In a virtual reality gym, the worlds of play and exercise collide

The other day, KTVU crime reporter Henry Lee got a chance to experience a virtual reality gym in San Francisco.

“I don’t know what’s real anymore!” he said, waving his hands while looking bewildered in a VR headset.

An explanation may be in order.

Henry’s assignment was to visit the Black Box Virtual Reality Gym on Market Street in San Francisco. He met with general manager Javi Garza.

“We’re the first reality gym in the world. So basically we’re combining virtual reality and gaming with serious fitness,” Garza said.

This worried Henry, as he usually deals with real-life news. He’s not a player and he says he’s not in “serious shape”.

“We know traditional gyms aren’t for everyone. It can feel like a chore,” Garza said.

This is certainly true for Henry. But for this mission, he prepared himself. Before dawn, he did cardio with his wife at home.

He also decided to create his makeshift VR squat by donning a sleep mask, his son’s earmuffs and his DVR remote. (Henry asks you to excuse his form.)

He also did some running. “Boy! This is hard work,” he said as he sabotaged it on a hill.

But it turns out that this gym isn’t about cardio but rather resistance training and muscle endurance. And everything is specially designed for you.

“Our workouts are very unique and are tailored to each person’s threshold,” Garza said.

Even though Black Box’s motto is “you are the hero”, you don’t have to to be a hero.

Henry has seen videos online in which people wearing VR headsets fall flat on their stomachs.

Henry asked Garza, “So you don’t think I’m going to fall – why not?”

“No, because the room is perfectly sized, so you know where you need to go,” Garza replied.

And then, it was time to get attached.

“Boy, I feel like a superhero already,” Henry said after strapping special sensors on his arms.

“Very Wonder Woman-esque,” Garza said.

It was surreal.

“Where has everyone gone?” exclaimed Henry. “It’s, it’s like the Matrix. It’s, it’s – where did you go? Wait, is that even a real bottle?” he asked, grabbing what looked like a tangible bottle.

“No,” Garza said with a laugh.

Henry said he could smell his Hokas sneakers, but it was more of a sleight of hand, as he couldn’t see his shoes through the helmet.

He was hooked up to a surround sound personal training system, an automated cable pulley machine.

He made rows. Chest presses. And squats. (Again, please excuse its shape.)

But in the world of virtual reality, he broke through doors, destroyed the enemy crystal and earned points. He was building up player credibility – and feeling it in his muscles.

“It’s like an alternate universe,” Henry said once he took off the gear.

“Yeah, I think that’s the whole goal behind Black Box VR,” Garcia said. We want you to be so immersed in what you’re doing that you forget you’re exercising.”

It certainly happened. Henry admitted he was a little scared at first, but he actually had a blast.


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