Sunday, June 13

Confessions of a Virtual Reality Gym Rat


Unlike Peloton and its imitators, Supernatural has no live element. Classes are recorded, and though you can compare your stats with your friends on a leader board, you can’t compete with them in real time. The company recently added guided meditations to its offerings, and it says it’s planning to add more types of classes and community features.

Supernatural was built before the pandemic but has hit its stride during the last few months, as more people look for at-home gym alternatives. (The company wouldn’t say exactly how many subscribers it had, but Chris Milk, Within’s chief executive, told me it was in the five figures.) The official Supernatural Facebook page is full of avid fans, including many who don’t fit the stereotypical image of a V.R.-obsessed gamer.

Mr. Milk, who has produced virtual reality content for The New York Times Magazine, said the difference between Supernatural and other kinds of at-home fitness is that it feels like a game rather than exercise.

“The fundamental flaw of most fitness systems is that, at your core, you’re doing something that is not fun, whether it’s pedaling on a stationary bike or running on a treadmill,” he said. “We use the tool of V.R. to transport you beyond the walls of your apartment and give you an activity that is intrinsically fun to do.”

One downside of Supernatural, beyond the monthly subscription cost, is that it’s compatible only with the Oculus Quest and Quest 2 headsets at the moment. Those headsets are not cheap (base-level models of the Oculus Quest 2 start at $299), and they’ve been in low supply this year. Another downside for the privacy-conscious: Oculus is owned by Facebook, which recently sparked a furor in V.R. world by requiring Oculus users to log in using their Facebook accounts.

The other drawback of Supernatural is that — how to put this delicately? — you look like a huge dork doing it. I feel this pain more acutely than most. I don’t have a room in my house that is big and unobstructed enough to swing my arms safely, so I often work out outside on my patio. My wife has learned to tolerate it, but I pity my neighbors, who have no doubt noticed the strange, sweaty man furiously squatting, lunging and waving his arms while Skrillex blares from the box on his head.

But if you can ignore the funny looks, you might want to give V.R. workouts a try. They’re cheaper than a Peloton, more fun than a YouTube workout and healthier than binge-watching “The Crown.” Even if it doesn’t quite scratch the gym itch, it’s a good-enough alternative until a vaccine makes it safe to heavy-breathe in public again.



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