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Robobox: the rise of the VR workout

Katie Strick
All in your head(set): VR fitness systems Viro.Fit

I’m squatting in an old-school boxing gym, fists at the ready as another series of hooks, crosses and jabs fly towards me to the beat of the music. “Very good!” the trainer tells me as I overtake my friend Hannah on the leaderboard with two minutes to go. It’s nice to feel like we’re training together, considering I’m alone in my living room.

I’m trying BoxVR, an immersive boxing workout that lets you squat, dodge and uppercut in an virtual-reality studio from anywhere in the world, be it the gym or your kitchen. Just put on your high-tech Oculus headset and compete with up to five other boxers like you would at Kobox: pick your playlist, select your workout (there are 45 to choose from) and track your punches, calories and score in real-time against your friends. Your metrics appear on the side of the screen.

The result is surprisingly sweaty: there’s something about feeling like you’re actually standing in a gym (or graveyard or snowstorm, if you choose the outdoor option) that makes you push harder than traditional at-home workout apps like Nike Training or Fiit. You can walk around the (virtual) room (a boundary pops up if you’re about to walk into the dining table), see your boxing gloves, hear Kanye West pounding in your ears. All with the added Guitar Hero-style “nice one!” and “+60” motivations flashing up with every punch.

Before I know it, I’ve completed a 30-minute workout and racked up 156 calories — and had a lot more fun than squatting at the gym. “It helps people get into a flow-like state,” says Sam Cole, the co-founder of Southwark-based developer FitXR, which launched the game last month.


He and his team are on a mission to combat gym fatigue using technology: by immersing users into a gamified, 3D world, they’re likely to exercise for longer and more often, says Cole, reeling off a story of a male user who lost 15 pounds in his first six weeks using the game. “More importantly, people enjoy it — while for many people the thought of going to the gym or an exercise class is intimidating, BoxVR brings that studio-quality workout into the home at any time of day.”

Robo-boxing isn’t the only workout available via my Oculus headset — virtual reality is opening up a whole new stream of fitness opportunities: now there’s robo-rowing (Holodia), robo-tennis (VR Tennis), robo-cycling (VZfit) — like a next-gen, immersive version of Peloton.

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, San Francisco start-up Black Box VR debuted its virtual-reality chest press, where you perform reps to fight your opponent. Next month, Polish startup Fit Reality is coming to the capital to showcase its new fitness tech, Viro.Fit — which gamifies your gym workout on the exercise bike, stepper or rower — and Viro Move, an at-home alternative. Just plug your VR headset into your PC and test your stamina, agility and cardio in an immersive, Lara Croft-style world (you can download a free demo on the Steam store now).

At Lanserhof at the Arts Club in Mayfair, it’s all about the robo-plank. The Austrian medical gym loved by Victoria Beckham and Gwyneth Paltrow recently introduced an Icaros gaming workout to its high-tech fitness offering: a two-minute ab workout set in the Alps and designed to fire up your core.

Lie down in plank position and put on the headset to feel like you’re flying through snow-capped mountains: the gyroscopic machine twists and turns as you shift your weight, testing different muscle groups, improving balance and engaging your abs — you’ll be so distracted by the panoramas you’ll hardly notice you’re working out. For a (virtually) pain-free workout, join the exer-gamers.

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