So this post will be a weird one, because it’s one part quarantine fitness, one part tech review, and one part a (really, really late) thumbs up for Netflix’s Cobra Kai, which is due to drop season 3 on January 8, 2021.
First of all, why should I listen to you about fitness, nerd?
Listen, I’m writing this at 3:22 am while eating a bag of Sour Patch Kids. I’m 35 and I spend a good six to eight hours a day sedentary in front of my machine. My diet is not outrageous, but it’s certainly not great, either. As a freelancer, I’ve already been living the quarantine life for almost a decade, so I’m no stranger to living like a Morlock under the grim haze of a monitor. But I can assure you that if I hadn’t adopted some kind of fitness routine to combat this lifestyle earlier on in life, I would probably not be able to carry on as I do. The Morlock life would be the death of me.
First, let me tell you a story. When I was 26, I wandered into The Ring on a whim and took up boxing. The Ring was a grimy boxing studio in dirty hipster Allston that taught me basic cardio routines, as well as how to spar. At 5′ 8″, I weighed 110 pounds and had never exercised before in my life. After many years there, I gained thirty pounds, learned how to last 30 rounds with an opponent, and participated in multiple smoker fights that tested the limits of my endurance.
I don’t recount this story because I think any of it is impressive—it’s not! I’m a terrible boxer, and I’m in just OK shape. Instead, I tell it because the only reason why I kept boxing was because it was fun. Boxing with other people, whether it was sparring or holding mitts, was its own reward. The idea of going back to Planet Fitness to mindlessly lift weights or jog on treadmills bored the hell out of me—that kind of exercise is a chore. And that’s probably the main reason why you’ve been avoiding exercise during the quarantine.
But quarantine fitness can be just as fun. The VR tech we have available today is crazy, and with the release of Oculus Quest 2, building a VR gym is something you can do right now.
My Quarantine Fitness Routine
It’s one hour of exercise. You can do it every day, every other day, or three times a week. Half of involves watching TV. The other half involves playing video games. All of it is fun. And you don’t need any prior training to get started. So first, the gear.
I’m not gonna lie—this setup isn’t cheap. But then again, if you’re thinking about shelling out $500 for a Playstation 5, consider that the entry level Oculus Quest 2 is $299, doesn’t require you to be tethered to a TV, and most of the games on the platform are less than $20 bucks. Add some cheap gym flooring, a pullup bar, and resistance bands, and you’ve got yourself a VR home gym for around $650.
I personally would spring for the one with more storage, since all the data is stored on the headset, but if you intend to use Quest primarily for fitness, you won’t need much space. ($299 for the 64gb version.)
Way more comfortable than the stock strap, especially if you’re using Quest for fitness! It also comes with a battery backup and carrying case. You could get away with forgoing the extra battery life and carrying case by just buying the Elite Strap ($49). I rarely use the Quest for more than an hour anyway. ($129 at Oculus.)
You will need this. The stock facial interface is fabric, which does not play nice with sweat dripping down your face. There are also other non-Oculus brand facial interfaces out there for varying prices. You just need something vinyl that will slick off the sweat. ($29 at Oculus.)
I prefer the ones with handles, but you get more versatility with the stretch bands. Honestly any cheap brand will do, but avoid the dropship crap that you’ll see littering Facebook nowadays. (~$30 – $50, per Wirecutter.)
Doubles as your workout space for floor exercises and your Guardian boundary in Quest. Two packs of six 24″ squares at $35.92 on Amazon will cover an 8×8′ area, though you can get away with a 6×6′ area and that is the smallest playable Guardian boundary the Quest allows.
Convict Conditioning by Paul Wade
This ebook has a week-by-week program for body weight exercises that start out super simple and conclude with one-arm pullups. No equipment necessary, except the pull up bar and the occasional surface to leverage. ($8.49 as Kindle.)
Stick it in a doorway, add it to the routine. This particular model can be used for other bodyweight exercises described in the Convict Conditioning book. ($34.99 on Amazon.)
