With the holiday season behind us, some of you might have gotten a VR headset as a present. And while VR gaming is massively fun, these headsets can also be used for various VR gaming workouts. But how does a VR workout compare to a regular workout? Is it just a fun way to get some light movement in? Or could a VR gaming session actually replace a regular workout session?
Research and results
Luckily for us, we don’t have to delve deep to find answers. Considering that VR workouts are a relatively new hype, there has been a lot of research into how VR gaming compares to regular workouts. Since 2017 there even is a Virtual Reality Institute of Health and Exercise. The primary focus of this institute is to study the effects of virtual and augmented technology on fitness. According to the VR exercise isn’t that different from other types of aerobic exercise. This is because you are getting your heart rate up, working up a sweat, and burning calories.
According to a meta-study by kinesiologists (from the University of Minnesota) when looking at results on the physical outcome of VR workouts such as body composition, fitness level, and muscular strength, 66% of the research group showed positive results. Add the fact that technology and apps are still evolving this number might be even higher now.
Another thing consistently mentioned in research on VR workouts is why people might benefit so much from VR workouts compared to regular workouts. Stanton says: “The best exercise is the one with the highest amount of painless minutes”. A VR workout is fun! So sometimes you forget that you are also exercising. This makes people exercise longer. While there are various fitness-oriented VR apps, games in which you move but don’t feel like a workout might be even more beneficial.
How much do you actually burn?
In 2020 Oculus rolled out a fitness tracker called the Oculus Move. Users who download the software can watch the calories they burn in VR along with their physical-active minutes. You can also set goals and see your progress over time. That seems like a useful tool because according to the Games for Health study, people exercising in VR often underestimate how much energy they are exerting. This research suggests that is because players are absorbed in the game and focused on earning points or beating the boss to get to the next level.
Calories burned according to VR
That being said, most VR workout games probably over-exaggerate the calories you burn during a workout. Several blogs online mention a discrepancy in the calories burned according to the game versus the amount according to their Garmin or Fitbit fitness tracker. I’ve noticed this discrepancy too when doing the FitXR boxing workouts.
However, calorie trackers like the Garmin watches aren’t foolproof either. The calories that you burn depend on a range of different variables. Therefore you have to take these numbers with a grain of salt. It can be a good measurement of your own activity level though if you compare it to your own data. For instance. If I compare a 500kcal burned boxing workout to a 700kcal burned boxing workout of the same duration, I know I’ve slacked a bit and wasn’t really pushing myself the first time. The same goes for VR workouts. A 30 min Beat Saber session compared to 30 min Holopoint will probably show me that Holopoint was more taxing on my system. But we don’t need any trackers for that. The amount of sweat and heavy breathing will tell you that too.
Favorite VR gaming workouts
I’ve played a couple of VR fitness-oriented games, but the games below are my favorites so far if you want to break out a sweat.
You cannot make a VR gaming workout post and not mention Beatsaber. I previously owned a DDR mat to do DDR games as a workout, and while this was much more intense, Beat Saber is quite the workout too. However, it takes a lot of practice and it becomes more of a workout the better you get. That being said, wielding two lightsabers and playing your favorite tracks, while trying to beat your friend’s scores, is great fun.
Archery in VR was one of my main reasons to buy a VR headset. I love doing archery, and I feel like a total badass Legolass when shooting down targets in Holopoint. What makes this game really challenging is the fact that the targets explode when you hit them. And they shoot back projectiles that you need to dodge! This means a lot (A LOT!) of squats and jumps while twisting and turning to hit the targets. While this feels more like a workout because there is no real story to play to, beating your own personal score in this game is really challenging and exciting.
While not a game, but a dedicated VR workout app, FitXR has some gamification elements to it. You do your workouts together with 6 other avatars, and performing well makes you climb the ranks. For the boxing game, points are scored for accuracy and speed/power. This makes you want to work harder to defeat your opponents (which are virtual but based on other people’s input). I have to say it’s fun to be able to ‘work out’ in a park, on top of a building, or next to the ocean. And the workouts are pretty challenging too!
Feeling inspired? Let us know what your favorite VR gaming workout apps are in the comments and inspire others too!