Tuesday 23 July 2019

Fit to be tried: Virtual Workout

Amanda Phelan

IT'S only 10 minutes into a fairly challenging new exercise routine, and boy my butt never looked so good.

There it is, iron-taut, clad in purple, even better than Hollywood star Jessica Biel's -- buns of steel that don't wobble as we go through a series of squats, lunges and stationary stretches.

But wait. Not only am I slim and amazingly fit-looking, my fair skin has gone chocolate-brown and even my iron-butt alter ego can't keep up with the instructor in this 20-minute head-to-toe workout.

Welcome to the world of computer-generated exercise, where your specially tailored fitness routine comes in the form of a colourful interactive challenge, complete with immaculate on-screen instructor to put you through your paces and a heart-rate monitor and motion-tracking sensors to record your results.

I'm trying out the new EA 'Active 2' program, which was released in Ireland this month, and I'm panting to keep up as the virtual instructor leads me on a run along the on-screen track.

I run to catch up and obey his American monotone, peppered with encouraging yells that make me want to kick the console: "Yeah you're really nailing it, good job, keep up now."

I thump after him, and worry that the shaking floor will spark gossip among the people working in the office below, who will be wondering exactly how I'm spending lunch hour.

This program -- the promoters are loath to call it a fitness game -- has the backing of soccer superstar David Beckham, and is the brainchild of California-based company EA Sports, for whom the English football legend is a well-paid ambassador.

The "specially customised workout" is pretty tough. Sensor straps are clipped to your leg and arm, so your automation personal trainer soon gets on your case if you aren't doing the exercises in time with him.

The EA (Electronic Arts) promoters kindly provide a human to lead me through my first try at the fitness program.

Dublin-based trainer Shane Walsh, who puts people through their paces at home or in the office, shows me the ropes and stops me from crashing into the TV when I get too enthusiastic.

Before we start, he insists we run through the tutorial at the start of each exercise.

This only takes a couple of minutes, but it's a detailed explanation of how each move should be correctly performed.

It's lucky Walsh is supervising, or I'd have skipped the explanation and gone straight into the routine, and probably got into a bit of trouble.

For example, you do shoulder presses and bicep curls using the green stretch band included with the program, and the tutorial gives you the helpful tip to make sure the band is inside your forearm as you stretch it above your head.

Without this advice you'd probably just put it outside your arms, making the move harder and less effective.

We start out with lunges, reverse lunges and thigh-screaming stationary squats, where you sit down but there's no seat, just your protesting muscles keeping you from falling to the floor on your bum.

Then it's time to move on to the upper body, and shoulder pushes plus bicep and tricep curls performed with the resistance band.

Finally there's the cardiovascular element -- short sharp bursts of activity good for pushing up your heart rate, with the exertion levels displayed on screen. Mine gets up to around 150, and could go a bit higher during future workouts, says Shane.

Each exercise demands between 12 and 20 repetitions, and each successful move is clocked with a triumphant ding, like winning on the exercise slot machines.

Call me old-fashioned, I say, but surely a jog around the park would be a just as good for you?

"Going for a run outside or to the gym will always be the number one option, but this is great if you're stuck for time, or want to train at home," says Shane. "And it's good for tracking your progress and how many calories you burn."

All my exertion only amounts to the equivalent of a fig roll, he adds.

At the end of 20 minutes, I'm breathless and have worked most of my muscles but not my stomach. "You can add an abdominal section if you want," says Shane, and I agree, madwoman that I am.

But honestly, I'd love to have an online bum and a suntan that looks as good as yer wan on the screen.

Now I'm off for a fig roll, and not the virtual kind either.

The EA 'Active 2' virtual workout is compatible with Wii, Xbox and Playstation

The Verdict

Did it work? A good indoor routine for home, and will get the gossip going if you do it in the office

Pluses: Seeing yourself immaculately sculpted – well, on screen anyway

Minuses: Doesn't beat the real thing outdoors

Cost: €99

Contact: Shane Walsh, fitness trainer, charges €60 upwards for home- and officebased coaching. Tel: 086 8908717. ‘Active 2’ is now available nationally

Irish Independent

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