Virtual reality isn’t just for entertainment and gaming—it’s crossing over to fitness, too

By Denise Fernandez | Photo by Samuel Zeller/Unsplash

One of technology’s most engaging and interactive breakthroughs this decade is the emergence of virtual reality (VR) platforms.

For those who aren’t aware, virtual reality in technology today refers to computer systems that allow a person to immerse themselves in a makeshift 360-dimension environment using VR materials, with the most common one being a headset. What began as a system more known for entertainment and gaming is now crossing over to different forms of use such as education and yes, you guessed it, fitness. Though it certainly has a long way to go before hitting the mainstream, a number of companies and systems have already been developed to cater to the fitness buff with the desire to go beyond the conventional realms of exercise.

VR was placed on the map around the time social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook were beginning to boom. In 2010, the first prototype of the ever popular Oculus Rift was developed, which would soon pave the way for more designs of similar VR headsets. The Oculus was such a sensation that Facebook itself purchased Oculus VR and soon, numerous VR games hit the market. VR could even be easily accessed now through phone apps thanks to affordable cardboard headsets (like the one Google produced), wherein one could strap their phone on the headset to try the experience out.

Majority of the public is aware of virtual reality being consumed for the sake of gaming, videos, and entertainment, but VR fitness is something relatively new and unknown. One of the first systems was launched in Hong Kong’s Immersive Fitness gym, where cyclists cycled in a stationary position while in front of a giant, curving screen that created the illusion of biking through nature. Like how technology is meant to enhance human experiences and make them more convenient, virtual reality fitness immerses a person into a whole new environment while remaining in the comfort of their homes.

Indoor cycling is actually one of the sports more prominently reinvented by different VR companies. For example, VirZOOM involves its own bike controller and creates various environments that the cyclist can choose from, like maneuvering their own Pegasus into the air, zooming through a race track as an F1 driver, and more. California company Widerun is another one—a plug-and-play system that is specifically bike-centric and takes its user into natural landscapes or cities like San Francisco.

Other companies take it to the next level. Icaros, hailing from Germany, transports the user and turns him into the main character of his own video game as he settles into the Icaros’ elaborate full-body system. It requires users to use mostly core strength and immerses them in different situations like flying, swimming, and parachuting.

But if you’ve already got an Oculus Rift and some workout equipment at home, you actually won’t be needing another large machine to experience VR fitness. Programs like the GojiPlay work similar to Widerun, except it works with other cardio machines other than stationary bikes. The GojiPlay can be used with ellipticals, treadmills, and stair steppers, while producing VR games that go hand in hand. Holofit is another emerging system with a similar idea.

With these different systems and companies hitting the tech scene, VR fitness is slowly but surely gaining more prominence. A reasonable number of athletes and reputable sports teams have even started using it for their training including Rio gold medalist Gwen Jorgensen, thanks to programs like STRIVR. Though these emerging systems aren’t available in the Philippines, the closest thing we can get is the country’s first VR arcade called Reality+, despite it being more on the gaming side than for exercise. It’s only a matter of time that fitness VR softwares and programs for fitness hit Manila. Better start saving up for your own Oculus Rifts now.

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