A personal aside (Or how I got from rowing, to not, and back again)
With the launch of Holodia’s Holofit to the VR home market, my personal virtual reality fitness journey has come full circle. I’ve always aspired to be active. I developed Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in my twenties, which ultimately necessitated a bone marrow transplant and has left me with restrictive lung disease. During my recovery, I hired a personal trainer and joined a gym, but quickly decided I wanted my own equipment so that I could more easily exercise daily, figuring I’d save money in the longer term. I invested in some quality gear, a decent stationary bike, a Concept 2 rower, and some Bowflex adjustable dumbbells with a matching bench. It was a heavy outlay but worth it, and for a couple of years, I was consistent in my efforts and significantly improved my health. However, over time my good habits slipped and bad habits took over. Before I knew it my equipment was no longer in use, reduced to merely expensive baggage that I could never actually bring myself to sell. I’d keep saying to myself that I’d start using it again ‘soon’ which of course never came unless you count the effort of physically hauling it all with me each time I moved house, four times over ten years. My exercise habit was long extinct.
Then I discovered virtual reality.
Like many VR users, my first realization that VR could be good for fitness came with playing a rhythm game, in this case, Audioshield back in 2017. I then jumped onto the early access of BoxVR, putting in well over 100 hours until I upgraded my original Oculus Rift, with a couple of rear sensors to allow for a full room-scale experience, at which point I switched over to Thrill of the Fight. Several other games came and went, but Beat Saber aside none managed to scratch the exercise itch that BoxVR and Thrill of the Fight delivered, so those three became the cornerstone of my fitness training. I trained daily and became hooked on exercise again. I discovered VRFitness Insider, gave an interview about my journey to a healthier life with VR exercise, and ultimately started contributing articles to the site.
Eventually, I wrote a guide on how to create an entire home gym around the Oculus Quest, replacing those boring cardio machine staples you see at every gym, (and filling up my lounge) with a funky new wireless virtual reality headset that would turn your living room into a boxing ring, a training dojo, or an elevated platform in space where you can dual wield lightsabers and slice blocks to funky techno beats.
Then a funny thing happened. I was contacted by Virzoom, developers of the VZFit, a fantastic subscription service that brings your exercise bike into VR. Suddenly I found myself riding again, although no longer staring at walls. Now I was cycling anywhere I wanted to around the world, in VR!
I enjoyed it so much that I found myself lamenting that nobody had invented a way to connect my Concept 2 rower up to VR as well…
Let’s begin the review!
Which finally leads me to the Holodia Holofit. Like the VZFit, the Holofit is a subscription software service that connects not just compatible indoor bikes but also ellipticals and rowing machines to a VR headset. In short, thanks to the Holofit I am finally back rowing again, although no longer staring at walls. Now I am rowing around a space station facility on Saturn, heading out towards a Black Hole. I’m rowing underwater, past giant killer whales and I’m rowing through a lush tropical island, populated with hippos, monkeys, and crocodiles.
I can’t tell you how great it has felt to finally sit on the erg again, twelve years after buying it, and around six years since I last actually used it. A love affair has been rekindled, and I’m finally rowing again, with passion and enthusiasm. The intensity of my workouts has skyrocketed, and I’m enjoying it so much that you’ll have to excuse my hyperbolic blathering when I say the Holodia Holofit might be the single best fitness application available for virtual reality today.
Holodia Holofit – What is it and who is it for
I have already written in detail about the Holofit in use with two guides, a hands-on with Holofit and a Concept 2 rower, and a hands-on with Holofit and a stationary bike. Check out those articles for extensive details on how Holofit works in practice, in this game review I’m rating it for its fitness potential. A quick overview of the service is necessary, however.
The Holodia Holofit is a subscription service that for $9.99 a month or $108 yearly provides you with a license to two products, Holofit Pro, which works to connect compatible rowers, bikes, and ellipticals to a PC VR headset and Holofit Go, which is the standalone version, for use with Oculus Quest, HTC Vive Focus, and even Samsung Gear VR. If you own both mobile and PC VR headsets then Holodia will activate both versions for you for the same subscription fee, in a similar fashion to Oculus cross-buy.
Connectivity & Compatibility
Because so many headsets and exercise machines are supported it can be confusing to work out compatibility in particular use cases. Basically any cardio equipment that supports FTMS Bluetooth will connect natively to the Oculus Quest, no external accessories required. For PC VR headsets Bluetooth is not supported so you will need to hook your cardio machine up directly to your computer via USB or cSafe output. Any indoor bike can be made Bluetooth compatible with the purchase of a cadence sensor. Most will work, I used Holodia’s recommendation, the IGPSport C61, which was very affordable at only £16 delivered from eBay.
You cannot add a cadence sensor to a Rower or most ellipticals so for these to work they will need native FTMS Bluetooth support, or be PC connectable via USB or cSafe. This generally means that you’ll need a fairly high-end rower like a Concept 2 with a PM5 monitor or WaterRower with Smartrow. You can check out Holodias’ site for more information on connectivity.
