How to get the most out of VR exercise

Most people associate virtual reality with games and 3D chat rooms. Even virtual job training gets a decent amount of press when talking about VR headsets. But it makes a lot of sense to combine fast-paced VR games with intense cardio workouts. To do so safely and effectively, you’ll need the right VR headset, accessories, and software.

Best VR headsets for working out

Meta Quest 2

There’s only one good answer here for most people. The Meta Quest 2 is the most convenient and accessible VR solution by a large margin. For starters, its fully standalone design means you don’t need a separate PC or console to run it, let alone something high-performance and costly. Furthermore, it’s lightweight, comfortable, and able to play a large variety of games. Most importantly, though, it’s surprisingly affordable and straightforward to use.

HTC Vive Focus 3

It’s tough to understate how great the Quest 2’s value is. There’s only one other headset currently available that comes close to competing. The HTC Vive Focus 3 is the sole modern headset aside from the Oculus with standalone operation. It’s an excellent headset in nearly every respect. The biggest drawback is it’s far too expensive for most people to consider. In fact, it’s not particularly user-friendly, as it’s designed primarily for business use. If you can afford it, though, you might like it a lot more than the Quest 2.

There are other VR headsets, but most aren’t worth pairing with a cardio routine. Nearly all the rest require a wired connection to a high-powered PC. Given the cost of powerful PC components these days, that requirement makes PC virtual reality inaccessible to most consumers.

Why are VR workouts so effective?

The best workout schedule is one you’ll actually follow. What better way to make exercise fun than to pair it with an actual video game? Virtual reality workouts break up the monotony of repetition and are ideal for refreshing the mind in between sets of heavy lifting. And if you can convince yourself it’s really a game, it’ll be that much easier to get in your reps and stay healthy.

Amazingly, exercise-cum-entertainment titles do more than simply increase the chances of sticking with your workout plan. Studies show that incorporating virtual reality challenges within the context of a workout actually enhanced the positive psychological effects of the exercise. These benefits were especially pronounced in users who didn’t have much experience with VR or first-person video games in general.

Virtual reality workouts done safely

Of course, it’s all fun and games until you slam your hand into a desk, wall, chair, door frame or other solid object. Arranging your space and configuring your headset properly are two important parts of setting up a safe and versatile VR environment.

To that end, some VR headsets incorporate systems that help keep you in one place while playing. The Quest 2, for example, uses a feature called the Guardian Boundary to display virtual barriers when you reach the edge of the predefined area.

ProxiMat Metaverse Portal

One popular method for enjoying virtual reality with limited physical space is a VR mat such as the ProxiMat Metaverse Portal. This one’s an especially good choice because it provides an entire 42-inch circle of high-traction material. It’s larger than most other options but still relatively compact, and it won’t slide around hard floors.

Chair mat

One important note when looking for a VR mat is that almost none are suitable for plush carpets. Nearly all will slide around or simply not provide enough structure for safe and fun VR use. If your prospective VR space has a high-pile carpet, consider a polycarbonate chair mat specifically designed to stay in place on plush flooring.

High-grip controller cover

Also, keep in mind one of the most satisfying yet annoying parts of a workout: sweat. If you remember way back when Nintendo’s Wii Sports ruled the digitally enhanced exercise scene, you might recall quite a few controllers crashing into TVs at high speeds. While there’s no TV to break in most VR setups, it’s just as easy to lose your grip on a sweaty VR controller. A quality high-grip controller cover can help avoid this problem.

Intense VR exercise, but clean

Traction isn’t the only thing sweat messes with. Moisture, especially perspiration, encourages bacterial growth and breaks down the soft materials used to cushion wearable electronics. Therefore, keeping all your VR equipment clean minimizes grime and odors while also helping prolong its lifespan.

Dry optical cloths

It’s always a good idea to closely follow manufacturer recommendations when cleaning expensive electronics. Meta, for example, urges Quest 2 owners not to use any fluids or other cleaning chemicals when wiping down the lenses. The Quest 2 lenses are made of an even more specialized material than common optical glass. Meta recommends using dry optical cloths for cleaning.

Lysol disinfectant wipes

Other parts of your VR setup are less sensitive. Most hard plastic or simulated leather surfaces can handle moderate cleaning chemicals without damage. Everyday Lysol disinfectant wipes are the easiest and safest way to clean most things besides the headset’s actual lenses.

Virtual reality, real comfort

Kiwi Design Elite Strap

If your headset flops and slides around your head, your workout won’t be comfortable or fun. A premium aftermarket head strap like the Kiwi Design Elite Strap is the first step in the solution. It’s commonly considered every bit as comfortable as the official Quest 2 Elite Strap and significantly more durable.

VR sweat mask

To quickly revisit the sweat issue, don’t forget that a good workout will cause it to collect around your face. After all, VR headsets aren’t weightless, and the eyepiece all but eliminates any ventilation your face might otherwise get. A VR sweat mask can partly mitigate this issue. Combine a good sweatband with a moisture-resistant, durable aftermarket facial interface, and you’re giving yourself the best chance of a comfortable hour-long VR experience or longer.

Don’t forget the headphones

Air circulator fan

Most people find over-ear and on-ear headphones too bulky and hot for exercising. That’s especially true when you’re working out indoors with a headset strapped to your face (although an air circulator fan can help). Your Bluetooth earbuds might not work very well, either, since it’s tough to pin down which specific pairs support the low-latency Bluetooth transmission needed for a fast-paced workout.

Kiwi earbuds

Instead, consider a quality pair of wired earbuds. Technically, most wired earbuds should work with headsets like the Quest 2 on a plug-and-play basis. Some, though, are designed with the perfect cable length to connect to the headset without any extra wire getting in the way. The Logitech G333 is one such pair. They sound great and are as reliable as they come. They’re also a touch costly. This pair from Kiwi is notably more affordable and works just fine, although they don’t sound as rich at high volumes.

Is it worth buying a VR headset just to work out?

To be clear, virtual reality can’t possibly be the guide for every aspect of a complete workout. You’ll still need to lift weights for strength training and stretch on your own to increase blood flow and prevent injury. There are plenty of calisthenics and other exercises that don’t require fancy equipment but also don’t dovetail very well with what VR provides.

If you’re on the fence about buying a VR headset, remember that exercise is just one of the things it can help with. There’s a wide variety of games and other experiences that can make VR worthwhile. Similarly, VR can only help push you through some parts of your workout. For the rest, you’ll have to take the initiative and power through all by yourself.

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Chris Thomas writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money. 

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