Get a partner and maximize the Köhler effect. Credit: Shutterstock

We understand a lot about how VR stimulates a player’s a sense of progression, either through self-contained levels or through the collection of artifacts. Virtual goodies can create a strong desire for players to return to virtual worlds.

What we’ve only recently begun to look at is how the group dynamic can help your VR workout. At the gym, we might hire a trainer or come with a body to use as a spotter. There’s a practical aspect to that, but it’s a tool for motivation and discipline as well. There is a term that explains this phenomenon: the Köhler effect. Otto Köhler discovered that the weakest members of a group would push past their individual plateaus if the group’s success was at stake. In other words, if you believe that your contribution to the group helps then you are more likely to push harder. Even if conditions are harsh and difficult.

The benefits of having a partner in your workout enhance the already strong motivators that VR provides. Both practical and motivational benefits are waiting for couples and friends who want to jump into the VR fitness pool.

Practical Considerations

VR has a lot to manage for one person. There are cords to watch out for, interface work to be done when you want to switch games, and some setup work to get started if your space isn’t dedicated to VR. The first benefit to having a workout buddy is having someone to help manage all of that extra stuff for you.

When you two decide that you want to go a few rounds in Thrill of the Fight, for instance, your buddy can “surprise” you with a challenging new opponent to push your routine in ways you might not. She could make sure that you don’t trip over the cords as you stick and move, and she could act as a kind of spotter to prevent unintended collisions with the wall or a TV.

A group of friends can also act like coaches, helping you to get better at the game by pointing out things you miss thereby increasing your workout potential.


Motivation and discipline go hand in hand with fitness, which is why trainers will push you in an encouraging tone. We’ve looked at one study that used a Playstation Eye Cam to track movements of players, pairing them with an avatar designed to always outlast their workout. The results showed that players who exercised alone often fell short of the benchmarks set by those using the virtual buddy. Other studies confirm this phenomenon, even in specially designed programs.

Multiple VirZOOM bikes don’t take up much space and offer excellent group workout potential. Credit: TechCrunch

How can we institute the Köhler effect at home? As you can see, it’s not difficult to fit more than one VirZOOM into the same space, which is an affordable platform without the need for extra tracking units. We could also use some help from VR developers. They might create a “ghost” type system to track one person’s movements and present their avatar alongside yours. In essence, you would race with your workout buddy from anywhere in the world. You could also pair yourself with someone who is more physically fit, which would push you to try and keep up with their scores or time spent. This person would need to be encouraging, even in a competitive setting, for best results.

Approaching a Trainer

You’ve made the decision to hop onboard VR fitness. How do you explain this to your trainer?  If your trainer isn’t a source of knowledge on this topic, you can ask about weights and accessories that can help improve the results of your cardio. Record a session of yourself on your rig at home and show the trainer the kinds of moves you’re doing. If possible, use fitness trackers for some additional data.

Some trainers are very tech-savvy and may already have ideas on which games offer the best fitness potential. We’ve made some recommendations in the past, but there is now a wealth of titles to choose from in this space. Especially with the movement and tracking potential of an HTC Vive.

Final Thoughts

We think that the science shows a buddy improves your workout. Husbands or wives looking for a new way to workout together might find VR exciting! College kids looking to stay in shape can pool their cash and get a Vive.

It’s not just a good way to invest in the hardware, it’s excellent for the benefits and burn. Make sure you actively seek out disciplined and fit training buddies who will encourage you to do your best if you want to maximize the benefits of the Köhler effect.