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I listed to see if virtual reality games can give you a good workout, and you heard about it last week a couple of my favorites. After venturing my way through the virtual world, I came back to you with opinions.

How do VR games compare to actual workouts?

The ultimate question I tried to answer while clapping my hands clumsily for several hours was, are these games really good workouts? With so many different games and so many possible definitions of “good workout” it’s not an easy question – but I think I’ve mapped out the answers a bit.

The Whacking Things games are good for light cardio.

Maybe even medium cardio. While the squats are incredibly boring and annoying, they bring more of your body into the workout and help increase your heart rate. I tried doing a couple of songs in Supernatural with weights on my wrists (Bala bangles special). While they definitely made my arms more tired, I don’t think this really makes the workout any better.

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Two heart rate graphs: fitness gaming, left, at 71-168bpm for 41 minutes.  Run on the right side, 115-165 bpm for 37 minutes.  Running is much more intense.

Graphic: Beth Skwarecki

The graphs above show my heart rate during a light jog (the “Running” graph) and a couple of songs by Supernatural (which is labeled “Fitness-Gaming”). I felt like I was working hard in Supernatural; I couldn’t really have worked harder if I hadn’t practiced enough to be able to tackle tougher levels that prompt me to move faster.

The color-coded zones clearly show that these two are not equivalent cardio types. Supernatural had mostly moved me in the low intensity zone, roughly what I would expect from running. It only got into the medium intensity zone occasionally, while even an easy run there keeps me pretty solid.

Thrill of battle (unique in its category I think) can reach this high intensity cardio zone.

Between the adrenaline and the constant beating, I was absolutely redlining. You can see from the graph that I quickly ascended to the high intensity heart rate zone and stayed there for each round of a fight. Love HIIT? This will hit the point.

Heart rate chart labeled with

Graphic: Beth Skwarecki

Games that involve you with the bike would be pretty great if you want to spend a lot of time on the bike.

My verdict here isn’t the best as I haven’t tried them on a bike. But if I had to choose between staring at my garage wall during a long drive or staring at the slightly blurry streets of Paris, I’d probably go for Paris. Is blurry Paris superior to a peppy peloton instructor? I’m not sure about this. If you like your peloton, you should probably keep your peloton. But if you want to take a long drive and let your mind wander, blurry Paris might be just the ticket.

Heart rate graphs: Holofit and Synth riders keep me in the low intensity zone;  supernatural peaks in the medium;  Gun whip arrives there too, ping-pong is again of low intensity.

Graphic: Beth Skwarecki

The graphic above shows a selection of games. Holofit, the one where you ride a bike (or in my case pump your arms and pretend you’re jogging in place), provided a low-intensity workout, like a brisk walk. Synth Riders (similar to Beat Saber) was similar. Supernatural put me in the middle zone, Pistol Whip probably would have put me in the middle zone if I hadn’t been shot all the time (I’m bad at this game), and Eleven Table Tennis was predictably cool.

How to use Oculus Move to track your minutes of exercise

Oculus has a framework called Move that can keep track of your minutes of active play and it even requires an attempt to guess how many calories you burned. (As with other fitness trackers and devices, I wouldn’t expect the calorie counts to be accurate, but you can use them to gauge how intense a workout was.)

Unfortunately, the move minutes and calories aren’t syncing with other apps like Apple Health. The Move data stays on your headset itself, and you can check your daily numbers by looking it up during a game.

Some apps have their own methods of tracking your work. Supernatural can track your heart rate through a device like an Apple Watch as long as you have the Supernatural app open on your phone while playing a game. (Yes, these are three devices that you use at the same time: the VR headset, the phone, and the watch.)

To be honest, I didn’t find any of this useful. Tracking a “different” workout on the Apple Watch made more sense as it was synchronized with my other fitness tracking apps.

What is missing

VR fitness is not a solution to all of your fitness needs. Most importantly, there is nothing here that will strengthen your muscles in a progressive way. you need that to get stronger. In Supernatural, if you get sore muscles from doing a lot of squats, you may feel like you’ve had a killer workout, but sore muscles are not an indicator of progress, and those sore muscles will go away in a matter of weeks anyway.

If you already have a different type of strength training and are just looking for a light cardio workout, VR can provide it. Half an hour of a whacking things game every day goes well with this Cardio part of US exercise guidelineseven if you take the weekend off.

What is still missing: a reason to do it every day. Sure, these games are fun, but are they more fun than going for a jog in the park with your running partner or showing up to a cycling class where you can borrow the instructor’s enthusiasm and motivation for an hour?

Supernatural, the most fitness-focused of all the games I’ve played, keeps encouraging me to set myself weekly goals and keep a streak going. But to really incorporate this device into your fitness routine, you apparently need motivation outside of the virtual world. Recording the time in the headset can be a thing you do for your own health or fitness goals, much like recording kilometers in your running shoes. But don’t expect the games themselves to keep you coming back. There are no addicting storylines or intriguing puzzles.

And the games that feel the most game-like are the ones that don’t work as well as a workout. Every time I die in Pistol Whip I just resent that I have to start over; I would like to get through the level, please. (That’s why I prefer Supernatural’s continuation-no-matter mechanic.) But if you like these games enough to keep playing them, and if you’re sure you won’t forget that there are even fitness apps out there, then by all means, get one and enjoy.