The Metaverse Might Be Your Next Gym

I saw the future of fitness, and it was walking on the moon.

Well, more precisely a light jog. On a Tuesday afternoon in November, I watched Sid Raman, the founder of gym startup Roam149, jog where no man had run before—the surface of the moon. craggy. A treadmill under his sneakers rocked up and down to match the rough slope of the terrain, displayed on the large TV screen in front of him.

Raman used hand movements unlike bicycle cues to accelerate and decelerate the treadmill—the same arm movements changed his view of the screen, allowing him to She explored the moon mostly while running in place. At the right angle, you can see the arc of a giant blue sphere—Earth—glow in the distance.

It was serene and utterly eerie, and unlike any running exercise I had ever seen.

An avid trail running enthusiast, Raman started working on Roam149 in 2020 and since then it has been a passion project that dominates his waking hours. He patent holder on two components of the company’s on-screen treadmill exercise “group”: the unique treadmill tilts on a central fulcrum, and the software behind the onscreen environment. Outside Roam149’s concept gym in Chelsea, a street sign urges passersby to experience a “VR Workout” that includes urban hiking, marathon training and, of course, run on the moon. “Enter the Metaverse!” website claims.

A sign outside Roam149 advertises pod and VR workouts in virtual environments including the lunar surface.

A sign outside Roam149 advertises pod and VR workouts in virtual environments including the lunar surface.

Maddie Bender

Whether groups “count” are part of the metaverse is a question of semantics for Raman. Critics, even his own engineers have criticized him, “There is no Oculus Rift here. This may be mixed reality, but it’s not VR.”

“Right now, the metaverse is like the Wild West,” Raman told The Daily Beast. “You ask for a piece of land, you put a fence around it, and you call it whatever you want. So we are the ‘metaverse gym’ and I’m proud to say that we can have a concept that really merges with the meaning of the metaverse.

Raman isn’t alone in trying to bring fit to the super universe — a compound word for “meta” and “universe” that basically means whatever you want but Mark Zuckerberg and others in The technology sector is aggressively marketing as a digital virtual space. world and social interactions. Finally, fitness companies testing is starting with virtual and augmented reality, driven in part by Changing consumer behavior during the pandemic. On the other hand, digital game companies are expanding into the health and fitness sector, with big ideas for a fitness metaverse is connected with each other (regarding the NFT, because of course it does).

It’s too early to tell if there’s enough consumer demand for these technologies to support the entire digital ecosystem—not to mention questions about investor interest and funding. advertisement. But if Roam149 is any indication, fitness metadata could attract new users and make the fitness experience more accessible and engaging.

Raman is betting on that future—literally. He launched Roam149 with his own savings.

“So far, it has been self-funded. Extremely smart or extremely stupid—time will tell,” he said with a grin.

If Roam149 is any indication, fitness metadata can attract new users and make the exercise experience more accessible and engaging.

To date, Lisa Edwards has led companies through some of the fundamental transformations of the tech industry. After studying computer science and computer information systems at Arizona State University in the late 1990s, she worked on a team at Motorola tasked with bringing viewable content to mobile phones.

“People thought our team was a little crazy—they thought people would never watch movies on their phones,” she told The Daily Beast. The Motorola team was laid off before iTunes launched to make it easier to download media and better mobile hardware that you can watch on the go. But Edwards has continued to work in the emerging technology sector ever since.

Now, as director of digital innovation for Les Mills International, a New Zealand-based fitness company, she’s helped create a VR boxing app that launched in February for Meta Quest 2.

Connecting the inhabited world Les Mills—live and on-demand fitness classes—with metaverse and VR technology is an opportunity for the company to reach customers looking for a new way of exercising and become a early adopters of a new field, says Edwards. “Fitness in virtual reality has been done on a lightweight scale, but game companies have always tried their hand at fitness, never has a fitness company partnered with someone who knows how to build build VR games,” she said.

Gymnastics games have been a successful feature of the game console since 2009’s Wii Fit, one of the best-selling video games of all time. However, the yoga, strength training, balance and aerobics exercises in the Wii Fit are no substitute for a traditional workout. Many analyzes have shown that the player’s heart rate does not climb as high as recommended for cardiovascular exercise, nor any exercise that can be considered high-intensity activity.

