It was only a few years ago that the modern VR revolution officially began. Palmer Luckey, the founder of Oculus, personally delivered the first pre-ordered Rift to an ecstatic customer in early 2016.
At that moment, the sci-fi dream of transporting yourself from your dull Earthly surroundings into a vast metaverse of unlimited experiences and connections became a reality.
Well, kind of.
The Oculus Rift CV1 was a marvel of modern technology, but it was missing some key pieces of functionality that would be needed before we permanently jacked ourselves into the matrix.
For one, it was missing any type of hand tracking or 6DoF controllers. It shipped with an Xbox controller. The external tracking sensors could only track you if you were facing them, which made 360-degree experiences frustratingly difficult. The long wire reminded you that you were connected by a leash to a very expensive gaming computer. And finally, the list of games and experiences was very small and limited to mainly tech demos that weren’t worth more than an hour of your time.
The idea of using the first version of the Rift for fitness was not feasible with these limitations, but it wouldn’t be long before Oculus and many other VR companies began to release the needed improvements.
VR + Fitness in 2016
In 2016, mentioning the word fitness together with VR would bring quite a few snarky laughs from any forum or subreddit. VR was meant for gaming and entertainment and the idea of working out with it was inconceivable to most.
Luckily, a few visionary companies and individuals could see, even in those early days, that the beginning of the next health and fitness revolution had just started. The technology wasn’t quite there yet, but over the next few years, it would improve to a point that would make it usable for many other applications.
The Shameful Secret of the Fitness Industry
Economic studies show that more money is spent on fitness products, memberships, and services than ever before. People of all ages are joining boutique gyms, buying yoga apparel, paying for fitness apps, and buying expensive spin bikes to help them drop belly fat and tone their bikini body. The wealth of workout, nutrition, and motivational content is overloading our feeds.
So why do studies show we are fatter, more depressed, and more out of shape than ever before?
The truth is that most people know what to do, but they don’t do it consistently over a long period of time. New Year’s Revolutionaries join the gym in droves only to drop out weeks later. Diet plans come and go faster than you can say UberEats.
We wish we could get addicted to lifting weights and eating broccoli, but we actually end up addicted to the screens around us. Video games, streaming movies, and social media have taken up our days and we struggle to get off the couch.
VR to the Rescue
Virtual Reality will turn out to be vastly more addictive than any small screen that you hold in your hands. You’ll feel like you are emotionally and physically there with others instead of just looking at flat pictures of your friends or pancake videos of your favorite celebrities. You’ll live in the Fortnite world instead of visiting from a 3rd person view.
For some, this could be a recipe for disaster for their health and fitness as they shun the outside world.
But for many others, if we build it correctly, this could be the solution that turns them into warriors and athletes.
Why VR Fitness?
In VR, you use your real body and real movements to interact with the world. You don’t just sit still and press buttons. You can swipe and jump and parry and duck through environments that engage all of your senses. Even just a few hours a week of intense VR gaming can be enough to transform your health and fitness.
It’s a revolution that will be looked at as “obvious” in retrospect.
“Well, of course, people would exercise more if they could play Call of Duty with their real body, harvest their Farmville farm in VR, or compete in awe-inspiring sporting events with huge audiences right from their home?”
Truly addictive gamification (not just basic tracking, leaderboards, and point generation) that can really immerse you in the experience is coming to the mainstream fitness industry over the next few years!
It will take quite a bit of focused effort by many people to create the technology and experiences that will make it possible. Our goal at VR Fitness Insider is to help create this new category with you so we all get there as soon as possible.
VR + Fitness In 2019
Fast forward a few years since the launch of the Oculus Rift CV1 and the landscape looks quite different! An unbelievable number of advances has brought us to the point where large numbers of people now exclusively workout inside virtual reality. Let’s take a look at where we are now.
Virtual Reality Headsets
Some of the largest companies in the world (like Microsoft, Samsung, Qualcomm, and Google) have invested billions into virtual reality research. Today we have high-end headsets like the Valve Index and HTC Vive Pro that are more comfortable, easier-to-use, and much higher quality than anything before.
Oculus released the Quest this year which made it possible to experience great VR without wires or even a separate computer. Their inside-out tracking allows you to move around in a virtual environment with more freedom than ever before. The quality of the visuals is reduced because it’s a completely mobile device, but the ease-of-use and easy setup more than make up for it.
