How VR is impacting the fitness world

The virtual reality fitness wave is coming.

Dozens of fitness games are already available in online game markets and app stores, each striving to make getting off of your couch and working up a sweat more fun than a jog or the gym. More fun means more workouts, which means fewer broken New Year’s resolutions and fewer inches on waistlines. What’s not to like?

That may sound too good to be true, but research says VR can play those kinds of healthy mind tricks. That’s why serious medical researchers are turning to VR for a litany of therapeutic uses, including treating Post Traumatic Stress, maintaining mental acuity for seniors and managing pain for burn victims. Reading that analysis was exactly why the founders of Black Box VR went all in on developing what would be the first VR fitness game built around resistance training rather than aerobics.

“We all know that athletes have this magic that they can push through the pain, the adversity, to make it to the next level,” Black Box VR cofounder Preston Lewis says. “They have this mental grit. When you work out in VR, 80 percent of your brain is dedicated to visual pathways. If the stimulus is strong enough, it’s easier to override that sense of pain.”

The active nature of virtual reality means that any VR game — not just fitness games — offer some exercise value. San Francisco State University’s Kinesiology Department launched the VR Health Institute, which is developing methods to test and rate games based on how many calories players burn in a session.

Aaron Stanton, a Silicon Valley angel investor and startup advisor with a focus on virtual and augmented reality, is involved with the VR Health Institute. He says players in the fitness industry will soon engage in an arms race for VR fitness market share.

“In five years, there won’t be a gym in the U.S. that doesn’t have some component of virtual or augmented reality,” Stanton says.

Dozens of aerobic-based virtual reality fitness games are already available on virtual reality platforms such as the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. Players use wands or gloves to execute calorie-burning actions, such as throwing punches, swinging swords or firing a bow in a variety of games.

But no game on the market replicates a weightlifting workout. Black Box VR hopes to change that.

The company plans to open its own boutique gyms, starting this year with a pilot gym in San Francisco. Users will step into a personal room — a black box — where they will put on an HTC Vive VR headset and calibrate the various cable machines to their height and strength. The system will remember the user’s workout history and calibrate the various exercises to provide the appropriate resistance, which will gradually increase with the user’s fitness. An in-game trainer will coach the player through exercise techniques to ensure effectiveness and safety. If a player completes only, say, six of 12 reps, the resulting attack won’t be as strong.

The idea, Lewis says, is that users level up in their game as they level up their bodies, creating a gratifying feedback loop that rewards their effort.

“If you level up your slash attack, you get that dopamine hit that helps you come back to the gym motivated,” he says. “The next time you come back to the gym, you’re no longer Level 5. You are Level 6, and you are actually lifting heavier weight and doing more damage in the game.”

PC Spec Requirements For VR

Virtual Reality consoles already demand fast PC rigs to run smoothly. Expect system requirements to only become more RAM-needy as game studios release bigger titles.


Graphics card: NVIDIA® GeoForce® GTX 970 or AMD Radeon R9 290 or better
CPU: Intel® Core® i5 4590 or better
RAM: 8 GB or more
Video port: HDMI 1.3
USB port: two USB 3.0 ports
Operating system: Windows® 7 SP1 or newer


Graphics card: NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 1060 or AMD Radeon™ RX 480, equivalent
CPU: Intel® Core™ i5-4590 or AMD FX™ 8350, equivalent or better
RAM: 4 GB or more
Video port: HDMI 1.4 port, DisplayPort 1.2 or newer
USB port: USB 2.0 port or newer
Operating system: Windows® 7 SP1, Windows® 8.1 or later or Windows® 10

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