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Playing the Fitness Game

Can you get a good workout from a video game? Let me be the judge.

The weather in Wayland this winter has been so mild that it’s been easy to keep up with my outdoor workout routines. I’ve been able to hike or walk or run three or four times a week, and it’s been phenomenal. I have to admit, though, I was a little pleased last Wednesday when we had a cold snap, because I finally had an excuse to try some fitness video games.

In all, I judged four video game workouts: Wii Fit Plus, Wii Jillian Michaels Fitness Ultimatum 2010, Xbox Kinect Dance Central, and Wii Zumba Fitness. Here’s my take:

Wii Fit Plus: Although I try, I have a hard time thinking of the Wii Fit as my “workout.” It just isn’t challenging or consistent enough for me to feel like I’m getting my heart rate up for any length of time. While it could be good interval training—the hula hoop left me breathless—I couldn’t imagine doing that for 30 minutes straight without getting bored!

Jeanne’s Judgment: I like Wii Fit and Wii Fit Plus as a way to get sedentary people moving. The yoga and balance exercises are wonderful for seniors or anyone who is just beginning an exercise program. It’s also great for family night—we often have “wii-naments” in the winter. But if you’re already in shape or you want to bring your fitness to the next level, Wii Fit Plus is not going to do it.

Wii Jillian Michaels Fitness Ultimatum 2010 (note, there is a 2011 version): I did a 30-minute circuit training program, which included a cardiovascular exercises (jumping jacks, running, etc.), total body strength exercises (push-ups, squats, lunges), and core work. Lots of core work. Overall, I found this workout to be light on the cardiovascular side—I didn’t really sweat, although the reason for that could be that the thermostat in my house was holding steady at 60—but the strength and core work was challenging. One thing I could have used less of was Jillian yelling at me. When I was doing circle kicks, I started off on the wrong leg (I was supposed to start on the same side as Jillian, not mirror her). By the time I figured out what I had done wrong, I was on the 28 repetition (of 30) and it was too late to correct it. One thing I could have used more of was sets: There was only one set of 15 push-ups. When I work out on my own, I do a lot more than that!

Jeanne’s Judgment: Next time I pop in this game, I might just skip to the core workouts. The crunches and bicycles were a challenge, particularly because of the pacing and the sheer number required! My clients often rush through their crunches, and they end up using momentum more than muscle to move. Jillian slows down the pace and yells at you every time you miss the mark, which helps you focus on form. I definitely had sore abs the next day.

Wii Zumba: Thanks, Simmons family, for loaning me Wii Zumba. My daughter and I tried this a few times and it left us breathless—both from laughter and from the cardio workout! Of all the video game workouts I tried, I found Wii Zumba to be the only one that kept me in my target heart rate zone for a sustained period of time. The moves, at least on the “easy” selection, weren’t too difficult to pick up, and even if you didn’t do them exactly the right way, it didn’t matter. The key was to keep moving, which the game definitely encouraged. I also liked that it had a cool down at the end of the “class” so you could slow your heart rate gradually.

Jeanne’s Judgment: Wii Zumba is a fun, and surprisingly good, cardiovascular workout. It offers plenty of variety in terms of types and difficulty of workouts, so you would not be bored quickly. If I were short on time and couldn’t find a Zumba class to fit my schedule, this would be a good substitute. It’s also good for someone who is too intimidated to try a Zumba class in person and wants to get a feel for the moves and the music first.

xBox Kinect Dance Central: Since I don’t have an xBox, I “borrowed” one (thanks, Artur!) and tried the Dance Central game. I liked the game’s instructions. Each dance was broken down, move by move. When I finally put it all together, it was really fun—and I felt like I was learning some new dance moves. I didn’t play long enough to get a complete workout, but I was definitely moving. As a bonus, my cheek muscles were hurting because I was laughing at myself and my lack of rhythm.

Jeanne’s Judgment: If I were in the comfort of my own home, and I could run the dances back-to-back, I bet Dance Central would be a pretty good workout. But I don’t think I’d do it. More likely, this would be relegated to family game night, so I’d have to rate this as a good activity rather than a real workout.

Overall, I’d give video-game fitness 3 out of 5 stars. I believe in variety in your workout, and when you try a new exercise, you work different muscles and challenge yourself in different ways. For a good workout in less than an hour, I’d have no problem recommending 40 minutes of Zumba Fitness, followed by some of the Jillian Michaels strength and core exercises, and ending with Wii Fit yoga (or just some stretches). But I don’t think video games are the best way to lose a significant amount of weight or change your fitness unless you are completely sedentary. I’d call this more of a “maintenance” workout.

But anything that gets you off the couch is good in my book, so on those days that you just can’t get to the gym or outside for your regular workout, any workout—even 10 minutes of dancing with your Kinect—is better than no workout. Even if it doesn’t whittle your waist, it’ll boost your mood and that alone can make you happier and healthier.

For a more scientific review of video game fitness, complete with calories burned and heart-rate monitoring, check this out: http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/upgrade-your-life/

Amy Simmons January 09, 2012 at 05:03 PM
A great write-up, and good to know. Thanks!
Lean Man January 10, 2012 at 10:11 AM
The girlfriend bought a wii only for the zumba game. Now i can do photos, films and internet on the tv so all good with that. hehe. Anyways, MaxOT is the routine that works for me. PDFs available on http://leanbodymass.org
Brooklyn Lowery (Editor) January 10, 2012 at 04:08 PM
My husband and I gave each other a Kinect for Christmas (presumably for the exercise options), but we've found that laughing at each other as we try to match the steps for "Whip My Hair," during Dance Central 2 is not only good for the stomach muscles, it's priceless entertainment.
Jeanne Brown January 13, 2012 at 01:54 PM
That's what we've found, too, Brooklyn, although I still love the idea of being active with your spouse/kids rather than just sitting passively in front of the t.v. or iPad. It's a step in the right direction toward a more active lifestyle. (pun intended)

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