In a VR headset, hand controllers appear as bats to strike oncoming targets (color coded). The cones indicate the direction the bats should swing (striking through the tip makes the target explode).
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY SUPERNATURAL
It should surprise no one that exercise-equipment makers have found a way to capitalize on 21st century technology. They offer streaming and on-demand classes with trainers urging you to push yourself beyond what you might do if left on your own. Peloton already had a large slice of the market for stationary bikes when it introduced interactive classes at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2018. That same year, “smart” mirrors with motion-sensing technology and feedback entered the home-workout market. Mirror, Tempo, and Tonal are prime examples, the latter claiming its users include LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Michelle Wie.
Technology also has spawned exercise in virtual-reality environments — from the comfort of your home. People with Oculus headsets can download apps that turn hand controllers into lasers, boxing gloves, and bats to strike and dodge oncoming targets and obstacles.
Launched in April 2020, Supernatural is a subscription-based app that turns a full-body workout into a game. Surrounded by “real” and imaginary outdoor settings, the user stands on a virtual-reality mat, striking oncoming targets with their VR bats or boxing gloves and squatting or leaning as directed by triangles and bars. Offered fresh daily and archived for later selection, sessions are divided into songs with voiceover coaching/encouragement.
Leanne Pedante, Supernatural’s head of fitness, points out that the combination of coaching, music, and scenery can’t be found in typical exercise sources like gyms and hiking. But the “magic formula,” she says, goes beyond that.
“It is so immersive that you have no option but to be really present. You’re not on a treadmill watching television or checking email. You can’t multitask. That is a mental-health benefit.” (Supernatural’s repertoire also includes meditation and stretching sessions.)
“We consider it our job to make movement as fun for as many people as possible,” Pedante adds. “Flow” and boxing are offered in a range of low- to pro-level intensity set to music genres from classical to hard rock.
“There is not one type of person that this type of workout is for,” Pedante says, noting that Supernatural’s Facebook community spans some six decades of age. “It’s great to see people redefine what they think is possible for them. I have never seen anywhere on the internet where people are so kind and supportive.”
Another app, FitXR, includes boxing, dance, and HIIT (high intensity interval training) options. Like Supernatural, routines of different intensities are set to music with voiceover encouragement in faux environments.
Home workouts may pose a challenge for those lacking self-motivation, but the technological capabilities to bring a virtual coach into the equation can make a difference.
In All Confidence
“What’s up, athlete?”
I was nursing a back strain in June 2020, but Supernatural coach Leanne Pedante’s virtual-reality greeting suggested I could be athletic. In committing to a daily session with VR technology, I gained confidence as I began attacking higher-intensity workouts with precision. The sense of accomplishment became addictive. The mix of music, scenery ranging from icebergs to a bubbling volcano, ever-inventive choreography, a team of alternating coaches, a range of time and intensity, and new workouts added daily keep my regimen fresh. This spring, I reached my 1,000th session (the Supernatural app stores my personal data, including my scores on each workout).
For years, I have done cardio exercise and yoga daily. But it was when I expanded my fitness routine to gym- and VR-coached workouts that I considered myself an athlete.
So, what’s up? My confidence. — J.K.