Check out my previous hands-on articles linked to above for information on connectivity.
Elliptical Connectivity Correction 09/06/2020
After the publication of this article, Holodia contacted me with some more clarity regarding connecting a sensor to ellipticals. They wrote ‘You can actually add the cadence sensor to most ellipticals as most of them are wheel-based, and this is the important part. As long as there is a wheel that spins around, you’d be good to go. Ideally, users would place it on the outer edge of the wheel, but if that can’t be done, the pedal crank would work as well.’
A word of warning. Training with Holofit is hard work. Sweat preparing your headset is a must. For my Oculus Quest, I use wipeable replacement covers from VRCover and also wear a sweatband. If you’re using an original HTC Vive or Oculus Rift CV1 removable faceplates and wipeable covers are also available making them great for exercise and you’ll have no problem sweat proofing them but I’ve learned that my Rift S is a horrible device to use as an exercise tool thanks to all of its non-removable foam within the Halo strap design. I tried to mitigate this as best I could by using a cycling skull cap to keep the foam sweat-free, but the excess heat this caused was uncomfortable over longer rows and negatively affected my performance.
Thankfully Virtual Desktop wireless streaming works perfectly with Holofit and I’ve been able to enjoy the superior PC graphics, whilst using my much more exercise-friendly Oculus Quest headset.
For this review, I initially decided to carry out two playtests, one on the bike, and the other on my Concept 2 rower. Unfortunately, my Fitbit Charge 2 proved fairly useless at accurately capturing heart data when using either machine, as it often loses my heartbeat. I had this problem with my VZFit playtest as well, it took multiple tries there to complete a fitness test session without the heart rate dropping, finally getting an accurate read on the third attempt.
After a couple of failures playtesting the bike mode on the Holofit with my Charge 2, I finally gave up and bought a Polar H9 heart rate monitor. I used it to capture a 5000-meter row and it thankfully worked flawlessly.
- Calories burned: 272
- Calories per minute:11
- Average heart rate:153
- Max heart rate:173
- Active Minutes:25
First of all, please excuse my slowpoke rowing pace, as I said at the start of the article I have fairly severe lung disease from extensive chemotherapy but as my heart rate will attest I still gave it everything I had. The final 1000 meters was almost entirely anaerobic for me and I thought I might actually faint before the finish. But I made it, and my time of 24:48:9 is according to my Concept 2 rowing log the fastest I’ve done that distance since 2010, and only 30 seconds off my best ever (post-cancer) time of 24:19:3 that I did way back in 2008. Prior to using the Holofit I had rowed maybe twice in the last six years so to be rowing regularly again and seeing my times improve is incredibly heartening. According to Holodia’s app, I’ve already put in over seven hours of rowing time in the few weeks I’ve been using it, and I’m making sure I row at least twice a week from now on.
As you can see from my stats rowing is a fantastic all-around exercise, burning 11 calories per minute and with an average heart rate of 153, it’s the highest my heart rate has ever got whilst using virtual reality for exercise. As rowing works 80 percent of the muscles in your body it’s not surprising it’s such an effective tool for weight loss, building muscle tone, and improving your aerobic and cardiovascular health. I, therefore, have to score the Holofit a perfect 10 for intensity.
There are some solid bodyweight workouts in VR. BoxVR, The Thrill of the Fight, and the new fitness subscription service Supernatural VR are some that immediately come to mind. But none of these can hold a candle to the sheer trauma of pushing yourself to exhaustion on a Concept 2 rower. It’s the training tool of Olympians, the king of cardio equipment, and Holofit’s ability to fully immerse you into a variety of beautiful virtual worlds ensures your workout sessions are fun, satisfying, and challenging. Cycling works well too, and it’s especially fun to race against the computer AI over longer distances. I don’t own an elliptical to test but in that mode, you assume the guise of a runner, obviously a treadmill in VR being a safety hazard! In supporting three different types of cardio equipment Holofit allows you to cross-train and develop a far more comprehensive and well rounded aerobic program than using any other single VR game or application to date. For a VR enthusiast who is serious about fitness, and has access to these cardio machines, it’s the most complete home user software I’ve used so far.
Of the three cardio machines supported rowing will give you the best arm and shoulder workout, especially as you pull back your shoulders towards your chest at the end of the drive phase of each stroke. Using Holodia’s cardio mode you can select HIIT interval training sessions that will alternate between high-intensity sprints and recovery phases. During high-intensity moments, you’ll be generating a lot of force which will strengthen your arms and shoulders helping to build muscle. You’ll work your biceps and triceps on an elliptical if using a high resistance although it’s primarily muscular endurance work. Obviously a bicycle focuses on the lower body only.
Whichever cardio machine you are using Holofit is going to give you a great leg workout. Again, high resistance sprint work is going to provide the most strength gains, whilst steady-state cardio will build muscular endurance. There is a reason why rowers are renowned for their leg strength whilst cyclists are famed for their leg endurance. Regular training with these two pieces of equipment will strengthen, tone, and sculpt your legs better than any other cardio machines.