The Oculus Quest is possibly the best thing to happen to VR fitness, so far. It’s more affordable and anybody can understand how to use it. The installed base of Quest users is huge and growing daily which makes it possible for fitness game developers profit from their investment.
Games and Experiences
Game developers have created amazing fitness-based VR experiences like BoxVR and Viro Move that are specifically geared towards working out. Other games give you an awesome workout just due to the nature of what they are imitating, especially boxing games like Creed and Thrill of the Fight. We also now have hundreds of experiences that might not burn a thousand calories per hour, but they get you moving, like Echo VR, In Death, and Racket Fury.
A surprising hit for fitness that everybody knows and loves is Beat Saber. Beat Saber can be a very low-intensity experience if you stay in easy levels and just wave your wrists around. But once you get to Expert and Expert+ and focus on moving your whole body, you may never want to do cardio the traditional way ever again!
The number of Steam or Oculus games that you can use at home for fitness is huge and growing daily.
Hardware and Equipment
Treadmills and dumbbells are outdated torture devices that millions of people dread using. Luckily, innovative companies are turning them into something you’ll love.
KatVR is a 360-degree treadmill that allows you to walk, run, and move in your favorite VR game instead of just pointing and clicking.
VirZoom and VZFit takes the boring exercise bike experience to whole new levels of immersion with fun games, competitions, and events.
If rowing machines are more your thing, you’ll love Holodia’s addictive fitness experience. Aim for your best time or simply take a vacation to another universe while burning calories and building biceps.
The machine that Icaros created isn’t like anything we’ve seen before. After you’ve worked your legs on a VirZoom bike and smashed your arms and back on a Holodia rowing machine, jump over to the other corner of your gym and get that core that you’ve been dreaming about while flying through the air.
Our team at Black Box VR has created the world’s first virtual reality resistance workout experience. The cable strength machine integrates into a VR Esports game that will truly test your power, endurance, and mobility. You can get a full-body, high-intensity workout based on the latest in exercise science that is fully tracked and analyzed.
We have to also mention this little beauty: the HTC Vive Tracker. It’s not directly a fitness device, but innovative companies are connecting it to sports equipment, fitness hardware, and random body parts to create exciting experiences that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. We hope that HTC and others continue to create open software and hardware that give the power to the community to innovate on top of the VR ecosystem.
Awareness and Acceptance
Not a day goes by that somebody in a VR group or subreddit doesn’t mention the great exercise they are getting from VR. It used to be very rare and the idea of VR + fitness was shunned, but now the comments that you see are very supportive. People share their fat loss stories, create lists of games to try, and give tips for improving the experience.
We’ve featured just a few of the many astounding physical transformations that people are sharing on social media. Of course, the real number of people that are seeing fitness results will always be way higher than the number that go out and post about it online. A movement has begun!
Even the mainstream media is starting to see the value of virtual reality for fitness with dozens of mentions in stories about the future of fitness. The health club industry’s leading trade publications continually feature VR fitness companies and technologies in their pages to help their readers understand the coming trends.
The Showtime hit show Billions had a scene where the lead actors were in a modern gym with virtual reality workout experiences all around them.
A year or so ago, one of our colleagues mentioned to John Carmack (creator of many pioneering video games and VR technologies) that one of VR’s killer apps will be exercise. He wasn’t so sure and said he didn’t think that people would want to be overly active in most experiences. Fast forward a year later and during an interview on the Joe Rogan podcast, he said he finds himself playing games like Beat Saber for part of his exercise routine!
VR Fitness Studies
Many scientific studies have been released over the last year that proves what we’ve already known: virtual reality helps people get fit! Researchers are finding that people that workout in VR enjoy the experience more, are able to workout harder and longer, and perceive the difficulty to be less than traditional methods.
The VR Health Institute, based on the Kinesiology labs at SFSU in California, tested some of the top VR experiences to see how they compared to other fitness activities like tennis, jogging, and more. Their scientific methodologies helped to prove to naysayers that you can play exciting video games and burn thousands of calories and rev up your heart rate to improve your overall health.
Speaking of the VR Health Institute, this year they released a VR Exercise app to help you track your workouts and choose the best games for your goals.
