Gaming has traditionally been seen as a sedentary activity. Since most titles are played on a monitor or TV with a mouse and keyboard or controller, physical exertion is generally not a factor when you’re blasting baddies or saving the princess.
Nintendo did try to change this with the introduction of the Wii gaming console, but the actual fitness involved in most titles was close to none. Wii Fit came a bit closer to get people up and moving, but adoption was slow, and the high price of the required fitness board kept many at bay.
Virtual reality, on the other hand, is a whole separate ball game. We’ve seen solutions like the Omni, giving users the ability to sprint endlessly in virtual reality environments to further enhance realism in the space, as well as a plethora of games that can wipe a player out in just a few minutes of play. This new environment seems to be absolutely perfect for those looking to game and exercise at the same time, and Tim Donahey has devised a program for players looking to do just that.
Dubbed the “VR Fitness 50 Day Challenge”, the program uses a combination of 4 different Vive games to get users moving and keep their hearts pumping. Donahey says he specifically chose the games because he believed they were some of the most intensive titles available, and it looks like he was right. Donahey also used a weighted vest in supplement to the games, and managed to lose 14.4 pounds after only 7 weeks on his program, rivaling many more expensive routines.
His gaming routine is as follows:
- 10 min: Audioshield (Custom Difficulty Mod) (Warmup)
- 20 min: Sword Master VR (Novice Levels 6-10)
- 20 min: Bitslap (Normal Difficulty)
- 10 min: Fruit Ninja VR (Arcade Mode) (Cooldown)
Donahey has seen an incredible amount of popularity with his routine, and has had a huge amount of others join in on the fun. Just this morning, a user on the Reddit community r/vive posted that he plans to double the initial 50 day challenge and aim for 100 days of Vive fitness.
The routine has sparked quite a bit of media attention already, as fitness and gaming are 2 fields that many have attempted to merge for a long while, but virtual reality might be the first time a gaming fitness program actually becomes sustainable.
We reached out for an interview with Donahey to ask about his program. Check out his answers below:
Q: If you could change one thing about the Vive to make it better optimized for exercise, what would it be?
A; The things that will improve future iterations of the Vive for consumers are the same things that will optimize it for fitness. Lighter, better ventilated headsets and wireless technology. Those are two things, but I fully expect to see both of them in Gen 2.
Q: How do you keep the HMD from getting worn down from sweat?
A: The lack of those features in Gen 1 are basically what’s preventing it from being perfectly suited for fitness right now. The headsets are heavy, they don’t breathe all that well, and they emit heat. Those things all lead to sweat. The trick is dispersing the sweat before it ever breaches the delicate internals of the HMD, lest it void the warranty with dreaded ‘liquid damage.’ I do several things for “sweat management,” but the keys are increasing air circulation, body ventilation, and sweat absorption.
- Crank up the AC.
- Direct fans into the play space.
- Wear breathable clothing. Preferably polyester or some other breathable synthetic blend.
- Avoid over-ear headphones. Ears exhaust heat. Use ear buds instead.
- Wear a bandanna over your head.
- Wear a sweat band over the bandanna.
Doing this kept the foam gasket reasonably dry and kept me reasonably comfortable. I still rinsed the foam every night, occasionally soaking it in a gentle cleanser, and line dried it overnight. Always fresh as a daisy the next day.
Q: Do you think virtual reality has a strong future for fitness?
A: What makes VR so compelling as an avenue for fitness is that it affords people the ability to experience rigorous physical training as incidental to games that are enjoyable in their own right. In VR, fitness becomes a side effect of gaming, not the goal. When I did my workouts, they never felt like workouts at all. Boxing felt like boxing, archery felt like archery, and sword fighting felt like sword fighting. The fact that it also gave me a stellar aerobic workout and burned many hundreds of calories in the bargain was just my good fortune. That’s at the heart of the appeal of VR fitness; that it can transport you to these experiences so convincingly, you don’t even realize until afterwards how physically demanding it really was. So, yes, there is a very strong future for that.
Q: Do you think the titles you used are compelling enough to keep someone interested for 10 weeks?
A: I do. One of the great things about playing the same games over and over again is that I became so much better at them. I became faster, more precise, more agile, and as my abilities increased, so did my scores. That definitely is a big part of what kept the games satisfying. That said, the more variety, the better. Right now, the wheelhouse of games that I consider to be “high intensity” is pretty small. There’s HoloPoint, The Thrill of the Fight, Bitslap, and Sword Master VR. Lower to moderate intensity games that I used for warming up and cooling down are also limited. There’s Audioshield, Fruit Ninja VR, and Holoball. However, I’m sure that there are other good games out there that I haven’t tried yet and I look forward to playing them next.
Q: Did you change your other habits at all, or was most of the success accomplished with the Vive?
A: For the sake of the integrity of the challenge, it was important that I not conduct any exercise outside of what I did with the Vive. The only other exercise I did was walking my 19-month-old son around the block in his stroller. I didn’t adhere to any strict dietary guidelines like Paleo or Keto or anything like that, but I tried to make good choices. I’d choose more nutritionally dense foods over empty foods, like fries, more often than not. I drank less milk, not because milk is unhealthy (milk is awesome!) but because if I was choosing between drinking 250 cals or eating 250 cals, I’d rather eat them. I still ate cheeseburgers and ice cream on occasion, but also lots of salad. The biggest change in my diet was that I only ate things that I could count or closely estimate. Using my Polar HRM to measure my calorie burns and MyFitnessPal to measure my calorie intake, I determined how many calories I was allotted for the day and stayed within that range. Any day that I exervived was a day that I could eat upwards of 2200 cals and still lose weight.
Q: Can you tell me more about your studio? Are you guys planning on releasing any apps focused on fitness?
A: The information hasn’t been made public yet, but we are developing what I hope will fill the fitness void that I alluded to earlier. My team and I, ATG Studios, are making VR: Fit. It is a whole network of diverse experiences that are going to be competitive, challenging, and entertaining, all while incorporating maximum mobility conducted at a fast pace. That’s all I can say right now, except that many of the games we are developing you would have no idea were created with a fitness goal in mind, and therein lies the beauty.
Is virtual reality fitness something you would like to try? I have to say I am quite interested. It might get me to splurge on a Vive myself.