With more and more people surfing shopping and workingout using the internet virtual reality workouts are set to expand from consumer tech. into the real world. Global Virtual Reality headset sales are projected to nearly double by 2023, up from 52 million devices sold in 2019 to 100 million, according to a January 2019 report from market research firm Juniper Research. By 2023, the same report predicts that Virtual Reality game revenue could top $8 billion, rising from just over $1 billion in 2019.
While the general concept of Virtual Reality workouts is pretty much the same across all devices (put on your ski-goggles-like headset, enter a virtual scene and start sweating), there are two types of headsets that have very different price points. Cheaper options, like the Bnext ($39.95) or the Optoslon ($41.99), have built-in sensors that track your movements and are only compatible with smartphones. You open the app or game you’ve downloaded, pop your phone into a compartment in the headset with the screen facing you, lift the headset to your eyes and go.
More expensive setups, like the Oculus Quest (starting at $399) or PlayStation VR (starting at $199), require more computing power, so they connect to a PC or a gaming console. They typically deliver a more immersive, realistic-looking experience and may also come with additional gear, like handsets you hold while throwing punches, running mats that track your steps or remotes to select a new game while you’re already wearing your headset.
In the virtual world, there’s something for just about everyone: You can play tennis or golf or box against a virtual opponent, practice yoga, dance or even squeeze in a body-weight strength session with a game like Hot Squat, which challenges you to do as many squats as you can while ducking to navigate a series of virtual tunnels.
If you’d rather get your heart pumping with something closer to a traditional video game, there are plenty of creative options, including sword fighting with Blade and Sorcery and light saber-swinging with Beat Saber.
“Virtual Reality has the ability to essentially trick people into thinking that they aren’t working out,” Capritto says. “While some people love exercise for exercise itself, others abhor it and only do it for the health benefits, if they do it at all. Being able to insert yourself into a place you actually want to be and do an activity you actually want to do — say, in a dance studio or hiking in the Canadian Rockies — can be much more appealing than battling an overcrowded gym or going for a run on the same route you’ve been running for years.”
If you’re willing to burn a little cash up front, you’ll burn some legit calories, too. The Virtual Reality Institute of Health and Exercise (yep, it’s a thing) estimates many of these gamified workouts torch between 2 and 8 per minute — meaning you could burn just as many calories during half an hour of intense virtual sword fighting as you could on the elliptical.
And you might even feel better doing so: Cyclists in a small October 2019 study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise reported less leg pain during high-intensity pedaling sessions when viewing a changing cityscape using VR than when they biked while gazing at a static image.
“You can get an amazing workout, better than you might normally,” certified personal trainer SJ McShane tells LIVESTRONG.com, simply because a shiny new trend might get you more excited than normal to sweat. “You’re trying something new, you’re in an inspiring setting with the blink of an eye and you can have buddies join in with you.”
If you love trying the latest in fitness tech but at-home workouts make you lonely (“Some people are just much more effective and consistent with exercise when they are physically around the energy of other people,” Kalnes says), don’t fret: The country’s first-ever VR gyms welcomed clients in 2019. Black Box opened its doors in San Francisco in March and expanded to its second location in Boise, Idaho, in September. Sessions combine aspects of gaming with resistance training on a real-life cable and pulley system and high-intensity cardio for a fully immersive workout, according to the brand’s website.
As with most new technologies, Virtual Reality headsets and at-home workout devices can be expensive. There also isn’t a ton of research into the long-term effectiveness of Virtual Reality workouts yet, and if you get too sucked in to the Virtual Reality world, your regular workouts might lose some of their shine, McShane warns. That said, Virtual Reality can be a fun, immersive way to shake up and stick with your fitness routine, Capritto says — just make sure you give yourself and your flailing limbs plenty of space to move.