Sunday, 30 March 2008

A virtual blessing...or virtual insanity?

We live in a high tech world gone mad. We can do everything on the computer now: shopping, bill paying, banking, even travel. And now we can also go to the gym without getting too far away from our computer desk. In a crowded city like London, sometimes the last thing we want is to spend our free time duking it out over a bloody machine with the other 50 gym members filling a sweaty, muggy fitness centre.

Take the VirtualGym TV website, for example. It holds downloadable video aerobics, spinning and dance classes for all levels. It even claims to have a customized "personal trainer" feature that adapts a programme for each individual's needs. The site claims to be "the future of fitness."

Even Nintendo is chucking its poker chips in, in response to the obesity crisis in the UK. The Wii Fit is a virtual gym that targets those those video game-fried couch potatoes. It's a console that provides BMI and fitness tools, as well as a variety of yoga, aerobics, and other virtual classes. This handy dandy little box that hooks up to the average television set will be available the 25 April.

If that still seems a bit impersonal, meet Maya. She's the virtual trainer for Yourself Fitness, a software programme designed for Playstation, Xbox or PC. According to the programme's website, Maya adapts to your own customized settings and creates a programme for you. She even is able to adapt each workout to how you are feeling that particular day. That's pretty impressive-sounding!

It seems as though companies are trying to find a way to adapt current technology to aid people in getting fit. However, I'm a bit skeptical about how well a virtual personal trainer could work. True, it could provide an aide or a suggestion, but without a doctor's or real person's assessment as to an individual's fitness, I say it's still a bit risky. Plus, there's no one around to watch the person to assess whether he or she is moving correctly through an exercise with correct positioning, etc. Personally, when I was able to enjoy the benefits of a personal trainer, I enjoyed the fact that he or she was able to "spot" me when I was lifting weights or doing squats or lunges beyond my limitations. Having a bit of help at the end of a set and someone to watch my muscles working helped me to get much stronger much faster.

Perhaps with time the technology will get better and there will be a way to give someone a proper "personal training" workout. Until then, I believe that, while these virtual "trainers" can be helpful in a person's fitness programme, they are no substitute for the real thing.

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