In contrast, Les Mills’ BODYCOMBAT VR app is designed to mimic a workout first, then games and scores are added later, Edwards said. This means the user must perform a combination of punches and squats to complete the levels, although a precise punch can yield more points than a well-timed squat.

“We created our workouts in a very similar way to what we do offline, so it’s not just a matter of what will get you the most points if you hit the hardest, but also is what will actually make you stronger, stronger and give you a full-body workout,” she says.

The development team needed to tweak a few features that would work well in the offline experience, such as creating new punching styles to reduce monotony and eliminate jumping during workouts. So far, the app seems to have been commercially successful: The company claims to have tens of thousands of monthly active users, and BODYCOMBAT launched on its second VR headset platform last month.

What’s most surprising from Edwards’ point of view is that the app’s user base isn’t just exclusive to gamers and diehard Les Mills fans, although it has plenty of both. Some BODYCOMBAT downloaders bought a VR headset for their kids, co-opting the device after they realized they could use it for home workouts.

“I thought that some Les Mills audiences would be out of reach due to the hassle of buying headphones, but when they already had it in their house because they were teenagers, suddenly all they had to do was buy games,” Edwards said.

Obviously, the company has no intention of fully switching to the metaverse. Instead, just like hybrid workplaces that allow employees to work from home on some days and go to the office on other days, Edwards says Les Mills wants to meet consumers where they are. Gym goers want fitness at their fingertips, but they also crave connection and in-person coaching—and right now, there’s no one solution that can satisfy both of these desires.

You’d be sorely mistaken to think that I would be content to watch Raman experiment with his patented treadmill without trying it myself. After I was “boarded” into a group and shown the controls, I experimented with walking and running through a variety of virtual environments—outdoor running tracks, woods, and grassland trails. The treadmill inclines and decelerates faster than any treadmill I’ve tried, and I was advised not to let myself drift too far back, or the center fulcrum could tip me to extremes. Each environment has its unique and adjustable ups and downs—the moonscape, Raman says proudly, makes the treadmill “dance like a bucking bronco.”

Outside, I’m working my legs and core in what feels like a combination of treadmill, stair climber and BOSU ball; On the inside, it also feels different from a regular workout. I don’t feel immersed in a nature hike the way I do when I climb Everest in VRbut I also don’t do what I always do at the gym: check in.

Mirrors aren’t just an aesthetic wall for the gym—many forms of exercise, including weightlifting, yoga, and dance, require you to assess your body’s position and adjust it to avoid injury. . But for many exercisers, including University of British Columbia health and exercise science researcher Kathleen Martin Ginis, looking in the mirror can make them anxious.

Martin Ginis told The Daily Beast: “I work out in the gym and sit there on the bike, run or walk, I just stare at myself. “I realized that the longer I stayed on the treadmill, the more critical I became of myself.”

In 2003, Martin Ginis took the lead a background study tied the presence of a mirror during physical activity with 58 women’s feelings about their bodies. Participants exercised for 20 minutes while sitting in front of a mirror or wall. Martin Ginis and her co-authors found that regardless of women’s initial level of concern about body image, those who exercised in front of a mirror felt worse about themselves than those who exercised in front of a mirror. for those who don’t exercise.

In VR, where you might be represented by an avatar, or in a group of metaverse treadmills, users may not be able to aggressively correct the flaws they perceive.

“Given what we know about exercise gamification and distraction and how that affects people’s responses to exercise, this could be a real thing,” says Ginis. positive for a segment of the population.

However, more work needs to be done to realize these benefits fairly—owning headphones or paying for a gym membership requires not only spendable income, but also leisure time.

Raman, unsurprisingly, has plenty of ideas on how to expand the reach of the fitness metaverse. He’s working on tailoring the group experience for wheelchair users and even showed me a prototype of a starter device that allows users to walk through a virtual supermarket. One day, he envisions it could function like a physical store, so people won’t have to choose between grocery shopping and going to the gym.

A prototype of the virtual supermarket environment.

A prototype of the virtual supermarket environment.

Maddie Bender

I don’t know if that vision is more like dark science fiction than a benevolent prediction of the future, and neither does Raman. The legacy of Roam149 technology, he told me at the end of my visit, will depend on how and whether people use it.

“I am a technology enthusiast. I threw everything against the wall – we’ll see what sticks.”

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