Virtual reality workouts are set to trend in 2021

PHOTO: Instagram/getsupernatural

One of the best things that came out of 2020 has been the rise in participation of at-home fitness classes, and the realisation that there are truly no limits when it comes to keeping fit. (Translation: No excuses.)

While there’s no shortage of choices – you can do everything from zen meditation, rebounder classes, reformer pilates, HIIT drills etc… – to take up, the novelty value may be wearing off.

And let’s keep it real: workout boredom is extremely normal. It hits even the most gungho, #workouteveryday personalities. Which is why it’s important to keep your fitness options open.

If your go-to workout is feeling stale, injecting an element of escapism and gamification might do the trick to keep you motivated. We’re talking about virtual reality workouts – games that challenge you to dash, bash and slash (… you get the drift) things to break sweat.

Just how serious a workout is it?

Can playing certain games rival your intense running or spin class in terms of calorie burn? Probably not, but studies show that virtual reality (VR) workouts can be more effective than a gym workout if done right.

According to the VR Exercise Tracker app that tracks calories burned during virtual reality workouts, the results are impressive. Games such as Beat Saber and Pistol Whip average about 6.55 and 7.17 calories per minute, which is equivalent to playing tennis or a session on the elliptical trainer.

What you’ll need to get started 

Space-wise, just like setting up a home fitness corner, you will require a dedicated area that’s bigger than a yoga mat.

Then comes the tech. You will need a headset to deliver the full VR environment, the most popular being the Oculus headset (from $549), Sony Playstation VR ($449) and the HTC Vive (from $959). On to the games: The average game can cost upwards of US$20 (S$26.35), be it a standalone game or monthly subscription.

While virtual reality workouts involve a significant cost, chances are, once you are in the game, you’ll find this to be the most worthy 2021 investment ever.

Think about the social element – say, inviting friends over or roping in your family members for an evening of VR fitness challenges – and the escapism VR offers. In this travel-starved, wandermust era, virtual reality workouts fill a key void in our lives more so than ever.

In the long term, VR workouts are also an alternative, non-weather-dependent way to keep fit, all in the comfort of your own home.

Ready to get started? Here are some popular games to have on your list. 

1. Beat Saber

Pre-Covid, there’s a good chance you attended a Beat Saber party – and very likely got hooked. This Jedi-themed rhythm game offers some decent cardio as you use two katana beams to slash boxes to throbbing EDM beats. Besides being a great workout, it’s also a very social game.

The newly added multiplayer mode allows up to five people to slash in unison and the regular update of music (they just added 32 new songs!) means you won’t get bored anytime soon. The different levels offer a challenge for all skill levels so even if you’re having an off-day, you’ll still get a good sweat going.

Cost: US$29.99 (S$39.50)

USP: The game has been given a fitness rating that’s comparable to tennis – there’s a focus on core and leg work. Plus, the multi-level options make this game especially suitable for playing with a group of friends.

Compatible with: Oculus Quest, Playstation VR, HTC Vibe

2. Supernatural

This VR game by Oculus Quest delivers a high-energy full-body workout as you slash orbs to music by Lizzo, squat and lunge your way through numerous challenges.

Far from being just another VR rhythm game, the curated workouts (there are new ones added daily) are set to stunning backdrops like Machu Picchu and the Great Wall of China. For accountability, coaches monitor your form, and your score is directly affected by how hard and accurate you hit the targets.

Cost: US$19  per month with a 30-day free trial. For now, it’s only available in the US and Canada but watch this space for its Singapore release.

USP: If you miss travelling, Supernatural is one way to satisfy your armchair travel lust while simultaneously burning calories.

Also, its companion app (works with Apple/Android watches and most smartphones) adds a social element by allowing you to connect with others, while tracking your workouts and progress.

Compatible with: Oculus Quest

3. Racket NX

When you’ve tired of wall practice and serving up baskets of tennis balls, a better way to perfect your swing is Racket NX.

Swop the racquet for a virtual one as you work your upper body, hitting moving targets in a pinball-like dome that lights up with every stroke.

Fly through space as you line up and eliminate your targets on a time trial. Do this as a single player, or with a physical or virtual opponent. Join monthly challenges and customise your avatar to mix things up.

Cost: US$19.99 

USP: Ideal for more cosy home spaces this VR arcade game doesn’t require much room to move about. It’s worth noting though that you will need to turn around a bit (as the arena is designed as a 360-degree format) so if you get dizzy easily, you might want to give this game a pass.

Compatible with: HTC Vibe, Oculus Quest, Windows Mixed Media

4. Holofit VR

If you’re already tired of your static cardio machine (rowing machine, elliptical, stationary bike), mix up your daily workout with Holofit VR, a plug-and-play VR fitness workout app that’ll have you smashing hour-long cardio sessions with ease.

While a VR headset (Oculus Quest, HTC Vibe) is required, there’s also the affordable option of a mobile headset like Samsung Gear VR to consider.

What follows is your standard cardio session but with an upgrade: choose from pre-defined workouts, time challenges, face-off against other Holofit users or just row/cycle/move at leisure as you admire stunning real-world or fantastical settings.

As no controller is required, there’s less distraction and more mental space to focus on maintaining form and smashing PB goals.

Cost: U$10.75 per month

USP: There’s only so much enthusiasm one can muster when staring at a wall. Suitable for individuals not looking for an interactive, gamified fitness experience and especially for anyone training for an endurance sport.

Compatible with: Any VR and mobile VR headset

5. PistolWhip

This VR rhythm shooter game is one of the more popular games on the Oculus platform. Think Matrix vibes meet a cyberpunk theme as you shoot and dance your way through corridors of obstacles while dodging bullets.

You’ll be doing loads of lunges and squats – amp up the workout further by adding ankle weights – not that you’ll notice, as you’ll be too distracted fending off the game’s constant audio and visual onslaught.

Cost: US$24.99 

USP: PistolWhip is touted as a hybrid of two other popular VR games, Beat Saber and Superhot, but easier to pick up. The real challenge lies at the intermediate levels – for sure, this will keep you playing and exercising more frequently.

Compatible with: Oculus Quest, Playstation VR, VivePort

6. Tripp

Not all VR games are designed to rev up your heart rate. Tripp takes self-care to a whole new level.

A virtual reality-guided meditation experience designed to “hack” your mental state, Tripp uses immersive VR visuals (think floating through pink purple clouds, getting lost in the psychedelic backdrop of neon-hued trees) and curated meditation cycles to exercise the brain: the Focus cycle works the beta waves, while the alpha waves come into play for the Calm cycle.

While its claim as “Fitness For Your Inner Self” sounds lofty, a regular meditation practice can increase one’s mindfulness, and Tripp’s engaging visuals and Zen vibes make it easy to stay in the moment.

Cost: From US$3.99 per month

USP: Reality sucked in 2020 and while 2021 is looking better, you never know when you’ll need a dopamine hit. For anyone just getting into a regular meditation practice, Tripp will make it easier to tap into those positive vibes.

Compatible with: Oculus Go, Oculus Rift, and Oculus Quest.

This article was first published in Her World Online.