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VR is finding uses in everything from art and design to training, research, and entertainment. An unexpected byproduct of VR’s immersion is its ability to flip the notion of in-home entertainment being necessarily sedentary. With the right games and techniques, VR can be in fact be an excellent workout. Here we’re sharing a VR workout routine that’s designed to be as fun as it is physical and comprised of games compatible with all major headsets.
Yes, there are dedicated VR apps specifically designed for fitness. But if you’re anything like me, the biggest challenge is not the ability to exercise, but maintaining consistent motivation. Luckily it’s easy to get yourself to workout if it’s a byproduct of something inherently fun—the difference between lifting weights vs. playing a sport.
So I’ve put together for myself a three-game VR workout routine in which none of the games are explicitly made for fitness (which means they focus first and foremost on fun), but combined with the right settings and technique can be a solid workout; here’s my FitBit tracked stats after a session.
Of course, what you get out of any workout depends on what you put in. Yes, you could play these games without putting in nearly this much effort, but I was playing for both fun and fitness, so I really put myself into my movements. I’ll explain below what kind of techniques will help you put the most into—and get the most out of—each game.
Since not all of these games are available on all VR platforms (we’ll note where you can find them), you can make up your own combination of games and time spent.
Grab a big cup of water (you will need it for breaks) and strap that headset on tight—here’s the rundown:
Arms: 1 Hour – Beat Saber
$30 – Available on Quest, Oculus PC, SteamVR, PSVR
Beat Saber is a rhythm game that emphasises motion over timing. With a growing set of built-in tracks with polished beatmaps, it’s easy and fun to play, and very engaging trying to work your way up from Easy to Expert+ difficulty levels. Tracks vary in intensity, even at the same difficulty level; you’ll start to get a feel for which ones demand the most effort. [Read Our Beat Saber Review]
Play at the highest difficulty level that you’re comfortable with. Expert+ will of course be the most physical, and you should ideally build your way up to that, but even playing on Hard or Expert, the right technique will get your blood pumping. I highly suggest playing with ‘No Fail’ enabled; this will let you focus on fitness and flow rather than getting interrupted by failing a song.
The key is big swings. Keep your feet planted; focus less on your wrists and more on moving your arms. I find that the best way to have fun while putting in effort is to try to swing at each block with as much force as I can while still managing to reach the next block in time. The key is to smoothly move your swings from one block to the next; this makes a fun challenge where you need to strategize your movements to consider how to most efficiently move from one swing to the next even while making big, hard swings. When you really get into the zone you should feel that satisfying flow state that will carry you through.
You’ll want to take off the headset for a five minute cooldown and water break when you find yourself really out of breath. See if you can build yourself up to completing one entire ‘album’ before taking your break (albums have different lengths, so choose wisely).
Legs: 30 Minutes – Pistol Whip
$30 – Available on Quest, Oculus PC, SteamVR, PSVR
Pistol Whip is a rhythm shooter focused on flow and target management rather than aiming precision. Enemies appear as you move forward through the level and it’s your job to dispatch them while also dodging their incoming fire. It might not look it at first glance, but because of the way you need to move to dodge incoming fire Pistol Whip can be a great leg workout, making it a perfect complement to Beat Saber. [Read our Pistol Whip Review]
Similar to Beat Saber, I highly recommend playing at the highest level you can and with ‘No Fail’ enabled; this will ensure you don’t get interrupted or frustrated by failing a level. Higher difficulty requires more movement and will provide a better workout. I also highly recommend the ‘Dual Wield’ mode, which will put a gun in each of your hands instead of just one. With two guns it’s easier to find that satisfying flow state that will keep you going.
The key for a good Pistol Whip workout is to keep your feet planted as often as possible. From here you’ll need to move your upper body around to dodge incoming fire as you return fire to kill enemies. Moving in this way will make great use of your legs. Don’t be afraid to get down real low to dodge—not only is it an effective technique for dodging, it’s also going to get those leg muscles flexing.
Listen to the music and keep your body moving to the beat. Combining your shooting and dodging into a continuous flowing motion is the key to fun and fitness in this game.
Cooldown: 30 Minutes – Until You Fall
$25 – Available on Quest, Oculus PC, SteamVR, PSVR
Until You Fall is a rogue-lite melee combat game in which you battle as far as you can until you inevitably perish. With each run you’ll earn money which can be used to buy and upgrade weapons to make you stronger for your next bout. Being a successful knight requires patience and strategy, making this a great cooldown game because you can flex your brain while your muscles wind down. [Read Our Until You Fall Review]
Just like Beat Saber the key here is to make big swings. This isn’t just for your workout though, bigger swings in Until You Fall mean more damage dealt to enemies, so you’re killing two birds with one stone.
In the game you can choose from a handful of weapons to hold in each hand. If you pick one of the ‘talisman’ items (which give stat boosts but cannot block or attack), you’ll be able to concentrate all of your physical effort into one arm. Try alternating the talisman into your opposite hand each time you die, this will force you to train up the coordination and muscle memory in your non-dominant hand which will help you in the game later if you switch back to using a weapon in each hand.
The above is just a rough suggestion, modify the times to whatever feels suitable for you. If you want even more workout for your time, consider adding 10 crunches each time you have to take your headset off for a drink of water. In Until You Fall, consider adding your own fitness ‘penalty’ for dying (like 10 jumping jacks) to raise the stakes and make you fight harder to survive!
Don’t let your headset turn into a gnarly mess! After a good session you should definitely remove the headset’s face foam and give it a good squeeze down with a damp paper towel in hand, followed by a dry paper towel for any remaining moisture. Feel around the headset’s other straps to see if they need also need a wipe down. Your controllers may need some attention too.
Got suggestions for other great VR games which offer both fun and fitness? Drop them in the comments below!
Update (December 10th, 2021): Since originally publishing this article, all three games have become widely available on all major headsets! We’ve updated the article with the price of each game and links to each major platform, as well freshened up some links with our latest reviews.
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