Part 1: Strength Training
First, lock together those foam squares to create your gym floor (this should give you an 8×8′ workout area, but you can shrink down to 6×6′ if you lack the space). The only other pieces of equipment you’ll need is a door frame or something sturdy to tie your resistance band to, and a TV (tablet, or phone) to reward yourself. I reward myself with a single episode of Cobra Kai while I’m doing this half of the routine.
For the first fifteen minutes, start with Paul Wade’s simple body weight exercises in the Convict Conditioning book. He advises starting at the beginning and slowly escalating the difficulty of the exercises over time. There are pictures of each exercise that make it easy to follow.
Next, I spend another fifteen minutes with resistance bands. Take your pick of YouTube videos out there to learn the series of exercises you will use each session. After you know how to do them, you can do the workout mindlessly while consuming your reward of choice.
Part 2: VR Cardio
Cardio sucks, especially when you haven’t done it in awhile. The easiest way to make cardio fun is to tie it to a sport, which disguises the cardio part in gaming and keeps you accountable via your teammates. That’s all great when your teammates aren’t infectious zombies, which has unfortunately been our reality this year. Moreover, remote fitness classes during quarantine don’t work for all people, because they’re too easy to cheat when you’re a disembodied video screen that nobody can penalize for slacking off.
This is where the Oculus Quest 2 comes to the rescue. The fitness games below are the real deal. You won’t even realize you’re exercising until the heat of your body fogs up your lenses and you’re forced to take the headset off to wipe it down. I like to put the 30-minute Oculus portion of the workout at the end of my routine, and I play the following games in a specific order.
1. Thrill of the Fight ($9.99)
The thing I miss the most since COVID took away The Ring is sparring. No other sport I know of gets your adrenaline pumping like sparring. I was shocked to discover how accurately this shitty-looking $10 game on Oculus Quest 2 renders the conditions of a real sparring match. The game rewards a strong, defensive stance, and recognizes all twelve punches. At “Outclassed” difficulty (the hardest in the game), the virtual opponents require different strategies to defeat and pack knockout punches that will keep your moving. Fight a single opponent each workout, making your way up the difficulty each time you play. A three-round match plus a minute rest in between each round is about 12 minutes: you will break a sweat and get your blood pumping.
2. FitXR ($29.99)
Once you’ve got that surge of adrenaline, switch to FitXR to get in some shadowboxing. The game used to be called “BoxVR” because that’s what it’s really about: the spheres flying at you simulate jabs and crosses, left and right hooks, body shots, and uppercuts. The platforms that you have to dodge simulate slips and weaves. I do a 10-minute session at maximum intensity, to keep my heart rate up. Make sure to turn off Solo Play: the presence of other players subconsciously makes you work harder, because you can see your score pitted against them.
3. Audio Trip ($19.99)
At this point you’re about 22 minutes into the cardio portion of the workout. You’re tired, you’re sweating, and you likely had to take the headset off a couple times to wipe it down. But don’t stop just yet—you need a cooldown.
I absolutely love Audio Trip for this reason. This game bills itself as a dance simulator, and it certainly is, but for our purposes, it’s going to help us chill out (if not a little frenetically). Audio Trip has a short playlist (there are less than a dozen songs), and each trip lasts at most four minutes. So we’re going to do two trips to get us to a total of 30 minutes for the cardio portion of the workout. I strongly advise starting with Beginner difficulty and then working your way up to Normal and Expert—Audio Trip is NOT easy, but once you get into the rhythm of the game, it feels like you’re flying through space and it has a meditative quality that puts you at ease.
Lastly, Stick with It!
If you haven’t been keeping up with any exercise during quarantine, it’s going to be tough to get started, especially in the cardio portion of the workout. That’s OK!
If you’re getting winded too early, shorten the exercise, don’t skip it. Take breaks. Extend the workout longer if you have to. What’s important is that you do something, even if you’re barely doing anything, with regularity. You will honestly see results in a month if you do it every day.
As Johnny Lawrence says in Cobra Kai…