The Oculus Quest 2 is a surprisingly good exercise device. Just know its limits. (Start with Beat Saber.)
Scott Stein / CNET
I had a health kick once, but 2020 challenged my fitness plans. His at home for almost a year kind of means setting up a home fitness program. Apple launched its Watch-linked Fitness Plusand there are many Exercise bikes and pelotons. Nintendo has its Ring Fit Adventure. But for me, I wielded lightsabers and hit targets in VR.
The Oculus Quest has been a surprisingly powerful fitness machine since its inception, largely thanks to Beat Saber. Moving around in VR can feel like an escape to a completely different room. When used for fitness, it can inspire me to let go a little more, delve into the activity and, consequently, work harder.
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VR headsets seem inevitable for the next wave of fitness technology. VR fitness is already there in a way. People have found ways to lose weight using VR exercise programs. However, there are disadvantages: the device is not specifically designed for training. Headsets can work up a sweat, and most are not designed to breathe well while exercising. Sometimes my glasses fog up. If I don’t add a protective rubberized eye pillow, the foam padding will be drenched in sweat which is disgusting.
Facebook took a step late last year with an app called Oculus Move to bring VR further into the fitness zone. It tracks movements and estimated calories in VR apps and games. It’s like a system-wide fitness tracker. This type of app has been around a side loaded app called YUR, but Facebook made its own version. The concept shows how the fitness tracker technology on your smartwatch or Fitbit can make switching to headsets easier than you think.
In a way, the idea is already here without a headset. Apple’s Fitness Plus pairs with an Apple Watch and shows heads-up stats while exercising, but shows that heads-up information on a TV screen, iPhone, or iPad. Oculus Move pursues a similar idea and projects a heads-up display in VR that can hover over my head or on the floor.
The Oculus Move ring fill feels like an Apple Watch, but the metrics are different. Only two rings need to be filled: one for the total active minutes and one for the estimated calories. The Oculus Quest measures the movement of the headset and controller to calculate and estimate the numbers. It’s not perfect. Plus, there is a computation during every VR activity, which can get weird. My time with a casual platform game in VR like Moss kind of deserves a few active minutes – I guess because I’m moving. However, the ring makes more sense for consciously active fitness games and apps such as Beat Saber, Supernatural and FitXR.
What Oculus Move looks like when you play Beat Saber: The display hovers in the air (or at your feet).
Screenshot by Scott Stein / CNET
The Oculus Move tracking goal and dashboard are set up to show daily achievements just like the Apple Watch fitness app. And it works. It motivates me. I hit the road, trying to play long enough and exhausting myself to get those active minutes. The game becomes training.
If VR headsets were more fitness friendly and could pair with fitness trackers more automatically, they could potentially be the next big idea for home fitness equipment. I love using the Quest for exercise, but VR really isn’t optimized for fitness. It is possible to get injured by throwing your hand into a table (there are no live collision warnings) or you could hit your head with a controller (I’ve done that many times). The headset should also be lighter.
But I feel like I have now seen the future of my home gym. I do not want to go back.
9 Great Fitness Apps To Try Out An Oculus Quest
Hit saber:: The starting point and maybe your end point for fitness in VR. It’s music-rhythm-lightsaber-dancing and you have to try it. Not only is Beat Saber fantastic and perfectly tuned for lightning-fast reflexes, but it’s also where most of your VR friends are most likely to be playing. Leaderboards and high score challenges are great ways to set fitness goals. I keep exchanging high scores with my nephew and it’s exhausting. A multiplayer mode works for live two-player games too, and there are a solid number of DLC music packs to buy. The included game also has many tracks (by mostly unknown artists) to play with.
FitXR:: For a more fitness-oriented music rhythm experience while boxing, separate download packages are available for purchase and time-controlled workouts. There are also some in-game tracking metrics for estimated calorie consumption.
How it feels to do fitness in VR (of course you can’t see yourself).
Supernatural:: The most complex fitness experience on Oculus Quest feels like VR peloton, with holographic videos from real coaches walking you through routines (where you swipe on Beat Saber-like goals along with music). Supernatural couples with the Apple Watch showing heart rate and fitness stats. However, a monthly subscription fee is also required.
Gun whip:: A music rhythm shooter game that feels like The Matrix mixed with Dance Dance Revolution. A new update adds a story-based quest and there are plenty of levels for you to try. However, the level of activity is quite low.
Eleven table tennis:: That’s not entirely cardio, but the realism of this ping pong game is pretty intense on the higher difficulty levels.
Tai chi:: A relaxed meditative movement game in which you move your controllers so that they correspond to the positions of luminous targets. Like Beat Saber, but slower and more focused.
OhShape:: In this clever dance game you can match the shapes of cut-out figures to play poses and keep playing. It makes you move.
Dance Central:: Harmonix’s dance music game feels like a club where you can dance with people and try moves to songs. It’s exhausting, but it’s also funny.
Thrill of battle:: A complete boxing simulation with Rocky-like thematic overtones.
Look at that:
Oculus Quest 2 is better and cheaper … with a Facebook …
What you need to know about VR fitness games
They generally use your hand movements, head movements, crouching, and leaning
VR fitness is usually about standing in place and moving your arms a lot, relying on the motion tracking in the controllers. With six degrees of freedom VR headsets, there are also some tilts and ducks. (For example Oculus Rift / Quest, HTC Vive, Valve Index, PlayStation VR, and Microsoft’s VR headsets.)
You need some space
Ideally at least 5 square feet. You’ll swing your arm and rush, and you don’t want to slam your hand against a chair, wall, or other person. Make sure that the room boundaries of your VR system are set well beyond the space you need for safety.
Your headset can get very sweaty
VR fitness doesn’t always go well with the fabrics, lenses, and supports that use VR headsets. It’s also not easy to clean a VR headset. If it gets coarse and damp, remove the foam eyeliner and gently clean it. There are also VR headset liners that you can buy (I haven’t gotten that serious yet).
You can use your own fitness tracker
Use your fitness tracker to start a stationary workout (or “other” workout) and you can record your heart rate and estimated calories burned.
Many are music rhythm games that are based on timing or specific movement goals
Many of these games share a common pattern: whether it’s swinging sabers or colored blocks, it’s often about timing and beat, like VR versions of Dance Dance Revolution.
Listen to your body
VR fitness games don’t tell you if you are overexerting yourself. Similar to mine pulled a muscle in Ring Fit Adventure On the Switch, remember to keep your own pace even if the game is yelling at you to do something. Start with the simplest setting and work your way up.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a doctor or other qualified health care provider with any questions about a disease or health goals.