I was at the gym the other day thinking about how fun virtual reality would be on a treadmill. My gym’s treadmills have screens, and you can pull up videos of different runs around the world. There are trails leading through forests and up the sides of volcanoes. It’s pretty fun for the three minutes before I remember I can turn on “Cupcake Wars.”
But what if that run was available in true virtual reality? With a headset on, you could look around or even choose between two different paths. It would feel more like actual virtual tourism than staring at a screen on a treadmill.
Virtual reality probably isn’t coming to a treadmill near you anytime soon (I can barely walk while wearing a headset, let alone run), but it is being looked at for other types of working out. Runtastic, which makes an exercise app, released a 7-minute workout for Oculus Rift today. A virtual trainer leads you through different exercises, which are tracked and then reported back to you.
It’s just a proof of concept at this point, as Rift isn’t widely available yet. The headset is also a bit bulky, and its foam face cushion collects sweat like crazy. If you’ve ever worn ski goggles you know the sensation: a clammy moistness that makes you hesitant to lend the goggles to anyone else ever again. It’s a bit disgusting.
But like skiing down a mountain, virtual reality is immersive enough that it has a way of making you disregard minor discomforts. That’s pretty fantastic for exercising; who doesn’t want to forget about the burn in their abs?
Runtastic’s app also hints at virtual reality’s social potential. I like the idea of the yoga classes at my gym, but that means traveling there two extra days a week. Instead, I could join a class in virtual reality. There’s still the social pressure to attend and an expert to critique my form, but I never have to leave my living room.
Virtual reality headsets will, of course, get better. They will get lighter and sleeker. Maybe someday they’ll look like swim goggles, getting rid of that sweaty foam feeling altogether. What’s not in question is that virtual reality can make working out more fun.
Now, who is up for some virtual jazzercise?