdonald’s cheeseburgers and General’s Chinese chicken. Food addiction is real. I lacked a physical fitness routine that I could stay consistent with until now.
When I first discovered the Oculus Quest, that was my “aha!” moment. It was this device that triggered the motivation to do something about my health and wellness.
Prior to this realization, it was impossible to convince me to go to the gym. Just the thought of having to get up, get dressed, get into my vehicle, drive to the gym, park, walk in the building, go to the locker room, get undressed from my normal clothes, get dressed again in workout clothes, do the actual workout, then repeat the above process again but in reverse was daunting for me to even comprehend. Plus the overall idea of working out in the gym sucks. There is no real fun in that (at least in my personal opinion) but VR changed that thought process. Now, I have something that is entertaining and makes me want to work up a sweat.
Tell us about the challenge. What was your methodology, and how often did you weigh yourself?
When I acquired the Quest, I decided to challenge myself and see if VR could give me what I needed to get fit and lose weight. While there are numerous videos out there talking about VR fitness, one cannot fully understand its benefits unless they try it for themselves. I needed to see for myself if it was actually possible. So I created my own personal 30-day VR fitness challenge. I weighed in on the morning of November 1st, 2019, then committed to the challenge for exactly 30 days. I did not weigh myself until the morning of December 1st to see the results.
I will say that while the challenge was created for 30 days, I am continuing these methods beyond that time period until I reach my goal weight. I just figured that making a video documenting a single month would be a good way to kick things off.
Congratulations on the 10-pound loss. Our readers will be excited to see how you did it. What is your biggest takeaway from this experience?
Thank you! It was a huge motivator to see such a large amount of weight gone from my body.
The biggest takeaway for me is the personal accountability I experienced towards a certain goal that can better one’s life and it’s such a great feeling. I knew that if I did not commit faithfully to this challenge 110% I would have either less than impressive results to share or no results at all. I became addicted to this adventure and I realized that no matter what day it was, I had no excuses. I could slap my “gym membership” onto my face at any time anywhere and burn calories. It’s the new generation of “Dance Dance Revolution” but now portable.
How hard was it to stick to your 30-day challenge? Where there moments when you felt like you might quit or drop out? If not, what helped you maintain your drive to finish?
This might sound a bit anticlimactic but it was super easy to stick with it. Not a moment went by where I thought I was going to give up. There is a major feeling of accountability in using this system and that was a big driving force for me. Not only was I being accountable to myself to succeed, but documenting it and having results worthy of inspiration to others as an alternative way of getting fit, was an additional element to my motivation. Heck, I didn’t even know what my goal was numerically within those 30 days. I had a number in my mind which was about 8 pounds. If I lost 8 pounds I would consider this challenge a success, so you can imagine my elation when I saw 10 pounds gone from my body.
What ended up being your favorite game and why?
“Thrill of the Fight” without a doubt is my favorite game. Beyond the intense cardio workout it creates, I really enjoyed gassing out when I was legitimately losing stamina. There is no artificial intelligence within the game engine deciding when it is time for me to get tired. If I start getting tired, it’s my own fault and the game will expose my weaknesses and that will put me at risk of getting “knocked out”.
Did any of the games surprise you with their challenge level? Were there ever moments where you felt your physical progression was hampered by the game itself?
Through the 30 day challenge, I played “Thrill of the Fight” on the normal level which gives you a true to life boxing experience and I am happy to say that I was able to bulldoze my way through each opponent without losing a single round. That being said I had to work hard for the wins especially as the game left the boxing gym and I was put into the arena environment. Post-30 day challenge, I increased the difficulty and I have not been able to achieve my prior win success as of yet. Whichever opponents defeat me I will not allow myself to advance to the next fighter until I win that particular match. To be honest this level of difficulty is humbling and it’s creating a whole new challenge within myself to beat the heck out of these guys. Regardless of weight loss. Now it’s just personal.
We often talk about fitness as a lifestyle change, and you mentioned some small adjustments you’ve made to your eating. Were there any other major lifestyle changes you made for fitness?
I kept things really simple. I do my VR workout on the weekdays which went for, and still goes for about an hour a day. I chose the weekends to walk a distance that was equal to the calorie burn I got from the VR workouts and used my Apple Watch to keep track of that data. The one thing that might surprise many is that I did not change my choice of foods that I ate. If I wanted something regardless of nutritional value I would still eat it, but have a more controlled portion.
There really was not anything else I changed. In the morning I drank protein shakes, but I was doing that even before I started this challenge. I am not a big breakfast eater so the shake was the best way to go to put something in my stomach to start the day. For anyone that is curious to know, I get the Arbonne brand chocolate protein powder and mix 2 scoops of it with 8 ounces of chocolate-flavored almond milk. It’s like drinking the most delicious brownie mix you could ever imagine… only it’s vegan and good for you.
For lunch, I like to keep things light as well. Ham sandwich on toasted bread with light mayo, and a package of 2 Oreo cookies or something comparable to that. I am someone that can eat the same thing over and over again so if I had the same ham sandwich indefinitely, I would be perfectly fine with that. The above breakfast and lunch choices allowed me to have a more fun dinner like Chinese, pizza, or fried chicken tenders but with self-discipline via portion control.
How did you fit VR into your life?
