A VR workout that really works out.
I’ll be 47 this month.
By all accounts, I’m the very picture of success. I participated in a $63 million IPO, co-founded a wildly successful VR company, attended Harvard Business School and live in a condo with my neighbors being some of the Seattle Seahawks and CEOs of major corporations. On the outside, everything is roses. But, like a lot of people, I’ve merely been playing a part. For years now I’ve been struggling with depression, astronomical stress and up until recently, I was completely and totally out of shape, mentally and physically.
For a long time, I was far from happy. My body had become the physical manifestation of my stress and fear of failure. But it wasn’t always that way.
Mat Chacon on the summit of Mt. Baker, 10,781 feet, WA State
Fourteen years earlier I was in great shape. On my 30th birthday, I climbed Mt. Baker in Washington state and enjoyed success at the summit. Then I climbed a virtual mountain in business, got to the top… and immediately become complacent. My ego had outpaced my humility and I’d become arrogant, cocky and fat. Really fat.
I was a mess.
I needed another mountain to climb.
While on an east coast business trip I was killing time by relaxing on my hotel bed and reminiscing by going through some old photos on my laptop of the very first business trip I’d taken for my company to Beijing, China. I noticed that one photo, in particular, made me look a little heavier than I remembered being at that time. I put my laptop aside, got up to change and caught a glimpse of my shirtless self in my hotel mirror. I was shocked at who and what I’d become. I sat on the edge of my hotel bed and wanted to cry. I was lost. While searching that lonely room for something, anything to pull me out of what was rapidly becoming the world’s worst pity party, I saw my Oculus Go charging on the desk.
Mat Chacon in hotel room, Bejing, China 2016
A flame was lit inside me.
I strapped on my Oculus Go and opened my company’s VR software, rumii. Once in rumii, I navigated to a virtual Japanese Zen garden, opened our YouTube widget and searched for exercise videos until I found one showing how to do a plank. So that’s what I did. Fully immersed in the virtual world of a peaceful Japanese Zen garden, I did a plank in virtual reality. I lasted only about 30 seconds, but I immediately recognized the benefits, so I kept doing them every morning and added new workouts and diet changes until I had lost enough weight to stream my planks in VR to my Twitter channel. It was monumental.
Gone was the drudgery of doing the same old workout routine in a crowded and stinky gym. I could use rumii to transport myself to any environment I wished and virtually interact with meal planners, personal trainers, people around the world in a similar circumstance as me and do my exercises from the moon, the beach, in a Japanese garden, under the ocean or wherever I wanted. I could event load a 3D model of a boxing ring and practice ducks and slips and then do yoga from a Japanese garden.
Virtual reality and rumii enabled me to escape my confines of depression, stress, and anxiety and access a world of content in any virtual environment I desired. All I needed was my HMD and since I frequently traveled for work, I always had my HMD with me. It was magical. It was life-changing.
It gave me discipline and focus.
4 am became my frenemy.
Instead of going to bed at 4 am because I was working all day and night, I decided to wake up at 4 am. Not because I was trying to emulate some former Navy Seal or Instagram fitness influencer. For me, it was a simple matter of math. Because I operate a global VR company headquartered in Seattle, WA with employees and customers in multiple time zones around the world, I simply just need to wake up earlier. Typically, my day starts at 6 am PST so that I’m available for east coast meetings that start at 9 am EST. So, instead of working until 4 am, getting my typical 2 hours of sleep and rolling out of bed or (more typically) off the couch at 6 am, I got disciplined with my schedule.
Here is that schedule.
How I Get Sh*t Done – My Daily Discipline
I compartmentalize my day into three main categories that represent my daily discipline and help me stay organized and focused: what I must do, what I will do and what I can do.
I use my Oculus Go, Oculus Quest and my HTC Vive for different workouts. You can see most of these on my Twitter channel. I regularly post my workout videos or stream them to Twitter so that people know this is real, this is helpful and that it can change anyone’s life for the better.
Boxing in VR:
Burpees in VR:
Treadmill in VR:
Planks in VR:
Before I start my daily workout, I load a magical VR environment in rumii from whatever VR HMD I happen to be using and select a pre-loaded song or YouTube playlist to play for background music. Sometimes I just load up Netflix in VR and watch StarTrek because I’m a giant nerd.
