The HTC VIVE XR Elite Is Changing The Way We Work Out

We tried an Extended Reality workout. Here’s why it could change the way you train

HTC recently sent a VR headset to space to support astronauts’ fitness and mental health. We’re no astronauts, but we set out to see if HTC VIVE headsets are just as effective in our living room

LOADING UP THE HTC VIVE XR Elite’s interface with my headset on and controllers at the ready, I’m transported into what appears to be a bedroom situated high in the clouds. Over my shoulder, I’m startled by a deep, guttural humming noise that sounds like it’s straight out of a National Geographic documentary. I turn to find a whale, weaving its way through the clouds, and around the perimeter of my room. Minutes later I’m landing solid hooks and jabs in a boxing simulator, but to anyone watching, I probably look like I’m performing some sort of elaborate dance routine with no rhythm to it. But I don’t care. This is extended reality.

Every so often a technological advancement comes along that revolutionises the fitness industry. Treadmills, exercise bikes and rowing machines took our workouts indoors, fitness wearables loosened the notepad’s vice-like grip on metric tracking, and when exercise became boring, gamification stepped in to provide a revamp. Now extended reality, the next big development, has arrived.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the concept, extended reality encompasses augmented, virtual and mixed reality. Initially, the concept found its most direct applications in gaming. But more recently, manufacturers have been experimenting with other applications. You’ve likely encountered the Apple Vision Pro at some point, which is essentially an iPhone that can be worn on your face. XR headsets like the Vision Pro have moved beyond their gaming heritage to serve as a productivity tool in the workplace or as a mobile entertainment centre in the home. Now, XR headsets can be used for health and wellness activities, and they’re only just getting started.

“I truly believe that we’re just at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to exploring the potential of extended reality,” HTC VIVE’s Country Manager for Australia and New Zealand, Thomas Dexmier, tells Men’s Health. “In the last few years, headsets have become smaller, lighter, more autonomous, intuitive and inclusive.”

The technology has become so advanced that HTC recently sent a purpose-built headset to the International Space Station (ISS), with the aim of improving astronauts’ physical and mental health. “Astronauts endure extended periods of isolation and extreme confinement with limited contact with their loved ones, which can have a significant impact on their mental health,” Dexmier says. “Additionally, the physical toll of space travel sees astronauts losing up to 40 per cent of muscle and 12 per cent of bone mass during a five-month space mission.”

These were points that HTC sought to remedy. “VR was a natural solution – if you can’t physically change your environment, you can at least visually change it,” Dexmier says. This was no simple challenge, however. VR functions by detecting physical points in our natural environment, so you know which way is up and your lefts from their rights. In space, where there is no gravity, this was harder to achieve. “To solve VR instability in space due to lack of gravity, we anchored the headset’s tracking algorithms to a fixed controller. This ensured a stable orientation so astronauts could interact with content effectively and without the visuals jumping around,” Dexmier said.




That’s all well and good for the astronauts, but what about the rest of us? Well, thanks to the HTC VIVE XR Elite, you can use XR to revitalise your fitness routine too. The Vive XR Elite is an innovative, lightweight XR headset that can be used on its own, or in tandem with a PC. It’s made for high performance, with a field of view up to 110 degrees, a 90 Hz refresh rate, and a 3840 x 1920 combined resolution. While it can be used for spatial computing or for gaming, we were intrigued by the VIVE XR Elite’s ability to factor into a fitness routine, and were seriously impressed when we tried it out.

Admittedly, this was my first time using XR – beyond a few simple in-store trials and product demonstrations. Because of this, I was faced with an initial period in which every small detail and mundane feature left me astonished – like that whale I mentioned earlier. Look, a floating whale! I exclaimed with wide-eyed bemusement as I tried to reach out for a phantom, typically ocean-going behemoth that simply wasn’t there. But once I became accustomed to the experience, the VIVE XR Elite proved it was much more than a gimmick.

Upon starting up the VIVE XR Elite, you’re welcomed by a bedroom in the clouds which acts as a lobby for the system. It’s here that the aforementioned floating whale makes an appearance, and where you can transition between the VIVE XR Elite’s various features.

VIVEPORT is where you’ll find virtual reality content, games and experiences. These range from action-packed shooters to guided tours of historical landmarks. Somewhere in between there’s a selection of wellness apps, which, after some initial scepticism, I found to be far more effective than expected.

First up was ‘Flow Meditation’, which took me Iceland’s vast, untouched wilderness for a guided meditation retreat. To those questioning why you can’t simply meditate at home rather than in a headset, ask yourself if you’d rather be staring at a pile of unfolded laundry or an Icelandic cliffside while meditating and you’ll have your answer. Next I ventured into apps called ‘Synth Riders’, ‘First Person Tennis’, and ‘POI VR Dance’, which all have their merits, but it was ‘Les Mills Bodycombat’ that I found myself coming back to most often.

Bodycombat offers a dizzying array of mixed-martial arts workouts which are guided by a virtual personal trainer. As I worked up a sweat kicking, punching and ducking my way through a boxing class, I began to realise that working out might never have been this fun, which brings us to one of the biggest selling points for XR workouts, one that seems like a natural progression in the fitness industry given current trends: gamification.



“When it comes to XR, there is a natural opportunity to add gamified elements, and complement existing fitness programs,” Dexmier says. “By infusing elements of gaming, such as challenges, rewards and competition, activities that can easily become routine can feel more engaging, fun and motivating. And with full-body tracking and immersion, it’s surprising how quickly you can lose yourself while exercising and feel motivated to achieve your personal best.”

We’re seeing gamification take hold amongst various FitTech companies like Peloton, Tonal, Whoop and Vitruvian, and even at commercial gyms, but it comes naturally to a device that was designed with entertainment in mind. Although, as Dexmier explains, XR workouts shouldn’t replace your existing exercise routine entirely, but complement it. “We believe that technology is there to complement your life, not replace it. Extended reality provides a great way to mix up how you train, meditate and relax, adding an element of fun and variety no matter where you are,” he says. “When it comes to fitness, gamified training apps make it easy to fit in a session whenever and wherever you like, so if you can’t travel to a gym you can still have a great workout. This convenience can be particularly appealing to those who have busy lifestyles or struggle with motivation.”

It’s important to remember that XR technology really is just getting started. At this stage, it will best serve as a complement to your workout routine, so don’t cancel your gym membership just yet. Although it’s not difficult to envision a future where XR means you’ll never have to leave your home to workout again.

“As the technology continues to develop, we can expect even more sophisticated types of content and tools tailored to health and wellness,” Dexmier says. “Imagine a future where you can train with a fitness instructor across the globe but feel as if they’re in the same room, or cycle through the French countryside in a virtual rendition of the Tour de France?”

One thing is certain, no matter where XR goes from here, HTC will be leading the way. “We’re excited to continue pushing the boundaries of immersive technology and see what comes next,” Dexmier confirms.





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By Cayle Reid

Cayle Reid is a fan of everything sports and fitness. He spends his free time at the gym, on his surfboard or staying up late watching sports in incompatible time zones.

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