AR fitness: 6 ways the fitness industry can gamify exercise

By Cristina Ferrandez

There are two types of people in this world: those who love exercise and those who would do literally anything else to avoid working out. 

Unfortunately, the number of people who fall within the latter category is growing. A WHO study that used data from more than 300 surveys carried out over 16 years found that almost 30% of people worldwide don’t get enough exercise. And during lockdowns, people did 32% less physical activity than previously, leading to increased rates of obesity.

Crucially, for more than 40% of people, the biggest barrier to regular physical activity is the lack of enjoyment they get from it, followed by the fact that they have nobody to exercise with. 

Luckily, things are changing fast. Thanks to virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology, people are starting to come around to exercise. But while that’s great news overall, the growing popularity of AR apps and smartglasses could spell disaster for gyms and fitness companies. In a July 2020 poll, more than half of Americans said they did not expect to renew their gym memberships when life returned to normal. 

For fitness centres everywhere, these are worrying statistics. However, things are not as bleak as they may seem at first glance, and the old adage “if you can’t beat them, join them” may be apt here. 

The truth is, whether it’s through great advertising campaigns or virtual, AR-enhanced classes, AR can help fitness businesses bring their offering to the 21st century. Here are six examples to get you and your clients inspired. 

1. AR fitness challenges

A fitness challenge may prompt people to exercise, but it won’t necessarily make a workout fun. An easy way to make these types of challenges more engaging is to incorporate AR elements into them. When paired with AR, a fitness challenge becomes more like a game, rather than something to suffer through. 

An excellent example of an immersive fitness challenge is the AR TikTok effect designed by The Physical Education Teacher. The AR game involves users getting into a pushup position in front of their screens and navigating a purple electricity icon through a moving maze by raising and lowering their bodies. 

A percentage bar at the top illustrates players’ progress — the goal is to get to 100%. This is easier said than done, as hitting the walls of the maze, which automatically ends the game, is remarkably easy, as is encountering a “skulls and bone” icon within the maze that “electrocutes” you (and adds a bit of virtual soot to your face).

That people are loving this challenge is obvious — the effect has seen 5.2 million views to date. For fitness-related companies that want to keep their customers engaged, sharing exclusive AR fitness effects is a great way to do so. 

This AR TikTok effect by The Physical Education Teacher encouraged users to do pushups

2. AR-powered fitness classes

Another social media AR fitness effect we’ve been loving is the “fill the shape” game that is popular on the Chinese version of TikTok and which has users matching the pose that appears on their screens. Users then get points depending on how successful they are at replicating the figure in front of them. 

This “fill the shape” AR challenge was immensely popular

A fun way to combine AR with choreography, these AR fitness filters received almost 200,000 views shortly after being released on the social media platform. 

3. Virtual instructor

Not everyone may have the financial means, time, confidence, or the desire to employ the services of a personal trainer or even join a group class. Fortunately, thanks to advances in technology, individuals can now visualise fitness instructors virtually. 

Take the Avatar Led Fitness Instructor, or ALFI for short, as an example. Developed in 2020, the app gives users a 360-degree view of a personal trainer who guides them through yoga or HIIT sessions, helping users with their form and accuracy. Each avatar, or fitness instructor, and class are tailored to the individual, and users can zoom in or out to view the poses from different angles. 

AR fitness

The Avatar Led Fitness Instructor

The Refinery E9, the creator of the app, is now working to bring ALFI to your living room through AR so that you can have “your very own pocket PT.”

4. AR gym mirrors

AR fitness instructors that live in your pocket may be a little while off from becoming mainstream, but individuals can already buy AR mirrors that help them reach their fitness goals. 

The Lululemon gym mirror is perhaps the most popular option available right now. Touted as the “world’s first nearly invisible gym,” the full-length interactive mirror offers on-demand classes and customisable workouts led by digital instructors that appear on the screen alongside the user. 

AR fitness

The “world’s first nearly invisible gym,” from Lululemon

Members can choose classes based on genre, length, and their own fitness levels, as well as the equipment they have on hand, like dumbbells and resistance bands. 

