Companies and investors are betting millions of dollars that virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) technologies will improve consumers’ mental and physical health. Wearable devices, apps and VR/AR content are currently available for a variety of different workouts and guided meditations, and many more are in development. These platforms promise to be the next big thing in mind and body fitness, particularly for younger demographics. Many consumers are already hooked.
Advantages of VR and AR in Workouts
Wearable technologies were a game changer in the fitness industry, and for good reason: for the first time, fitness trackers could provide consumers real-time biometric and workout intensity data outside of the gym. Paired with personalized fitness platforms and content, wearable technologies have morphed into a real-time fitness coach that can provide guidance on form, progress and goal setting.
Many wearable technologies and fitness platforms currently provide consumers with sleep quality data, overall activity monitoring, workout distance and GPS tracking to provide customers with customized biometric, workout and wellness data. While some wearables can be used as a stand-alone device, most are designed to sync with an installed on a smartphone or computer to provide additional fitness insights, often with a monthly or yearly subscription fee.
An increasing number of innovative fitness platforms and gyms are leveraging augmented and virtual reality to entice and motivate consumers and increase the use of their products and services. Companies are particularly interested in developing workouts that are more personalized, unique and engaging.
AR and VR are well suited for the gamification of workouts, where consumers are immersed in an entirely new setting, like a tropical island or outer space, or in an augmented, gamified space similar to Pokemon GO. Content developers integrate captivating storylines, missions, communities, games and/or prizes in this three-dimensional (3D) metaverse that engage users and motivate them to exercise in new and exciting ways, improving fitness and engagement in the platform. And importantly, wearable and mobile technologies make it possible to work out anywhere and at any time.
On-Demand Workout Apps
On-demand workouts increased in popularity during the pandemic, and they aren’t going away anytime soon. While most on-demand workout apps don’t use AR or VR, they are available to users 24/7 and in any location.
- Peloton offers a popular app that provides a variety of on-demand workouts from different instructors with new content added regularly. Importantly, the app does not require the use of Peloton equipment.
- Alo Moves is a one-stop app for yoga, pilates, fitness, mindfulness and wellness classes taught by a variety of instructors. Classes can be downloaded for use in areas without a WiFi or mobile connection.
AR Fitness Apps
A variety of AR fitness apps are currently available to enhance user workouts and engage the consumer.
- Plaicise is a popular AR workout app that proudly brands itself as a fitness game. Users can increase the intensity of their workouts by leveling up and even play with friends.
- The Zombies, Run! and Marvel MOVE apps motivate users to run through apocalyptic zombie storylines and Marvel-character driven missions, respectfully. New content is released weekly or monthly. Workouts are personalized and tracked through the user’s mobile device.
- The Dustland Runner and Dustland Rider (for bikers) apps reward users after completing missions in the post-apocalyptic Dustlands universe. Rewards include non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and DOSE tokens, the currency of the app. Distance is tracked through the user’s mobile device. Virtual race events are also offered.
AR Fitness Devices
AR fitness technologies extend beyond wearables and mobile fitness apps. The Echelon Reflect is a full-length mirror touchscreen that functions as a home gym with included fitness accessories. The Reflect is used in conjunction with live and on-demand workout classes.
VR promises a more immersive experience than AR, but the wearable technologies associated with VR platforms such as Meta and PlayStation are typically more cumbersome than current AR wearables, limiting their practicality. Despite this, VR workout games and gyms exist and will become more common as wearables shrink in size and weight.
- VR games like Supernatural, Tripp and Thrill of the Fight gamify workouts, keeping users focused and engaged. Importantly, some games are only designed for functionality with certain VR headsets.
- The brick-and-mortar gym Roam149 uses large screens to create an “extended reality” treadmill experience for its members without requiring a headset. Settings include the forest, parks, islands and even the lunar surface.
Virtual Personal Trainers
Thankfully, heavy VR headsets and wearables aren’t required for virtual personal training sessions. Many wellness platforms, like Flexit and Forge, offer their members the opportunity to meet one-on-one with their personal training staff to help customers achieve their fitness goals. As fitness platforms and biometric data collection become more comprehensive and personalized, many workout apps are provding real-time training advice to users without a human coach.
Wearable fitness technology has come a long way since the pedometer. Today, wearables are designed to collect a wide variety of biometric and/or location data in a device as small as a wristwatch. Most wearables currently come in the form of a watch or bracelet, but companies are finding new ways to integrate sensors into rings and even clothing.
- Apple, Fitbit, Samsung, Casio, Google and Garmin (among others) have all developed fitness watches that collect distance, GPS, heart rate, movement and other data. These watches send data to fitness apps that provide users workout insights and, in some cases, help them achieve their fitness goals.
- Oura has successfully designed an incredibly small fitness ring that measures body temperature, heart and breathing rate and sleep quality.
- The WHOOP strap is a screenless fitness wearable that is designed to be worn 24/7 when charged with a wireless battery pack. The company has also developed a clothing line that integrates the WHOOP 4.0 strap, theoretically allowing the device to collect data from the torso, waist or calf.
- The Form Smart swim goggles and Vuzix Smart Swim adapter allow swimmers to visualize real-time data and optimize training and performance. Both wearables pair with an app for data analysis and reporting. The Vuzix device offers a visually augmented reality experience to keep users engaged during workouts.
- Amazfit Powerbuds Pro are earbuds designed to collect heart rate data and include a posture monitor. The earbuds will update the user on distance and heart rate periodically or on demand.
- The Polar H10 chest strap reportedly measures heart rate better than other wearables. The device can be paired to fitness trackers using Bluetooth or ANT+.
AR/VR Meditation and Mindfulness Practices
While it may seem counterintuitive to some, AR and VR apps and wearables have been developed to reduce distractions and help users to relax more effectively. Some of the more comprehensive apps can integrate biometric data with platform content to customize relaxation programs.
- The Healium app is advertised as a mental fitness tool that uses biofeedback or neurofeedback to monitor stress and rewards the user as they train themselves to relax. The app is compatible with the Apple Watch, Brainlite Link EEG headband and VR goggles from Meta and Pico. Users are guided through a neuromeditation curriculum that can be more immersive that audio-only guided meditations, which may help consumers that have difficulty staying focused in other more traditional meditation practices.
- Visutate is another relaxation app that combines visualization and mindfulness to help users focus on a present immersive experience to lower stress levels. The platform serves as more of an immediate escape for its subscribers, rather than a training program or curriculum. The app is compatible with AR glasses, like Xreal, and with the Apple Vision Pro VR headset.
With all of the investment and new development occurring in wearable technologies and fitness apps, it’s clear that we’re only at the beginning of the metaverse fitness revolution. A 2023 research study indicated that 60% of consumers are already interested in using the metaverse for at-home workouts. New apps and devices will undoubtedly make workouts more engaging and personalized, providing consumers with surprisingly fun and entertaining new ways to achieve their fitness goals.