Virtual workouts have increased during the epidemic. Can the trend be sustained? : Shot

Linda Munson’s youngest grandson, Daniel Gomez, 2, tries to use an Oculus headset in his backyard in Berlin, Conn. Playing various virtual reality games has become his family’s regular Sunday activity, Munson said.

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Linda Munson’s youngest grandson, Daniel Gomez, 2, tries to use an Oculus headset in his backyard in Berlin, Conn. Playing various virtual reality games has become his family’s regular Sunday activity, Munson said.

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At the height of the epidemic, when going to the gym was not an option, millions of people began exploring virtual workouts from home for the first time. And many of them are now saying that they will not go back.

While this is clearly a boon for companies developing these systems, it has also helped people who do not feel comfortable in the gym or do not have time to go there.

Linda Munson, 56, who lives in Conan, Berlin, has been working at a desk from home since the initial Covid shutdown in 2020. “I was packing in pounds,” he admitted

Munson was never a gym person. “I’m very socially awkward. I’m anxious to go out. I’ll probably … walk to the gym and sign up for a membership and then not go,” she says.

Left: Linda Munson showed a picture of herself about a year ago. Right: Monsoon has lost about 50 pounds with a combination of healthy eating, walking and the supernatural virtual reality app.

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In 2021, he was hospitalized with Covid and was diagnosed with diabetes. When her doctor told her she needed to focus more on her health, she said she had tried before and couldn’t. “Well, we’ll just wait for your heart attack,” the doctor said.

It was his wake-up call. “I cried in the office,” Munson said, and then he promised to prove her wrong. He started walking and cut out junk food. One day, his son brings home a VR headset called Oculus Quest.

While messing with it, Munson discovers the popular fitness app Supernatural and he grabs it. Supernatural lets you box, swing your arms at targets, meditate or stretch with the coach in front of you and your ears while you go to popular music. You also stand in 3-D rendering of exotic locales like the moon or the rim of an Ethiopian volcano.

Linda Munson, 56, exercises after Oculus Quest in her living room. “It brought me from a low place to be energetic and happy and to feel good,” Munson said.

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Linda Munson, 56, exercises after Oculus Quest in her living room. “It brought me from a low place to be energetic and happy and to feel good,” Munson said.

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Linda Munson, 56, Supernatural, takes a deep breath after using a virtual reality fitness app. Munson said he, along with many other supernatural users, posted selfies on Facebook groups after the workout and cheered for each other in the comments.

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Linda Munson, 56, Supernatural, takes a deep breath after using a virtual reality fitness app. Munson said he, along with many other supernatural users, posted selfies on Facebook groups after the workout and cheered for each other in the comments.

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Currently, Supernatural subscriptions offer hundreds of workouts and cost $ 179 per year after a two-week free trial. The Oculus Quest headset requires $ 299 to access. A handful of other workout apps (FitXR, Holofit) made for VR headsets are a bit cheaper. In contrast, the average cost of a gym membership in 2021 was $ 507, according to an analysis by sneaker review site Run Repeat.

It’s worth it, Munson says. “When you finish one [workout]You’re tired, you’re sweating, but you think, ‘I can do one more thing.’ I’m at home, I can be weird, and that’s okay, ”she says.

Munson has lost about 50 pounds a year, has not taken diabetes medication and can now play with his seven active grandchildren.

Linda Monson, 56, jumps into a trampoline in her backyard with her grandchildren, Christopher Gomez, 8, (left) and Andrew Gomez, 11. “I have a lot of energy,” Munson said

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Linda Monson, 56, jumps into a trampoline in her backyard with her grandchildren, Christopher Gomez, 8, (left) and Andrew Gomez, 11. “I have a lot of energy,” Munson said

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Jessica Davis, a therapist at Barbank, California, has been working from home since the outbreak began. Davis regularly promotes the benefits of exercise on mental health, and he lives it too. He is a Peloton bike fan who did his 800th ride this year on his 40th birthday. Davis was a regular in spin class before COVID, but her husband bought her the bike at the beginning of the lockdown.

Peloton comes with an app subscription and a screen that lets you ride with thousands of others in a virtual spin class with a live coach, but also offers treadmill and other tool-free exercises. It is not as immersive as VR, but it has many similar components Full membership is currently $ 39 per month and the bike is about $ 2,000. You can find a used one at a lower price, and the company is starting a rental program.

“It was a source of comfort and relief [from pandemic stress,]”It saved my butt,” Davis said The bike is in his dining room and he uses it every day because he still works remotely “It gives me freedom with my schedule.”

Research shows that such flexibility is key to sticking to a workout routine.

Jessica Davis says that during the epidemic, Peloton was “a source of comfort and relief.” The bike is in his dining room and he uses it every day because he still works remotely

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Jessica Davis says that during the epidemic, Peloton was “a source of comfort and relief.” The bike is in his dining room and he uses it every day because he still works remotely

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Another important part of maintaining a routine is sharing joy and pain with others. While it may seem like people embracing the world of virtual exercise are working alone, many are making social connections on Peloton and Supernatural Facebook pages.

Some write about their brushes with cancer or depression, many post sweaty selfies and almost all comments are positive.

“It’s a place like no other on the Internet,” said Jean Gregg, 50, of Eugene O’Reilly. Greg is becoming a woman and returning to a fitness routine after a sedentary life of driving a commercial truck for many years. “I wrote about my journey [on the Supernatural page] And got nothing but full support, ”he says.

“You can go there and say something like, ‘I hit 100,000 points today’ and people will know what you’re talking about,” Munson said.

The companies that designed these fitness programs attracted millions of new members during COVID.

Jessica Davis shoes are made for wearing on a Peloton bike.

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Jessica Davis shoes are made for wearing on a Peloton bike.

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Tom Curtis, co-founder and chief product officer of Peloton, said the company reached the public with less than one million members in September 2019 and now has 6.6 million members. He credits their active member community as the main reason for the growth.

Chris Milk, co-founder of Supernatural, which launched at the very beginning of the US coveted lockdown in 2020, has a background in VR and film and has created videos for some high-profile stars. He says he was amazed and overwhelmed by the social engagement and emotional response of the supernatural community. “I’ve never had a comment like ‘This Kanye West video saved my life’ before,” Milk said.

So people will now practically keep working that the world is turning up again, and with that, exercise options?

Supernatural lets you box, swing your arms at targets, meditate or stretch with an instructor in front of you when you go to popular music.


Supernatural
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Milk says he encourages supernatural members and trainers to engage with each other on social media and is looking for new features like adding knee targets and the option to practice with other people in real time on your headset.

Peloton will also add new features, and wants to expand the video game space as it looks to keep users engaged and attract new ones in the future.

While VR once seemed to be designed for teenagers to play immersive video games, fitness apps seem to be the gateway to a wider (read: older, richer) audience that may not be comfortable in a traditional gym.

“If fitness rejects you, we welcome you,” Milk said.

Although gyms will probably always have dedicated members who like to flex, those who have noticed that they are not always fit there seem to be happy to be able to ride bikes, duck and box for fitness in their living room with little help from technology. .

April Fulton is a former NPR science desk editor living in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @Fulton is here.

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