Core and Balance 9/10
Rowing is a fantastic tool for building a strong core, abs, and a strong, wide back. A popular tip for increasing your core activation is to practice rowing with your feet unstrapped. If you just drive vertically you’ll likely fly off the back of the machine so it forces you to engage your back and abdominals to maintain your balance on the rower and to bring your body back to the beginning of the drive phase. Rowing this way your abs will quickly feel it!
Ellipticals are less effective for core work, but still provide benefit providing you stand up straight and pull your core muscles in. Don’t just lean and slouch on the machine but allow your body to do the work!
Cycling is probably the least effective for core work but will give you a tremendous leg and cardiovascular workout. Of course, for most people, it’s by far the most accessible of the machines too.
Time Perception 9/10
The Holofit is a blast to use. The environments are gorgeous, packed with incidental details, and fun scripted events and the character models for your avatar are superb, with your entire virtual body rendered. This gives you a real sense of presence and immersion and makes each game world a joy to travel through. Even within each game world, there is a real variety with multiple sub-locations so you’re never just rowing or cycling through endless repetitions of the same scenery. Equal attention has been given to the sound and music, with every vehicle, bird, animal, and mythical creature all authentically voiced. Rowing through the Antarctic past a waddle of penguins as they called and cackled in that distinctive penguin way was one such memorable highlight, surpassed only moments later when a giant killer whale launched out of the water in front of me. As punishing as the workouts are, Holofit is so immersive that I find my training to be almost magical at times. I mean how often do you associate your cardio day with coming face to face with the spirit of a giant deer or a warthog and her piglets in an enchanted snowy forest? Exactly.
Holodia claims over 100 different workout options, including a nice casual, explorer mode, time attack, HIIT cardio sessions, and a very fun, and intense race mode, that all take place in one of the fifteen or so game worlds. If you’re fortunate enough to have access to two or even all three supported cardio machines you’ll be able to mix up your training even more. There’s a great foundation of game modes and content here to build a solid training program that will keep you motivated for a long time.
Fitness Scalability 9/10
Like the cardio machines it supports, Holodia’s Holofit can be enjoyed by fitness enthusiasts of all abilities. With my lung disease leading to breathlessness and an unsurprising natural aversion to physical effort, I find the immersion of seeing myself on the water, traversing through wonderous and fantastical landscapes sufficient reward for the effort it takes me. Meanwhile, a more experienced and stronger rower, Slyvain Davril used the Holofit to 5x his rowing performance over three months and also complete a rowing half marathon.
Lack of Nausea 8/10
Movement in VR can induce feelings of motion sickness in some people, usually as a result of the disconnect your brain experiences when your eyes show you to be moving whilst you are in fact stationary. In Holofit your movement in game synchronizes with what you’re actually doing in real life, so it shouldn’t be an issue. I’ve not once felt sick whilst using Holofit, nonetheless for highly susceptible people, who maybe get car sick or seasick, this may trigger the same feelings.
Social Competition 7/10
One of Holodia’s goals is to build up a multiplayer community. You can race a friend online and multiplayer competitive events have started to be organized. There is also a great mobile app, where you can see how you rank on each piece of fitness equipment, and where you stand in your own country or worldwide. As the userbase increases, this should lead to some fun competition and maybe finding a regular training partner to work out together. As you’d expect for a relatively new and niche product however right now the userbase is small.
Races, such as this one around a mining facility orbiting Saturn are a lot of fun.
VRFI Fit Score 9.5/10
Holofit takes your workouts to the next level
Holodia’s Holofit is an outstanding fitness subscription app that really comes into its own if you have a compatible rower. Arguably the king of cardio equipment, rowers have sadly been neglected when it comes to mainstream fitness apps like Zwift. Holofit makes rowing fun and engaging and you’re far more likely to stick with a training program if you enjoy it. The cycling performance worked great with the IGP Sport C61 cadence sensor. I didn’t get to test the elliptical mode but I’m sure that works well too. In providing support for three different pieces of cardio equipment you can look at upgrading your home gym with more equipment to take advantage or maybe if you don’t mind the stares join a commercial gym and take your Oculus Quest there to use on all the machines. Be a trailblazer and popularise VR!
If you’ve been using VR for a while with games like Beat Saber and BoxVR and have been convinced of its exercise utility then I’d say Holofit is what you can use to take your workouts to the next level.
With 3 cardio machines supported, PC VR and mobile versions of the software, and up to 5 user profiles all included for a single $9.99 monthly license Holofit represents excellent value for money.
Outstanding environments that are truly a visual and aural delight to explore.
Tons of variety in both world locations and various workout modes.
PC Version requires the scanning of a QRCode each time to use which is a minor annoyance.
Quest version stutters occasionally when processing complex visual scenes.
You can download a free 7 day trial of Holofit for PC VR on the Holodia website or download a trial of the Oculus Quest version from Sidequest.