Cycling has never been my forte.
I wobble dangerously when I look behind me and tend to slow for traffic lights long before they turn amber.
This time, though, I am determined not to get left behind. Standing into the pedals, ploughing up a neon-lit hill, I can feel the resistance as the climb gets steeper. We reach the top, mercifully, before a heart-in-mouth plunge back into the next valley, day-glo buildings flitting past as the speed gathers.
It’s remarkably easy to forget you’re in a darkened spin studio in Milton Keynes sometimes. Not least when you have a curved cinema screen in front of you, and you appear to be pedalling furiously through a futuristic city, the road filled with twists and turns, climbs and drops. I find myself leaning in my seat as we take a particularly sharp bend, and ducking when a piece of debris flies a little too close to my head. Before I know it, 40 minutes have passed, and we are on the home strait.
Drama, not drudgery
This latest innovation from Les Mills, The Trip, is exercise with a dash of cinematic drama. It is being installed in gyms across Britain and I can see why it is having a bit of a moment. If you’re pounding away on a bike or the treadmill while facing a brick wall, it can be far too easy to focus on the ache in your legs, or your quickening breath. Anyone who finds indoor exercise tinged with more than a touch of drudgery will appreciate a distraction, making the task far less painful and, dare I say it, even fun.
“The Trip doesn’t just appeal to people who love group cycling, it attracts a whole new set of riders,” says Tracy Sollitt, group exercise manager of the Village Group. She says the Elstree gym has recorded a 17 per cent increase in studio usage since launching the experience. “We’re also seeing a marked increase in millennial members who are looking for an exciting and on-trend alternative to traditional fitness.”
Cycling through a virtual world with The Trip
It seems that a little distraction goes a long way. A study by Les Mills found that an immersive experience can enhance enjoyment while diminishing the rate of perceived exertion. The research, which was published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, compared a music-only environment with one that included music and digital images, and reported that novices rated the immersive experience as more enjoyable, while hitting the same heart-rate and exertion levels.
Step it up
It isn’t the first time we have turned to technology to add entertainment value to our exercise. The global Pokémon Go craze was celebrated for getting more people active as they sought out their targets, with a study by the American Heart Association saying that users were twice as likely to hit their 10,000 steps. However, another study said that the exercise boost was short-lived, not to mention the increased risk of injury for distracted users.
Woom with a view
At the New York yoga studio Woom Center, sound vibration and light are employed to create, well, a womb-like effect, one imagines. The class begins with participants wearing blindfolds, which are then removed to reveal splashes of light and colours displayed on the walls. There are even ways to get the full-on virtual-reality experience while getting fit, although it might set you back a bit more than your average annual gym membership.
Off to a flying start
Users can dive, swim or even fly with the Icaros
The Icaros is a contraption that works in conjunction with a VR headset, and holds the user in a plank-like position while they motorbike, paraglide, dive or even fly. It costs about £6,000 to buy, but there is nothing to say that your local gym won’t soon be investing in something similar. If that already has your vertigo kicking in, there are other senses that can be stimulated for a simulated experience.
Zombies, Run! is the fitness app that has over one million users and weaves you an apocalyptic tale while you jog. If zombies chase you… you run faster. Simple, but surprisingly effective. Zombies aren’t really my bag, so for now I’ll stay in the saddle. Although with eight different “worlds” to explore in The Trip’s repertoire, who knows what I’ll encounter on the next ride out…