“Reality is a lovely place, but I wouldn’t want to live there." – Adam Young, singer-songwriter
Virtual Reality Isn’t New, And Its Impact Is Gradually Increasing
Virtual reality has been around for a long time. In the mid-19th century, artists created 360-degree murals that wowed observers. In the 1920s, Edwin Link introduced the first flight simulator to train aspiring pilots. In 1957, Morton Heilig invented a device known as the “Sensorama.” The Sensorama was a booth that contained oscillating fans, speakers, mechanisms for emitting smells, and a viewing screen that displayed three-dimensional images. Heilig called this type of entertainment “experience theater.” He was trying to create a new, manipulated reality, one that felt real to the participant but was entirely artificial.
Virtual reality, or “VR,” uses technology to mimic real-life sensory experiences so powerfully that they seem real. Much of the use of VR today is for aeronautics simulation and gaming. Facebook acquired Oculus VR last year for $2 billion, with Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg proclaiming that “immersive, virtual, and augmented reality will become a part of people’s daily lives.”
Physical Effort Required For Video Games
The Realm is a VR system that puts gamers in a fantasy world, just like any video game console. This, however, is not merely the next generation of the Wii. Users must make a physical effort to progress through the game levels. Want to slaughter that ogre who’s in your way of saving the princess? You need to pick up your virtual axe and swing it with force, at the correct angle, and against resistance you’ll feel. The Realm experience seems real because you’ve got a VR headset on, so any way you turn you see the fantasy world even if for those playing from their parents’ basement. The Realm is set to be released in September, and will include fitness rehab and boxing games among its offerings. Perhaps the stereotype of gamers being Doritos-eating, Mountain Dew-drinking loungers is coming to an end.
Virtual Reality-Inspired Fitness Classes Are Emerging
In Hong Kong’s Pure Fitness studio, they have spin classes that are a bit different than the trendy ones in large U.S. cities. Like any other spin class, there are rows of stationary bikes. Unlike the others, participants are inside a room with a 270-degree screen that surrounds their field of vision. They are part of what’s been deemed “immersive fitness.” The presentation of a visual and auditory experience that can take you away to a different place while you’re working out. It can be daytime during the night, snowy during summer, hilly or flat, smooth or rough terrain, Paris when you’re in Hong Kong, or racing against others when you’re alone. Pure Fitness is planning to expand to other class formats, including yoga, as well. Early morning yoga on the beach will never be so attainable.
Dance With Others When You’re By Yourself
Even Zumba, the monstrously popular dance-focused fitness sensation with over 200,000 locations worldwide, has joined the VR mix. As if 15 million participants isn’t enough, Zumba wants to show potential attendees what the class experience is like even if they can’t make it to a class. Partnering with VR company YouVisit, Zumba is using a 360-degree immersive video to demonstrate what it’s like to be part of the Zumba community. Zumba CEO Alberto Perlman, says, “We tried the VR demo in the office and every guy who put the headset on started dancing, and that never happened with [regular] videos.” People who go to gym classes tend to feel great afterwards. It’s getting to the class (or the gym) that is often the toughest hurdle to overcome. Zumba has expanded classes into a broad range of categories that are geared towards children, older adults, pool settings, and core workouts. In March, I met Perlman and we discussed the possibility of adding Core Flytes to the Zumba suite of classes. For Zumba, fostering a robust exercise community is critical. Abi Mandelbaum, CEO of YouVisit, says, “One thing virtual reality might do is restore a human connection for people who work out at home. VR can help people feel as if they are actually there, with people, doing a fitness activity; this can be a huge motivator. Imagine a virtual reality experience that lets viewers bike in the Tour de France or run the Boston Marathon.”
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