The concept of sports technology reached a whole new level recently when the Nintendo Wii hit the market. Boasting a wireless motion-sensitive controller, Nintendo has created quite the hype among gamers and athletes alike.
With this new controller, gamers are able to play tennis, golf, bowling and other sports on their TV screen with real life motions. The Wii remote can sense movements in three dimensions as well as rotational movements (such as swinging a tennis racket). The games make you feel like you’re really playing sports because they require movement and physical activity.
When it comes to physical fitness, who would have thought that you could achieve peak performance from watching TV?
Forget about the gym. You can achieve peak performance from your living room couch.
That’s the theory behind a new generation of fitness video games that are transforming the way people get into shape. For years, it has been believed that the best way to work out was by lifting weights with a personal trainer, or going to a spinning class by yourself. But now, with the release of several new products on multiple gaming platforms, people are finding they can get into better shape in their own homes.
The games measure your heart rate, calories burned and even how much you sweat during your workout session—all while following along to an exercise routine on screen. The more intense you train, the higher your score will be at the end of each session. Even though you’re competing against no one but yourself, there is still a thrill in seeing if you can beat your high score from a previous exercise session.
The best way to understand the revolutionary impact of the TV fitness industry is to look at what came before.
In the early 1960s, exercise was something that housewives did on a weekday afternoon, while they were wearing high heels and holding a cigarette. Jack LaLanne was among the first to try to change this. He had opened his first gym in Oakland in 1936 and began doing a TV show there in 1951. But it took a long time for most of America to catch up with him.
When Jane Fonda started making exercise videos, workout classes were still a novelty and working out at home was something that few people did regularly. People who saw her classes on TV or in person didn’t realize how extraordinary they were; they just saw an aerobics class, not an aerobics class taught by someone who had taken two years off from acting and worked with professional trainers and technical experts to perfect every move and every word.
The idea that it might be possible to get fit without breaking out in a sweat seemed even more surprising than the idea of getting fit without leaving your living room.
How did we get it so wrong? How did we come to believe that physical fitness could be achieved without breaking a sweat?
That’s the question Colin Milner, CEO of the International Council on Active Aging, posed to the audience at TEDxLA, an independently run TED event. The fitness guru, who has written several books on aging and health, was there to announce a shift in the way we think about exercise. “Why is it that when it comes to sports tech, we’ve been focusing on what happens after the workout?” he asked. “I’m here to tell you that the future of sports tech is about what happens before.”
To illustrate his point, Milner explained how his own body has changed since he started using Fitlinxx.com, an online exercise coaching site that tracks your progress by connecting to wearable devices like heart rate monitors and activity trackers. “I’ve worked with other coaches before,” he said on stage. “With Fitlinxx, I’m working with multiple coaches every day.”
Milner told the audience that Fitlinxx has helped him achieve peak performance by providing constant feedback and encouragement: “If you don’t have a coach cheering you on, how can you know how well you’re doing?”
In the mid-1980s, Nintendo was a company on the verge of bankruptcy. With the market for its videogame consoles collapsing, the Japanese firm turned to an unlikely bestseller to pull it back from the edge: a set-top box that enabled people to play tennis, baseball and other sports at home. Nintendo’s “Family Computer” system, which became known as Famicom, went on to become one of the world’s most successful games consoles.
Nowadays Nintendo is facing another challenging period, and again it is turning to technology that brings sport into people’s homes. The company unveiled its latest device, called Wii Fit (“wee fit”), in America on Wednesday May 21st. When it is released in Japan and America next month it will be accompanied by an exercise mat and a software disk that contains dozens of virtual fitness games. One involves stepping on and off a balance board—a large digital weighing scale—while keeping your balance; another involves virtual skiing by moving your body from side to side as if you were slaloming down a slope. Some of the games are intended for groups of players and others for individuals.
The first thing that struck me about the Peloton bike was how beautiful it was. The iPad in the front faced you while you rode, and it played live classes from New York City. You could also stream classes on demand.
In the back of my head, I knew I wasn’t going to buy a Peloton bike. Not only did it cost $2,000 for the bike itself, but another $40 per month for their “membership” (which gives you access to their live and on-demand classes).
But, being that I’m a bit of a sucker for new technology, I couldn’t help but take a ride on one.
The class started and I immediately felt like someone had dropped me in a New York City spin class. The instructor was energetic, motivating, and helpful – making sure that we were all doing our best throughout the entire 45 minute class.
Afterwards, I found myself wanting to get back on the bike ASAP. But there was no way I was spending $2,000 on this when there are plenty of cheaper ways to get an amazing workout in my home gym.
“My eyes are bleeding,” my friend said, as I demonstrated how to play the video game Rock Band in my living room. I could understand his concern. The brightly colored game on the big-screen TV looked like it was melting, flickering and strobing as the notes came at us faster and faster.
But I was feeling good. An hour of playing bass made me feel like I had been to the gym. “I thought you were going to say, ‘My arms are bleeding,’ from playing guitar so much,” I said, laughing.
“No way,” he said, now standing up off the couch and grabbing his coat. “That’s just ridiculous.”
He wasn’t laughing. And he didn’t return for our next Rock Band session.