I got to try working out in virtual reality with Black
Box’s workout rig at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las
Instead of focusing on cardio, Black Box’s workouts are
resistance-based, allowing you to largely remain
You wear a headset
while working out, which puts you in the middle of a video
game-like environment where you face off against waves of
enemies — and sometimes forget you’re even working
In the fitness gyms that startup Black Box is building
this year, you’ll be working out with a specialized weight
resistance machine and an HTC Vive virtual reality headset.
I know what you’re thinking: Working out and getting sweaty with
a VR headset on your head sounds incredibly uncomfortable. Let me
address this concern first. From my limited experience at CES, I
barely noticed I had a VR headset on my head. It was an
admittedly short demo, but it really wasn’t uncomfortable.
That’s partially because the type of fitness at Black Box VR gyms
doesn’t require a lot of movement, so the headset doesn’t slam
against your face or fly off mid-jumping-jack. It’s mostly based
on strength and weight resistance instead of cardio. That means
you’ll be relatively stationary and working on isolated parts of
your body rather than running and jumping around.
And don’t worry about the sweat. The face band on the VR headset
is a material that can be wiped off and sanitized like any other
So, what’s it like?
Upon placing the VR headset over my head and walking through a
virtual portal, I was hurled into a giant arena full of cheering
and adoring fans. I was slightly intimidated, as it had been a
while since I’d gone to the gym, and I was worried that I
wouldn’t give my virtual fans the gun show they seemed to crave.
But I quickly realized they were there to watch me survive
against a bunch of virtual enemies running and flying toward me.
The virtual gym universe is cruel, and its code is survival of
the fittest. The environment felt like a Gladiator event in a
dystopian futuristic Rome.
With arm bands around my forearm that register my hand and arm
movements in VR, the resistance machine was my controller. In the
specific game I was playing, every chest press would trigger a
cannon that hurled a fireball toward my enemies. Every press
became slightly and progressively harder, and the enemies also
became stronger after every wave.
At first, I had forgotten that I was chest pressing. But as the
machine’s resistance increased, I was reminded that I was,
indeed, working out. Still, the game pushed me further like no
trainer or personal mental fortitude had before.
I needed to defeat the enemy, and I pushed to my
very last ounce of strength. I didn’t want to find out what the
enemy would do to me if they thought I
Did I make it? I’m not sure. It seems like my last stroke fended
them off for good. But they’ll be back. Next time, they’ll be
after my quads.
It can break the monotony of fitness
For some – at least for me – fitness is incredibly monotonous. Go
to the gym, listen to music, cycle between the same workouts week
in, week out. It’s not particularly enticing, despite the fact
that I want to work out more often. I like the
feeling of working out, but it does get boring.
Gamifying fitness isn’t especially new, so some will be familiar
with the concept. But something has to be said about the
effectiveness of VR’s immersion. It does a great job of tricking
your mind into thinking that virtual reality is, well, reality.
It’s much more effective than a simple screen in front of you.
Plus, there’s less likelihood for boredom when you digitize
fitness with consumable content like fitness games, including VR
games. New content can be created and added with simple updates.
I only tried one game for a few minutes, but Black Box told me
there are other games for different types of exercises for the
I find the concept intriguing, and it’s certainly one I’d like to
explore further myself.
For the moment, Black Box is planning to open its own VR gyms in
San Francisco’s Bay Area, and it hopes to expand further
nationwide in the future. Eventually, the company aspires to
bring VR fitness into the home.