I also mix up my routine and will sometimes wear a 19-35 pound weight vest during every workout except on the days that I run, do a spin class or do handstand pushups.
Mat Chacon doing 4 am VR workouts
Trust me when I say that I am exhausted at the end of my workout routine. All I want to do is stop. But I don’t. I’ll pick one exercise at the end of my workout and do it to fail or fatigue. I start that one particular exercise and say this mantra to myself as I do it:
“When my mind is weak and my body sore, that’s when I do 100 more.”
The “100” in the mantra can mean that I do 100 more seconds, 100 more reps, 100 more feet… really whatever I like. But, I do at least 100 more. Only then, can I stop. Saying that little mantra helps me train my brain to get into mental states of never quitting. Regardless of what I’m doing, I never, ever quit. There may be smarter people in the room. There may be wealthier people in the room. But, none of them – not one of them – will out-work me. Ever.
I’ve also been hosting VR workouts in rumii with other people around the world in VR. For those workouts, we also make it more interactive by drawing virtual ropes and punching bags in VR that we use for boxing workouts, among other things. It’s been nice to workout with others in a more social setting where we encourage each other and workout in more of a team environment.
Diet is a big part of my workout routine. However, let me be clear about something. I don’t restrict my diet in any major way. I do make some small changes, yes. But I haven’t stopped eating or drinking the things that make life worth living. After all, if I were to do that, then what’s the point of living? Here are the changes I’ve made to my diet.
- Intermittent fasting – I don’t eat any solid food until 8-10 hours after I wake up and I only make relatively healthy food choices (explained below). I do, however, drink lots of water throughout the day and I also drink black coffee with 1 packet of raw sugar and a full teaspoon of Ghee butter up until my first meal of the day.
- Coffee – I’ve completely eliminated milk of any kind from my coffee and pretty much my entire diet. I only add a little raw sugar and Ghee butter or a tablespoon of Bulletproof coffee additive to every 8oz of coffee. I also don’t actually measure anything. I just “eyeball” it. I’ve found that by eliminating milk from my coffee and my diet that I have more energy throughout the day and have virtually eliminated my illnesses. No, I am not lactose intolerant and I really don’t know if there is any correlation between eliminating milk and improving health. I just know that I feel much better. I also decided to replace milk with one teaspoon of butter in my coffee simply because it was a fad at the time and I wanted to try it. Turns out, it works.
- Breakfast – I don’t eat it. Turns out it’s not the most important meal of the day. Remember, if you see a stranger on television telling you to do or eat something, then it’s probably an advertisement that benefits them more than it does you. Ignore those people. Ignore me if you like. I’m just relaying what works for me. It may or may not work for you.
- Lunch – I’ll eat anywhere between 12 pm and 2 pm. When I do eat, I make relatively healthy choices like reducing my intake of starches such as bread, rice, and certain grains. I basically eat one fist size of a protein like a steak, chicken, fish or whatever. Then one fist size of some sort of vegetable. Then I eat one fist size of carb/starch like a side of bread or rice or something. Rice bowls are great for this. If I’m on the go, I’ll try to grab a 6-inch sandwich from Subway and skip the chips. But, like I stated earlier, I haven’t really made any drastic diet changes. I still eat carbs. I love carbs. I’m a gluten glutton. However, I have reduced my intake of complex carbs, but not eliminated them entirely. I even put butter on my bread.
- Dinner – I eat dinner as usual and make the same choices as I do at lunch. But, I add a glass or two of wine. Yes, alcohol contains sugar. So does fruit. Guess what? I like fermented fruit. So, I drink wine with almost every dinner. Red, white, rose all day. I’d also sip on a reposado tequila at times. Why? Because I like sipping on a reposado tequila at times.
- Snacks – If I feel hungry at any time before or after dinner, I snack on small things like a piece of fruit or nuts or even cheeses. However, I only snack on one fist-size serving. That’s it.
- Cheat Days – I choose one weekend day as my cheat day. I’ll throw back some whiskey, tequila and even have an occasional cigar. I’ll eat sweets but I don’t overindulge. It all goes back to that old saying, “Everything in moderation.”
I have only one life. I’m not going to waste it by avoiding good food and good wine, for they are the very essentials of life.