VR fit into my life as easy as a hot dog would fit into a cow teat milking machine. It’s part of my daily life now. In fact, as I sit at my desk doing this interview here at the high school I work for, my Oculus Quest system is sitting right here beside me, fully charged and ready to be used for a good workout session when the day ends. My classroom is a wide-open space so the room-scale can be set very generously. The benefit of the Quest being an untethered device and portable makes for no excuses.
My eagle eye spotted a Wii Balance board if I’m not mistaken. As someone with experience on the Wii as a fitness platform, how do you think the two compare?
Very good eye for spotting that! I have to admit that the Wii Balance Board you see is not mine and I never have actually tried one as of yet. I am however familiar with its purpose and I feel that both devices; the Wii Balance Board and VR have their respective places in the fitness community. The strongest similarity is that both devices utilize wireless hand controllers which allow your body to be the controller which makes you move and burn calories. The obvious difference is that the Wii experience is one dimensional, whereas VR puts you *in* a multifaceted environment. Regardless, if the games you play on either the Wii, or in VR makes you move, then you have an outlet to stay fit and healthy. That is the most important thing.
BoxVR vs Beat Saber: which one is your favorite and why?
This is a clever question and I am having a hard time making a decision. In fact, I think I hate you (EDITOR’S NOTE: We love you, Alex) for choosing these two games to use for this question because while they are vastly different, they both technically have the same type of gameplay with elements coming at you to collide with on a musical beat. So how can I answer this without making the lesser choice feel left out? Okay…crap…I hate you. Next question… Wait no! I have an answer! Since this interview is fitness-oriented I will say “BoxVR” as my favorite of the two because it forces you workout based on the overall gameplay. In addition, you can set daily minimums for time played, play survival mode (which is chaotic), create your own classes, and even play against friends. The fitness possibilities are numerous.
“Beat Saber” on the other hand has a huge entertainment factor. It’s addicting in its own right, but one can play it and not necessarily get a “BoxVR” level workout. I could stand there like a statue and just flick my wrists around if that’s how I wanted to play it and not burn many calories. However, if someone wants the workout aspect they can make that happen by moving their body around and create a workout around the overall gameplay. That’s how I do it, but there’s no doubt that “BoxVR” is my favorite for my fitness purposes.
Have you tried other indoor fitness activities? As someone who lives in an area that gets snow, VR must have been a good supplement for fitness in wintery conditions. How does it compare to some of the other options you’ve tried?
Nope, nothing else indoor except VR during the weekdays. However, remember in the movie Rocky IV when Rocky Balboa flies over to Russia to train for the Ivan Drago fight? He was training old school style and there were scenes where he was trudging through the snow during his running sessions. Well it’s not too far off from my non-VR weekend workouts. Granted I am not pushing myself through 2 feet of snow (yet) but I am not going to let bad weather get the best of me and give me a reason to take a day off from losing this damn weight and making myself a priority. My game plan remains intact regardless of weather conditions.
What’s your overall opinion of the Quest?
I bought the Oculus Quest mainly for fitness, and it has changed my life for the better. I never thought I would say this but Facebook/Oculus provided me the solution to my lack of fitness in my life to make my life better. I have enjoyed the VR experience so much that I insisted friends and colleagues try it as well. Quite a few have purchased their own since trying mine and one person, in particular, is using theirs for similar health benefits. Another great fun fact to share is that the school I work for is trying to fundraise and apply for grants to buy some Oculus Quests to create an afterschool VR club. Because of the fitness benefits, the numerous game choices, and social connectability, the Quest is now a permanent part of my life.
What would you say to someone on the fence about VR?
It can be easy for anyone that has never tried VR before to immediately assume it’s a gimmick that will fade away like an over expensive child’s toy that will be tossed aside after a few hours of gameplay. In my case it was a weight issue impeding my ability to improve my wakesurfing skills that convinced me to give VR a shot. Before this technology came into my life I all I would do is wish the weight would disappear off my body via some witchcraft or sorcery. However, I knew that the only way to do something about it, was to actually do something. I chose VR because I needed an inspiring alternative to taking a fitness class or attending a gym. The VR systems out on the market today can truly make a difference to one’s lifestyle. It worked for me and it can work for anyone else in the same position, as long as they commit to using it the right way. Of course, I still enjoy the immersive gaming that VR is famous for, but I want people to realize that this is a tool that can make your body and mind also part of the experience. I would like everyone regardless of fitness level or age, to take advantage of this technology. Take a chance and participate in the experience and see how it challenges your personal beliefs of being fit. Most importantly, I promise it will positively impact how you view your limitless self.
Tell Us Your Story
I wanted to highlight some key takeaways from Alex’s experience. For one, his motivation. Alex didn’t really face any motivational issues throughout his trial. The games proved challenging and interesting enough and he had his mind on a greater prize: wakesurfing. Portion control, consistency, and a good mix of games. That’s all it took to lose ten pounds and see this challenge through to the end.
Alex also pumped up the difficulty in The Thrill of the Fight where things got “personal” in his words. At that point, the challenge became less about fitness and more about what Alex thought he could do (and did end up doing).
Another important motivator is perception and attitude. It sounds cliche, but attitude really does make the difference. Alexander’s desire to hit the water led him to seek out fitness. After all, as he said: it doesn’t lose itself. Making that commitment to yourself, and understanding where that choice leads are powerful motivators.
So what’s your story?
What’s motivating you to get off the couch, and what games are you playing to lose? Share with us and you could be our next feature here at VR Fitness Insider.