Saturday 24 February 2018

Can A Video Game Make You Fit?

As the technology behind exergaming becomes more and more user-friendly, celina Murphy test drives 'Nike+ Kinect Training' for the XBOX 360

Computer games do well because they are interactive.
Computer games do well because they are interactive.

Traffic, fuel prices and the unpredictable Irish weather are just three reasons why making your way to the gym can sometimes seem like a gargantuan task, so it's no surprise that many fitness buffs are keen to get their workout done in the comfort of their own homes.

Traffic, fuel prices and the unpredictable Irish weather are just three reasons why making your way to the gym can sometimes seem like a gargantuan task, so it's no surprise that many fitness buffs are keen to get their workout done in the comfort of their own homes.

In the past, that meant the same thing; slipping into your grubbiest tracksuit bottoms, popping your Raquel Welch: Total Beauty and Fitness tape into the VHS player, shrugging your way through the movements and barely breaking a sweat (really, just me?). There was no way to find out how many calories you were burning or even if you were doing the exercises correctly, and if you cheated a little (or in my case, a lot), it was easy to convince yourself that it didn't matter, you'd pick it up next time.

Decades later, exercise videos are again en vogue. That said, this is not telly fitness as we remember it. Earlier this year FIT put me to work on some of the most popular titles on the market, and somewhere between Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred and Insanity, I realised that I'd never sweated quite so much, or moaned quite so loudly in a gym, on a jog or in a fitness class.

Clearly, the new breed of fitness DVDs can give you an intense workout, but experts are sceptical about the long-term value of exercising in your living room.

"A person who's overweight and conscious about themselves exercising in front of others might take up DVDs to start with and they will get results initially," says personal trainer Andy Kenny of

"Repeating the same DVD over and over soon gets boring," he adds, "and unless the person moves to another form of exercise and changes their diet as well, they will soon revert back to their old ways and body shape."

But in 2013, there's a brand new buzzword leading the home fitness industry – exergaming – exercising through a video game.

Using state-of-the-art software, video game manufacturers are now able to do things that once seemed impossible. Like exercise videos, sport simulators were around in the '80s, but recent releases have proven to be tougher, smarter and more beneficial.

Currently leading the charge in technology and innovation is the XBox 360 Kinect, a motion sensing device that picks up your every movement and puts you right there on the screen.

For gamers who grew up with two-dimensional graphics and repetitive stress injuries, it's a dream come true, but for exercise buffs, it could potentially be a lifesaver; an inexpensive way to cram in some valuable drill time outside of the gym. But what if, like me, you're an average exerciser with average fitness ambitions, prone to taking the easy route? With this question rolling around in my head, I decided to test one of the most intense games on the market, Nike+ Kinect Training for the XBox 360.

"What we're trying to achieve with Nike+ Kinect Training is a solution for home fitness," Microsoft's Shirley Finnerty tells me. "Because everybody is so busy these days, trying to find time to fit fitness into your life can be quite challenging, Microsoft partnered with Nike with the objective to come up with that very same product, where you'd have a personal trainer at home to help you achieve the results that you're looking for."

Nike+ Kinect Training promises to get you "athlete fit", whatever your fitness level, but what the PR blurb doesn't tell you is that it takes a while to get the hang of things. The way the sensor tracks your body is almost Tron-like; your 3D figure appears on screen beside your digital coach (American footballer Alex Molden or master trainer Marie Purvis, depending on your preference) and the drill doesn't begin until you mimic the position exactly. For an inexperienced gamer like myself, this took a little getting used to, but once I learned exactly where to place myself in the room, I started coming up against fewer and fewer technical problems.

To start, you select whether you want to lean out, tone or strengthen your body, and after you perform a fitness and agility test, the computer generates a four-week training programme designed around your goal. From here, the technology monitors your progress and your coach corrects your form, telling you to slow down, speed up, straighten your leg, turn your head or keep your feet still. A giant monitor in the background tracks the number of reps, meaning that – and this is the real killer! – if you don't perform the movement perfectly, the counter stays the same until you do. To me, this is the essence of why a video game workout is worthwhile.

Raquel, bless her, couldn't tell me to move to right a little, or that my left leg is a little weaker than my right. There were days during the 30 Day Shred when I didn't give it my all, and Jillian couldn't tell the difference.

As virtual coaches, Alex and Marie can feel like slave drivers, but they're also encouraging; even if you're not someone who's motivated by facts and figures, it feels great to be told that you've broken your previous record.

The game is also loaded with features; group training allows you to work out with a friend online and compare results, which adds another dimension to the game's ability to motivate.

Most importantly, the gaming sessions left me panting, sweating and frequently lying on my living room floor in a heap.

Granted, Nike+ Kinect Training is not perfect representation of a personal training session. The option is there to skip each drill, but then again, the option is always there to cancel your appointment with a trainer.

Overall, I'm convinced, but Andy Kenny is still dubious.

"Wii Fit and other computer games that are aimed at fitness and losing weight are very similar to DVDs and only do well because they are interactive," he says. "They fail in the same way as DVDs as they soon become boring and repetitive. It just takes longer than DVDs for this to happen."

However, Kenny points out that online fitness features, like the ones included on Nike+ Kinect Training, are far more useful in helping users achieve their goals.

"Internet programmes and other social media channels can do much more than a DVD," he explains. "They succeed by varying the exercise programmes and progress with the person doing them. They challenge, motivate, are sometimes interactive and, more importantly, continuously get results as the person gets fitter. Lots of them are supported with meal plans too.

"Changing long-term eating and exercise habits is the key to getting and maintaining a healthy body and these online programmes certainly help."

But can a video game really make you fit? Of course not, silly. You have to get yourself fit. No-one can do the sweating for you, but a game like Nike+ Kinect Training takes care of the thinking, analysing and planning, which really, is half the battle.

Nike+ Kinect Training for the XBox 360, €49.99, is available in stores

This article orginally appeared in Fit Magazine

Irish Independent

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