VR has become a fitness phenomenon over the years, showing the world it can help us improve coordination, emboldens us to embody superheroes, and can even give our brains an energy boost to our health and fitness benefit. Just this week a new study from The University of Kent in the U.K. sent the VR and fitness industries abuzz with the news that VR headsets can reduce pain and increases performance when we exercise.

This is great news for anyone that exercises regularly, trains professionally, or for those searching for a less painful way for their body to stay fit. The news is also shareworthy for anyone who wants to covert console and PC gamers to the wilder and energetic side of video games!

Performance and Pain Study: VR vs. Non-VR

The University of Kent’s School of Engineering and Digital Arts research team led by Maria Matsangidou, studied 80 participants for the VR study across 5 areas of interest. They measured heart rate, pain perception, perceived exhaustion, duration till muscle exhaustion, and noted how study participants sensed their own bodies.

The study groups were divided into two groups — a VR group and a non-VR group. Both groups had to perform isometric bicep curls holding a dumbbell. The weight of the dumbbell was 20% of the max weight participants were able to lift. Both groups did the bicep curls and then held it for as long as they could before their body had to rest.

The non-VR group was tested in reality and equipped with a dumbbell, chair, table, and yoga mat. Whereas the VR group was outfitted with a headset and dumbbell. This group used the headset to view a simulated room with a chair, table, yoga mat, and a virtual copy of an arm and dumbbell in it. Their findings will change fitness and health uses in VR like never before.

VR vs. Non-VR Performance and Pain Results

weighted vest
Credit to: VR Fitness Insider

Getting straight to the point, the study “results showed a clear reduction in perception of pain and effort when using VR technology. The data showed that after a minute the VR group had reported a pain intensity that was 10% lower than the non-VR group.”

The study also revealed that the group that used VR during the isometric bicep curl outlasted the non-VR group by two minutes! The VR group also showed a reduced heart rate at three fewer heart beats per minute than their non-VR counterparts.

In what was essentially a test of strength, endurance, and body resilience, the VR group came out the other side as unintentional victors. Most importantly, the VR group had a better physical experience and didn’t feel as much pain during the exercise than their VR-less study mates.

Fitness Implications

Black Box VR Wins Best Startup Award! Credit to: Engadget

VR has been used throughout the world in hospitals to distract patients from needles. It’s even been used during in-office medical procedures and to recuperate in post-op physical therapy. News of VR’s power to reduce pain and ability to give anyone an edge in exercise validates its effectiveness in health and fitness settings.

Gamers, trainers, doctors, patients and now weightlifters have even more evidence that VR is a cross-functional powerhouse. Companies like Black Box VR, innovators of the body activated VR cable resistance machine, are pushing the boundaries of this technology. They are well aware of VR’s abilities to reduce pain and activate a body’s ability to push itself to a higher potential. 

VR Fitness Insider has seen our fair share of readers and gamers like Robert Long shed over a hundred pounds by switching a sedentary lifestyle for active gaming with Beat Saber. And gamers like Sonya Haskins, who has chronic pain, play an intense game like Echo Arena and compete in VR League eSports. Even fit gamers who wear a weighted vest when they jump into VR had felt the difference between working out in VR and not.

With this new development, the rest of the world is just now catching up to what we’ve been reporting about for years. VR is a technological advancement that’s surprising us at every turn. It can push us through the effort and pain of working out and even make us forget we’re doing it because it’s so exhilarating to our senses, brains, and bodies. Feeling less pain while we game is just another reason why more people should try it.