A company named YUR received significant venture funding and released their VR calorie and heart rate tracking application. Their technology is being integrated directly into the top-selling games to make the experience seamless for end-users.
This year VR competitions were held all across the country. Whether it’s a Racket:NX tournament at your local VR arcade, a Beat Saber competition at your university, or an Onward VRespawn tournament for cash prizes, we’ve seen the power of Esports extend to VR in a big way.
It won’t be long before stadiums (real or virtual) are being filled to watch true athletes wage war against each other in the metaverse.
One Step Away from VR
Although it’s not quite virtual reality, exergaming and connected fitness continue to gain traction. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see how these eventually morph into full VR experiences as the technology improves. A few of note:
- Nintendo’s Ring Fit has been a surprise hit for the Switch.
- Apps like Aaptiv deliver video or audio personal trainers to you through the iPhone and Google Play app stores.
- AR apps use depth-sensing cameras to track your form and integrate with your environment.
- Peloton brings a spin class to your home through a screen on your bike.
- Virtual classes at gyms stream live to you from anywhere in the world.
- In just an iteration or two, these screen-based experiences can be brought to virtual reality and make them 10x more immersive and addictive. It’s just a matter of time before the current technologies will look completely outdated.
Future: 2020 and Beyond…
VR is set to make a big leap forward in 2020. The Oculus Quest was one of the most sought after gifts for 2019’s holiday season and sold out at nearly every retailer. The demand is starting to ramp up and that means that the pace of VR innovation will increase in response.
Here are a few predictions for the next few years…
- 2020 will be a huge year for VR as Valve releases the first real AAA game designed specifically for VR. Half-Life: Alyx looks to be the type of game that people will buy a headset for. After the announcement, the Valve Index sold out and is now back-ordered for months.
- More VR arcades and location-based experiences like Sandbox VR will find their way into malls, amusement parks, and high-end retail locations. This will bring awareness to countless numbers of people that wouldn’t normally be exposed to high-end virtual reality.
- Innovative health clubs and gyms will integrate VR fitness hardware into their offerings as premium membership upgrades to compete with at-home workouts.
- Apple will release AR and VR products within the next two years and the entire market will surge.
- Before Apple’s big release, rumors will spread to other companies and they will accelerate their AR/VR investment in response.
- The Oculus Quest 2 will be released in 2021 and have vastly improved visuals, 5G connectivity, and will be lighter, making high-end, expensive PC VR almost unnecessary.
- Other companies will release competitive headsets with similar functionality.
- More high-end VR headsets will be developed and released at lower price points. They will be wireless, more comfortable, and with higher-performing components to increase immersion.
- New VR headsets and third-party add-ons for specific use-cases (like fitness) will be created.
- Hundreds of VR fitness-focused apps will be released from top trainers and celebrities to cover every possible workout type.
- More connected fitness equipment brands and models will include VR add-ons.
- VR fitness education experiences will be developed to teach people about nutrition, recipes, mental health, and much more.
- VR fitness apps and devices will integrate with other health tracking services like Apple HealthKit, MyFitnessPal, and more to give users personalized recommendations and stats.
- The 5G cellular rollout will allow multiplayer VR group fitness experiences to be created no matter where you are.
- VR fitness will no longer be confined to a small play space. Full football-field-sized experiences will emerge where players can run, jump, throw, and shoot in real-time.
- VR Esports will grow in number quickly and the next Spartan Race type of brand will be created inside virtual reality.
- The Olympics will eventually include a VR Esport as an event. Spectators can “be there” from anywhere in the world by putting on a VR headset.
I remember when the year 2000 seemed like the future. Now it’s 2020 and the sci-fi world we imagined is beginning to become a reality in most areas of our life with self-driving cars, delivery drones, and video calls on our watches.
Now it’s time for the old school world of barbells and treadmills to get that same type of upgrade. The old model was never effective for the average person. The secret to fitness success is consistency and counting minutes during your stair-stepper session is a torture that most of us can’t stick to for long.
Jumping inside a virtual world to play addictive sports and games with connected equipment, machine learning data trackers, and communities of friends built around an entire fantasy world will make us more fit than we ever imagined.
Welcome to the VR fitness revolution.
Disclosure: VR Fitness Insider is owned and operated by Strive VR LLC which is the parent company to Black Box VR.