Engaging in physical activity via VR experiences can be a great way to have fun and shed a few extra pounds. However, you can ramp up your VR workouts and lose weight faster by ensuring that your heart rate is in the optimal zone for maximum caloric expenditure and fat loss. But what is the “optimal zone” for you, and what does it take to get there? I worked out in four experiences increasing the difficulty both in the game and in the physical world to find out.
The optimal zone for burning the most calories while exercising is often referred to as the orange zone. Although the guidelines for where your heart rate should be to fall within this zone can vary, I prefer the higher end of 85 to 90 percent of a persons max heart rate. Now many articles will say that this intensity is overkill, but recent studies show that exercising harder to get your heart rate up has an added bonus – your body’s metabolism ramps up and continues to burn added calories even after you are done exercising. That is why OrangeTheory Fitness, one of the most successful boutique gyms around push their member into the higher heart rate zone.
As a rule of thumb, to calculate your max heart rate you take 220 and subtract your age. Based on this formula, my Max HR is 185 (220 – 35). Then identify your orange zone by multiplying your Max HR by .85 and .90. For me, my orange zone is between 157 and 166 BPM (beats per minute). If you don’t want to do the math use Bodybuilding.com’s calculator here.
To find out what it took to reach the orange zone in each of the four games I tested I did the following: First I played for fifteen minutes on a moderate to high difficulty level. After I was done, I rested for a few minutes and let my heart rate drop down a bit. Then, I played another fifteen minutes wearing weighted gloves, taking a brief break afterwards. Lastly, I wore a 40 pound weighted vest along with my gloves and played another fifteen minutes. During each fifteen minute session I monitored my heart rate using an Apple watch. Here are the results.
BOXVR is a boxing experience where the players uses a combination of punches and evasive maneuvers to hit and avoid objects that are timed with the rhythm of the music. In endurance mode this game gets progressively more intense. As a result, many players can probably reach the orange zone with gloves alone.
- Round 1 – no accessories – 119 BPM
- Round 2 – with gloves – 155 BPM
- Round 3 – with gloves and vest – 170 BPM
HoloBall builds upon the game concept of Pong turning it into a futuristic version of racquetball. The player has racket in each hand and using any surface necessary must try and hit or bounce a ball past an AI goalie. I played the campaign on medium difficulty and was unable to hit 85% of my Max HR. However, if a player is good and can play in the hard mode or above they should be able to get their heart rate up into the orange zone.
- Round 1 – no accessories – 95 BPM
- Round 2 – with gloves – 102 BPM
- Round 3 – with gloves and vest – 146 BPM
Thrill of the Fight
Thrill of the Fight is a fairly realistic boxing game that is as close as you can get to the real thing without actually being punched in the face. I you want to beat your opponent you have to put forth considerable effort over a series of rounds. Some opponents are tougher than others and require more exertion to overcome. I personally found the newly added zombie challenger gave me the best workout. The zombie is always in your face trying to bite you in between its flails. This means you have to stick and move the entire time. With a little more effort or a tougher opponent I could have made it into the orange zone without any accessories.
- Round 1 – no accessories – 153 BPM
- Round 2 – with gloves – 164 BPM
- Round 3 – with gloves and vest – 171 BPM
Audioshield is a great experience where users try to block light orbs with the corresponding shield of the same color. This game primarily involves the upper body and although blocking orbs sounds pretty easy, it can be pretty challenging. I played on hard mode and was unable to get anywhere close to my orange zone even with the gloves and vest on. In order to get my heart rate up to my 85 to 90 percent range I did one more fifteen minute round where I squatted the entire time I was blocking orbs. This decreased my accuracy, but it did get my hear rate up.
- Round 1 – no accessories – 81 BPM
- Round 2 – with gloves – 90 BPM
- Round 3 – with gloves and vest – 94 BPM
- Round 4 – with gloves, vest, and squats – 158 BPM
- Everyone is in different cardiovascular shape and as a result it may take less effort or fewer accessories to reach the orange zone.
- Not every VR game is concerned with giving the user a great workout. Even if you wear a weighted vest, do squats, or flail around like a fool you still won’t get your heart rate up high enough to maximize calorie burn.
- The more you can use your legs the easier it will be to elevate your heart rate.
- Working out in VR is way more fun than typical forms of exercise.
- Take a 60 to 90 second break in between high intensity activities.
- Spend 5 to 10 minutes warming up before you go all out.
- You should exercise at least three times per week trying to reach your orange zone.
- Accessories like weighted vests, ankle and wrist weights, headbands, and heart rate monitors are a must if you want to get the most out of each and every workout.