I worked out at CES in the most CES way possible — with a VR headset that helps you forget you’re exercising

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black box  VR  gym workout

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Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider
  • I got to try working out in virtual reality with Black Box’s workout rig at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
  • Instead of focusing on cardio, Black Box’s workouts are resistance-based, allowing you to largely remain stationary.
  • 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 out.

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 gym equipment.

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.

Black Box VR

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Black Box VR

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 was weak.

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

black box vr gym

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Black Box member

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 whole body.

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.