SINGAPORE: With virtual reality (VR) goggles, headphones and computers attached to stationary bicycle set-ups, Pure Fitness’ Innovation Lab corner at its Ngee Ann City branch would not look out of place in a video games arcade.
Their Life Fitness-brand stationary bikes feature VirZOOM technology – a VR-based experience that transports the gym-goer to a digital world as they pedal away in real-life.
As users pedal, they achieve objectives such as operating race cars and riding on horseback within a virtual game world. With an interface that can be likened to racing-based computer games, pedal speed, resistance buttons and heart rate monitoring are all incorporated into the VR experience.
Its aim? To fuel the motivation of these stationary bike riders and allow them to break their own physical limits they otherwise would not have broken in a real-life setting, through VR-based in-game imagery.
“It is very well-received back in Hong Kong, where people are literally lining up to use it,” said John Leung, digital marketing manager for Pure Fitness. “We’ve had to limit the play time to 15 minutes per session.”
“After they’ve used the bike, they’d then leave feedback after their respective sessions. About 80 per cent gave a positive response to their experience and so we decided that it was something we wanted to keep,” said Leung, who is part of the gym’s Hong Kong operations.
“We then decided to try it out at a new market in Singapore.”
MORE THAN A GIMMICK?
Pure Fitness’ Leung insists the bikes’ incorporation of VR technology is well thought-out. He further explained how the VR bikes work at the Innovation Lab. “It uses a professional exercise bike for a genuine workout, but because you’re in this immersive world, you forget that you’re working out. You’d be cycling more than what you normally would,” said Leung.
“It’s not gimmicky because it really is attracting more people to do work-outs,” he insisted. “You’d workout longer than you’d normally would. For someone who hasn’t really cycled, he’d now be somewhat interested in cycling.”
“Especially for those who are in front of their computers all the time – they’d definitely want to try this out. It’ll also likely appeal to the tech-savvy millennials too,” said Leung, who is convinced by the system’s Return of Investment (ROI) in attracting gym-goers.
But can the average gym-goer be motivated to work out with such new-fangled technological tools?
RISE OF TECHNOLOGY
As technology increasingly becomes intertwined with exercise, gym trainer Henrik Olofsson believes modern gym-going has moved beyond just dumbbells and treadmills.
“Since we live in a fast-paced era that is obsessed with technology, convenience and the “next big thing” is just natural to see in fitness,” said Olofsson, who is the head of fitness at TripleFit.
“The demand and supply of VR and other fitness tech-related products is becoming more and more common,” he observed.
“However, the fitness industry is quite behind in tech compared to others, and I predict that we will continue to see rapid change in how gyms operate, offer and run the business,” added Olofsson.
Whether or not gym-goers buy into the idea of fanciful exercise methods very much depends on the individual, said the TripleFit instructor. “For the vast majority who aren't necessarily an avid or passionate gym goer, something shiny and new that looks fun and interesting will always be a drawcard,” said Olofsson.
“For gym owners the question is always: Is this product/gimmick worth the space and the investment?
“Will it be used once and then never again? What is the return on investment?”
ATTRACTING PEOPLE TO WORKOUT
Like most major gym chains in Singapore, mega-gym Fitness First is also on the technological bandwagon with its mobile CustomFit app for its gym members.
Key features include an individualised progress log, a dashboard to view training progress as well as an exercise library of around 800 exercises for users to choose from. The app also features video demos and step-by-step instructions to help guide gym-goers perform their chosen workouts.
Technology, however, is just one of the many ways Fitness First tries to keep things interesting for its members.
Its innovative exercise programmes like Dynamic Movement Training (DMT) and Freestyle Group Training (FGT) classes are what the gym banks on, to make workouts fun and less routine. There is also a "Hero" class, where members utilise dummy doll sandbags to perform workouts inspired by “movement patterns and physical rigour of executing search and rescue operations.”
According to Fitness First, such innovations are important in retaining the interest of its gym-going membership. “Increasingly, consumers understand that the key to keeping to a healthy and complete fitness regime relies on emphasizing movement as a foundation,” said Nuno Fidalgo, fitness training manager at Fitness First Singapore.
“While weights and treadmills are gym staples, many people are keen to explore different exercise formats to introduce variety to their routines to stay motivated,” he said. “Recent research has also shown that a movement-based approach delivers more benefits than traditional bodybuilding science.”
Fidalgo insists, their exercise innovations are not gimmicks, but rather workouts that are grounded in exercise science. “Fitness First’s latest exercise formats - including our signature FGT classes - are built on dynamic movement training principles and the latest research on exercise science and functional anatomy,” he said.
DO EXERCISE INNOVATIONS WORK?
Technological or otherwise, TripleFit Gym trainer Olofsson believes that as long as the body keeps moving and at a high-intensity, exercise innovations do serve its function of helping gym-goers become fitter.
“It’s important to understand that the body doesn’t know the difference between the tools you are using to get fit … it only responds to stimuli when one is training,” he said.
“Whether that stimulus comes from a S$4000 vibrating weight plate, a VR boxing match, a run in MacRitchie or by lifting a barbell, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the intensity, the frequency and the duration,” added Olofsson.
“If you enjoy what you do and if it’s easy, convenient and hassle-free, chances are you will do it more often. If your training makes you nauseous and dizzy, it’s not going to be a long workout.
“In summary, exercising, burning calories and trying to get fit doesn’t have to be complicated and it’s very logical. But if fitness (innovations) can help to get more people off the couch and start moving, it's a positive thing after all,” he said.