ONAside from very short, very intense love affairs with Dance Dance Revolution and The Sims (yes, I can still remember the five best cheat codes), I wouldn’t call myself a “gamer”. But when my partner brought one home recently Nintendo Switch ($ 80) and a fitness game called “Ring Fit Adventure”, I was intrigued. After practicing at home for almost a year, I was looking for something that would give me the same level of excitement (and motivation) that I got from IRL courses. Could fitness video games be the solution I needed to get myself out of my pandemic exercise slide? I quickly found out that the answer was a resounding “yes”.
Video game-based exercises (or “gamercise” for newbies) are a form of fitness technology that combines physical training with virtual worlds. Think: you are crouching next to kites or spinning through a digitized version of Central Park. Unlike many of the workouts I’ve tried while quarantined, tracking your steps or monitoring your heart rate isn’t another tedious way. Instead, it’s good, sweaty fun that offers a much-needed dose of alternate reality and a pass to another time and place where many of us haven’t been able to leave our neighborhood for almost a year.
While a new gaming system can be expensive upfront (the Nintendo Switch costs a cool $ 80), it’s likely below the price of that monthly studio membership – and cheaper than the latest stationary bike. Most importantly, it may just be the lack of connection to the endorphin-fueled joy and transportation power that you got from your favorite class.
To see which fitness video games are worth the hype (and price), I tested four virtual workout experiences. The biggest takeaway? You can get so lost in the game that you barely notice that you are sweating.
When you are ready to suspend reality for your workout: Ring Fit Adventure on Nintendo Switch$ 80
The Ring Fit Adventure is like a Wii Fit (aka the original video game workout) that took a level or two to complete. It’s wonderfully funny too. The condition? You have been accused of defeating a buff and powerful dragon named Dragaux, and the only way to live up to its power is to get yourself fit. There are no swords or arrows in your arsenal – just squats and bicep curls. On your way, you will encounter the dragon’s equally torn cronies who want to fight against you and your magic Pilates rings.
Once you’ve set up your Switch, attach one of the two controllers (called a Joy-Con) to your left thigh and attach the other directly to the “Ring-Con,” a Pilates ring that is used for dynamic movements. You will raise, lower, pull apart, and squeeze your ring as you run, jump, and step up. It sounds like a lot – and it is! But it’s fun. By incorporating repetitive movements and bodyweight exercises into one awesome quest, Ring Fit Adventure completely led me to believe that 22 back-to-back squats are actually fun – and that holding a chair posture is an effective way to defeat a mini monster. I also sweated after 15 minutes.
Shopping now: Ring Fit Adventure on Nintendo Switch$ 80
If you are looking for adventure from home: Zwift15 USD / month
This app rotates every at home spin bike into a virtual game console that can mentally transport you far away from your living room gym. Thanks to the rides integrated in videos, I drove along the California coast, which was the closest thing to vacation to me all year round. Zwift was originally designed to help serious cyclists who typically do indoor training in the colder months. Thanks to his playful experience, spinning has made spinning fun for people at all levels. After choosing an avatar, you can hit the (virtual) street and meet five thousand other drivers around the world.
You can choose an online event to attend (maybe a race on the Champs-Élysées?), Or wander through the cyber world of Wattopia, created by Zwift. While I’m not particularly competitive by nature, training with Zwift has made me push myself harder and faster as the game kept reminding me to fill the gap between myself and other riders. Within minutes, I was getting PRs that I didn’t even know I was working towards and the only thing that mattered was running across the finish line. You can download Zwift onto a phone or tablet and pair it with any bike you want to invest in. The ability to drive through Central Park in the early morning (at least via my screen) is a magical way to start the day – not to mention a pretty solid workout.
Shopping now: Zwift ($ 15 / month)
If you used to dominate dance, then Dance Revolution: Zumba Burn It Up for Nintendo Switch$ 34
While I am no stranger to dancing to The Strokes in my kitchen, I still have to attend an IRL Zumba class for fear of public embarrassment. I’m a lot more comfortable with the idea of shaking it out in the privacy of my home. Before trying Zumba Burn It Up, I was rightly concerned that I couldn’t keep up with the beat. My fear of humiliation went straight out the window as soon as I started moving my feet. The program is easy to follow (even for newbies like me) and allows you to choose your class length for 15, 30, 45 minutes and the intensity.
It features legends from the Zumba world – including Modality’s founder, Beto Perez – as well as high-dance tracks from Cardi B, Ciara, and Bad Bunny. Thanks to the cardio-heavy nature of the workout, I was definitely breathing hard after my first few songs. But what I loved the most was that there is no on-screen calorie counter or step tracker (although there is an option to include them if you wish) – just the instructors dance it out. Playing the game really makes you feel like you are at a dance party and can get into the Zumba zone without worrying about achieving exercise goals.
If your podcast queue is filled with murder secrets: The walk$ 6 per month
Your outdoor walks will be much more interesting thanks to The Walk, a story-focused app that puts you in the middle of a crime thriller. The condition? A train station has been bombed and you are a random agent in charge of saving the world (everything is in your hands – or your feet, so to speak). As you walk, the steps you log into your own neighborhood correlate with a virtual map of Inverness, Scotland with clues and collectibles along the way. To complete your mission you will need to cover the entire UK area effectively (around 500 miles, or 800 kilometers if you count).
And you are – think of the game as an extremely engaging pedometer. As you lead your daily civil life, take your puppy for a walk, get the mail, or walk down the block to take away, the app will run in the background, tracking your steps. When you hit certain benchmarks, you can play episodic sections of the story as they do in the virtual world – the one where you are, of course, the only person who can save humanity – and the only way to find out what happens next it continues. The game, which was developed in collaboration with the UK’s National Health Service, also uses “adaptive fitness technology”. This means it can shorten or lengthen the time it takes to complete a full episode based on your daily activity level. The Walk completely knocked me out of my head in the best possible way – and it made me even more certain that some of my neighbors were involved in an international spy ring.
Shopping now: The walk$ 6 per month
For a fun workout that doesn’t require a console, follow the video below.
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