If you think about it, you’ll realise something startling about a modern gym. It’s a completely different place from what would pass for a gym a few years ago. At one time, a well-equipped “weights and benches” area, a few industrial-looking contraptions for muscle-building, and a long stretch of treadmills and cycling machines were all a gym needed to qualify as “state of the art”.
Today, a good gym is a showcase for technology: sensors, screens, numbers and readouts, with a detailed analysis of all that you did (or failed to do). Plus, everyone in a gym now wears a fitness band or device to get even more data and metrics. But even with all this additional technology and motivation, there’s one thing that a gym hasn’t been able to change: all of it can still get boring after a while.
That’s because it is the same you at the same gym every day. Nothing changes. That monotony is exactly what techies are tackling. By using VR headsets, rich landscapes, detailed environments and a gaming system, they are taking fitness to a new level. They call it Bodytainment.
Yes, terrible name; what can you expect when nerds invade a world they’d never enter willingly? Yet, the gym may well be the setting for the new revolution. These new workout machines can be installed in a dreary little basement and can take the body to places it’s never gone before.
German design company Hyve has come up with a simulator-based fitness machine that puts your body in a zero-gravity posture. Once you’re in position, the VR goggles, along with a moving support frame, transport you into a simulated world where you can skydive, fly through the night sky or go into space.
While your mind takes that journey, your body controls your flight pattern to make sure you don’t crash. And that is one incredible workout. When you are doing a steep decline, your shoulders, chest muscles and core are all used for control. When you need to do a series of left and right turns, it calls for the strength of your abs and lower back muscles.
By the time you’re done with a 15-minute virtual workout, you walk off feeling like you’ve run a marathon and lifted 1,000 pounds of weight. By focusing on your body’s core muscles to control your flight, you end up exercising often-neglected areas and muscles. Once you’ve Icaros-ed, you’ll never want to walk or run again.
One of the fastest ways to get fit is hardcore kickboxing. The punches and kicks in a flurry of movement translate into an explosive workout. The problem is that you need someone to do it with or guide you.
Enter the Nexersys. With multiple programs, a huge screen with a coach and an opponent right in front guiding you, a gaming system, in which the machine can take you on in a fight to the finish, and multiple sensor-laden spots for you to kick and punch – this is mixed martial arts 2.0.
Each programme shows you where to land your blows and how, sensors track your style, speed, punch intensity and strength. You truly feel you’re in a ring with a mean and aggressive opponent. I lasted about six minutes; your mileage may vary.
This one doesn’t serve you virtual coffee. It takes your cycling journey to new places. Up gritty mountain tracks, down grassy banks and through forest trails. All without ever leaving the gym. The VR bike by Expresso Fitness has an immersive video screen with a VR headset.
Get onto the bike, dial in where you want to go cycling today, choose to compete against a real or virtual fellow Expressian, and pedal fast and furious. The landscape moves exactly at the pace you pedal and the difficulty is in sync with you too. Pedal uphill and the going gets tougher, go downhill and you can stand straight and feel the wind in your hair. All this, while squirrels scamper, the sun goes down on the horizon and people smile at you as you cycle by.
VR Workout machines do more than just take you into a new world. These can also trigger a better workout for the mind and body. There are no limits in this world as anything is possible in virtual reality. The place may not be real – but the sweat is!
Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3
From HT Brunch, December 13
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