Virtual reality is going mainstream and immersive, gamified workouts are transforming the fitness experience.
With the potential to make working out fun and engaging for an entirely new audience beyond exercise enthusiasts, VR fitness is catching on.
In our latest Q&A, we caught up with FitXR’s chief product officer Ben Jones to discuss the company’s virtual fitness club and VR’s role in a new era of exercise.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and what brought you to FitXR?
Ben Jones: Prior to joining FitXR, I was chief product officer at Primer.ai, a company using best-in-class machine learning and natural language processing technologies to help its customers scale and optimize their intelligence workflows.
Before that, I spent nearly 14 years at AKQA, serving as global chief technology officer and working with notable clients such as Nike and Dyson. Working with Nike for so many years—and, specifically, the Digital Sport and Innovation team—I witnessed the power of technology to increase athletic performance. We learned so much about measurement and personalization, which is particularly interesting to the virtual fitness experience—and a priority for me—as we look to build a more robust and customized product offering in FitXR.
There are very few technologies that have truly impacted the way humans live.
Telecommunications was one; the Internet was another. Meanwhile, fitness has been the same since the days of Chariots of Fire and the rules we adhere to go back centuries. But now we have VR/AR, which changes conventions. With VR (and AR on the horizon), we can enable immersive experiences in fitness that we didn’t think possible a short time ago.
This is the most exciting time for the fitness industry, and I’m so thrilled to be part of this with FitXR.
How did the pandemic impact FitXR and VR fitness, in general? Is this trend here to stay?
BJ: Obviously, the pandemic fostered some big changes in the fitness space. With gyms closed, home workouts and the technologies that enable them were adapted quickly. It brought me so much pleasure to see how fitness became a key tenant of survival, both physically and mentally, for so many. Personally, I now have a full home gym, and I have never before seen so many people out running!
However, as things (started to) settle and we were able to get back to a “new normal,” the first casualty was my Peloton bike. It sits unused. The question is why? The answer is I can do that at the gym, but I never used to.
Ultimately, this is where VR fitness brings something that others can not, and I see this as being bigger than the pandemic.
The main problem with the traditional gym is that the wrong people are going to it. It’s those who already have a background in exercise and sport who continue to train throughout their lives. These people enjoy the gym experience, or at least the physical and mental benefits it provides. But this is not the case for the increasingly inactive population who are put off by the traditional gym experience for whatever reason, be it a lack of motivation to start the process or being intimidated at the thought of working out in front of others.
We at FitXR believe that VR fitness can help bridge this gap. We feel the way to appeal to a wider range of people than just those that are in shape is to make exercise feel more like play. When you’re a kid running around outside, you don’t think of what you are doing as exercise. If adults felt that same joy when they were working out, more would form consistent habits. And that’s our goal — to get more people active each and every day.
How does FitXR’s approach differ from other companies in the VR space?
BJ: FitXR is all about making fitness fun and accessible to everyone. We are a virtual reality fitness experience that transforms home fitness into something more. With the integration of connected gaming technology and group fitness conventions, FitXR delivers an unparalleled VR fitness experience accessible by anyone, from anywhere.
Even if you love to train, it can feel boring and unrewarding. FitXR removes that no-pain-no-gain barrier, instead making training feel like a game, whether you’re competing with yourself or the FitXR community.
Therefore, FitXR is making group fitness fit for the future. It’s an immersive fitness destination that’s safer than gyms, more fun than traditional studios, and more authentic than app versions of studio fitness. It’s the best way to have a social fitness experience in the comfort, safety and convenience of home.
Looking at the roadmap, what’s new and in the works at FitXR?
BJ: I can’t give you the full details about the next 12 months, but I can say it’s going to be our most exciting year yet.
We have some interesting work to help people onboard and understand the studios we offer today. We have exciting plans to ensure people feel motivated to be a healthier and fitter version of themselves. And, without a doubt, we will be building excitement and going deeper in our existing studios (we might add one or two new ones as well).
Looking back at this year, we’ve ended 2021 with a bang. It has been an exciting few weeks for FitXR, with many new improvements made. Over the last six weeks alone, we have implemented the following:
We upgraded our HIIT Studio with 27 new and improved moves to deliver more purposeful programming for better fitness results. We also launched a new HIIT environment in which to work out in: Downtown Gym Day & Night.
Our Box Studio has been updated with new voice-overs allowing more constructive coaching throughout the classes. This creates a more structured and motivational workout for better performance. But just wait for early 2022: Box will get even better!
To give our members a taste of holiday spirit, we introduced 10 Box, HIIT and Dance classes that feature holiday music, a winter-themed environment called Ice Rink Day (& Night), and winter-themed cosmetic updates. These seasonal features will remain in-app through early January.
To help improve class discoverability and findability, we redesigned our filters and the home screen, making the user experience more simplistic and enjoyable. We also refreshed the class results screen that appears at the end of every class in all three studios to feature more in-depth completion stats, a new share button that shares to Facebook in two clicks (no other fitness VR app has this feature!), and a new class rating button that gives our players a chance to thumbs up or thumbs down a class, with reasons why chosen from a predefined list.
We’ve added a much-requested feature that adds a three-second countdown timer after you unpause a class, allowing members a chance to prepare for the next cue or dance move and not lose that well-earned streak.
There’s also now a second way to become a member. In addition to the monthly subscription of $9.99, members can choose an annual pricing model, paying $83.99 upfront for a year’s membership
Anything else you’d like to share with readers?
BJ: In many ways, we’re just at the beginning of what’s to come in the VR Fitness space. It’s a Pong and Atari moment, and the various devices that may or may not be coming out will offer more opportunities to “Think different.”
With so much innovation to come, we’re constantly listening to our members and community of loyal users to continue to take our product to the next level.
We’re on a mission to create the most comprehensive immersive fitness experience in the world, and we invite you to check us out at fitxr.com to change the way you think about fitness.