As you exercise, the mirror shows you useful stats like the number of calories burned and, if you have a Bluetooth heart rate monitor, your BPM. You also get real-time feedback from trainers, a personalised program that takes into account your results, and real-time optimisation based on your performance and preferences. For an extra fee, you can even sign up for one-on-one personal training sessions. 

5. Smartglasses

Judging by the speed with which companies from Facebook to TCL to Xiaomi are developing wearable tech, the day when smartglasses infiltrate our day-to-day lives is not far off. And when that happens, the way that we exercise is going to change for good. 

Just think of runners and cyclists. To keep tabs on their performance during their workout, they have to keep glancing down at their sports watch, cycling computer, or smartphone. Not only is this inconvenient, but on busy roads, it can also be incredibly dangerous. With smartglasses, on the other hand, outdoor enthusiasts can see their performance data, including pace, heart rate, and distance, as well as environmental data, such as the current elevation of the ground, right in front of them. 

Some smartglasses may even show motivational messages or positive affirmations to keep the user moving and display updates on how far they are from reaching their goals. For those that may need a bit more inspiration, AR glasses like Ghost Pacer can pit them against a life-size virtual runner. 

AR fitness

Ghost Pacer pits users against a life-size virtual runner

On the other hand, some smartglasses may be paired with fitness game apps like Zombies, Run, which already has users running away from “audio” zombies, but that may in the future include visual elements, as well. 

Navigation will be easier, too. Rather than having to go to their phones if they take the wrong turn, wearers will be able to see the circuit they’re supposed to be following in the form of arrows, or, if the smartglasses they’re wearing have built-in speakers, audio prompts that provide them with clear turn-by-turn directions.

Individuals who prefer to exercise indoors can benefit from smartglasses, too. For example, those practicing yoga can use AR glasses to keep their instructor in sight no matter the pose they’re practising. Similarly, swimmers can use AR-enhanced swimming goggles to follow swim workouts at the pool and see real-time performance metrics from the corner of their eye. 

AR-enhanced swimming goggles allow swimmers to see real-time performance metrics

6. Microsoft Kinect 

When the Microsoft Kinect came out in 2010, it was pretty revolutionary. For once, there were no gadgets for users to hold or pull. Instead, users could control and interact with games, including fitness games, using their bodies and voices (through body detection/tracking technology). 

For example, the “Your Shape: Fitness Evolved” Kinect game tracks more than 50,000 points on a participant’s body to, quite literally, put them into the game via an avatar. 

“Your Shape: Fitness Evolved” tracks a participant’s body to put them into the game via an avatar

Users that take part in this fitness game can choose between many different workouts and classes (run by virtual trainers that appear on the screen alongside you) as well as short, intense burst challenges like running through deconstructed versions of New York or London. You can even get personalised workout sessions based on your profile. 

While Microsoft stopped making Kinect in 2017 to focus on other products, the technology that powers it isn’t going to go away anytime soon. Indeed, the sensors that were once at the core of the Kinect are now powering Microsoft HoloLens devices. So, the lessons the Microsoft team learned from its line of motion sensing input devices are likely to continue driving the company’s augmented reality strategy for a long time yet. 

AR fitness is transforming the workout industry 

The pandemic may have changed the way that people exercise, but that doesn’t mean that fitness providers have to be left behind. 

While it’s true that, in the last year and a half, fitness app downloads and mixed-reality-based exercises have soared in popularity (“the Oculus Quest 2 made me fall in love with working out,” writes Michael Andronico for CNN), there is hope for gyms and other fitness companies yet. 

Rather than trying to fight the “home-workout revolution,” organisations that operate in the fitness industry should try to take advantage of technologies like AR. Not only will doing so future-proof their business, but it’ll also keep their customers fit, engaged, and loyal. 

Ready to incorporate AR into your fitness offering? Get in touch with the team at Poplar Studio today to talk over the myriad of AR options available. 

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