VR most definitely helped me lose weight. It exposed me to immersively interacting with other people that were in the same boat as me, provided a support network and the VR avatar actually gave me a “mask” to hide my insecurities and fears and open up more than I might have in a face-to-face setting or video chat. It was freeing. VR also helped me explore content I wouldn’t otherwise have access in any immersive way and explore meal planning videos. This was how I came across a video of Neil deGrasse Tyson on a video recorded podcast talking about what a diet plan would be if it were written by an astrophysicist. He said it would be one sentence, “Burn more calories than you consume.” I liked the simplicity of that and it became the foundation for my meal planning.
It usually takes me somewhere between 60-90 minutes to complete a full circuit VR workout. On the days that I do “road work” I usually run outside, on a treadmill or take a spin class. I also workout 6 days a week with one day off.
There are two primary costs: time and money.
- Time – Waking up at 4 am is no easy thing. It takes a tremendous amount of discipline not to hit the snooze button. But, it’s necessary in order to have enough time to actually wake up, change, drink some water and then get in a proper workout. In order to do that, I have found that I need around 90-minutes to workout with a 30-minute buffer. It takes about an hour for me to do all of the workouts (with small “breather” breaks in between) to get to the Navy Seal Burpees or to the running part of the workout. To be honest, I don’t always run. But, if I’m not running, then I force myself to crank out the burpees no matter what (sometimes I’ll take an afternoon spin class instead of run, just based on whatever meetings I have starting in the morning).
- Money – An Oculus Go HMD will run you about $200.00 USD. An Oculus Quest will run about $400.00 USD. An HTC Vive or Oculus Rift is much more expensive at a total cost of anywhere between $1,500.00 USD – $3,000.00 USD because both require a wired connection to an expensive computer that contains a pricey GPU. However, if you purchase a 6 degree of freedom (6 DOF) HMD, then you can do pretty much every workout listed without the need for a Vive or Rift setup.
I can workout from literally anywhere on earth while immersively interacting with a supportive social network of other people in the moment. I can workout remotely with others, but feel as though we’re all in the same place at the same time.
I can also load whatever 3D environment I happen to be in the mood for that day, then load up whatever workout content I like or load a video or music playlist, then “get after it!”
Another benefit is that I can interact with coaches in Brazil, meal planners in New York or Yoga instructors in Mumbai. We can see each other and interact as though we’re all in the same place at the same time. It’s nice to high-five fellow VR workout participants and encourage each other to keep going!
But for me, the best part is that I can workout without any distractions like waiting for someone to get off a weight machine at a gym or put their weights back into the weight rack. Basically, no crowds. I truly love that!
By far, the worst part about working out in VR is how sweaty my HMDs get during a workout. They can get pretty gross. But, it’s also manageable. I just wipe them down with alcohol wipes before, during and after my workouts. Other downsides include:
- Heat – My HMDs get hot during a workout and sometimes fog up because none of them are well ventilated. However, punching a few holes in the cloth face covering of my HMDs solves that pretty well.
- Controllers – Certain workouts work very well with controllers in hand, like certain Yoga poses and squats. However, it’s been difficult to actually hold on to the controllers during burpees and pushups. I’ve tried strapping them to my wrists using boxing wraps, but I usually just set them aside for those workouts as the controllers aren’t really necessary for anything other than selecting workout options before a workout.
- Battery life – I need to make sure the HMDs are all freshly charged up before a workout session. The hand controllers also run out of battery every couple of weeks or so. Some of them take AA batteries. So, I’ve taken to just using rechargeable AA batteries for the controllers.
VR workouts are a great option as an unconventional solution to kick start your workouts and/or meal planning. I am living proof that VR workouts, well… work out.
There are VR experiences out there that people use to get a realistic VR workout like BOXVR and Beat Saber as well as VR fitness machines like icaros and Black Box VR and they’re only getting better. They’ll only continue to gain more meaningful traction as the HMDs shrink and as new technologies like digital light fields become a ubiquitous reality.
The bottom line is that VR and AR workouts are becoming a very real and normal part of our daily lives because people are voting for them with their wallets and their selfies. It’s becoming impossible to avoid the VR workout selfies that people are posting all over social media… and that’s a very good thing.
If you’re looking for something to ease you into a healthier life, VR workouts may just be the thing to get you started. I am living proof that VR workouts actually work. I’m healthier, happier and looking forward to celebrating my 47th birthday in the best shape of my life.