Troy Rawhiti-Forbes

Gaming tragic Troy Rawhiti-Forbes gets off the couch and into the virtual gym.

Off the Couch: A gamer turns to virtual training

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Home users can feel the burn under the tutelage of Nike trainers Alex Molden and Marie Purvis. Photo / Supplied
Home users can feel the burn under the tutelage of Nike trainers Alex Molden and Marie Purvis. Photo / Supplied

Back in June at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, I experienced an early version of Nike+ Kinect Training. It's a pretty smart idea, based on some very serious high-performance athletic principles, and incorporating the same training exercises said to be available to the likes of NBA basketballer LeBron James and tennis star Rafael Nadal.

After two years in development, that training is now available to anyone with an Xbox 360 and its motion-sensing Kinect peripheral. But is the promise of getting the best personal training on the planet enough to get a gamer off the couch and onto the floor? Could it convince a dedicated gym bunny to ditch the gym and start working up a sweat in the living room?

I don't think I've seen the inside of a gym or workout studio in almost five years, but as a gamer I'm naturally competitive - something I had in common with the real-life version of one of two personal trainers to appear in Nike+ KT.

Let me explain that I spent a couple of seasons playing schoolboy rugby league, and Alex Molden played eight seasons of American football in the NFL. I know, it's not a fair fight. Alex should have been running scared.

Alex outperformed me in each drill by only marginal degrees, leading me to believe that I was either a natural athlete of freakish talent, or he was giving me some serious leniency. Either way, I was sufficiently impressed by my experience with the programme and decided I'd be willing/dedicated/daft enough to trial it for four weeks when the final version was ready to go.

So here I am. I'm one week in, and feeling fine. Now, anyway.

I should stress that this is not a weight loss story, though that is one of the options available to you. In all, it offers you three distinct workout goals. You can work to get strong, get toned, or get lean. I've done the weight loss thing with reasonable success, and I don't need to heft metal balls like Valerie Adams, so toning it is.

Because the programme requires a lot of elbow room, I had to clear out my living room, and unfortunately the Xbox didn't give me any brownie points for that additional workout. Considering I have to shift the couch and armchairs every time I do this, that's a bit harsh, but I've chosen to take each rearrangement as additional notches on my belt of physical awesomeness. My dogs have chosen to take them as signs of the apocalypse, or an impending change of address, and they freak out each time I do it, so I end up rewarding them with a walk or a bit of backyard play. More notches for the belt.

On the first day of the programme, Virtual Alex (as I'll call him) took me through my physical assessment, with the aim of helping the machine understand my body's movements and to pick up any weaknesses or effects of injuries. It's a smart piece of software, really. It detected the stiffness in my hips and ankles, one of which I broke a couple of years ago. It even encouraged me not to panic so much about my left shoulder, which I'd injured in a sporting accident. Turns out I'd been quite a big baby about it ever since, but Virtual Alex managed to coax some good movement out of it.

The Kinect sensor isn't entirely perfect, (or since I wasn't wearing any Nike gear, perhaps the programme decided to spite me) but I had a moment of gasping frustration when it failed to detect me during a push-ups drill. That led the trainer to decide I was finished with that exercise and ready to move on. I had a bit of a John McEnroe moment because I was deep into the zone, or some such fitness terminology, and wanted to keep going.

"Done with that one," declared Virtual Alex. My response was not fit for publication.

At the end of my assessment, the sweat was pouring from my body. I had renewed confidence in some aspects of my physical performance, but there were some concerns about my balance, and my challenge over the next few weeks is to use the personalised programme to raise my Fuel Print score of 31 (fitness) and 42 (athleticism) to lofty heights.

As for Virtual Alex, I've already subjected him to a steady stream of verbal abuse. It's nothing new for a gamer to shout at the television, but there's a new justification. It's because I'm pushing my body in ways it hasn't been pushed in years, and I suppose I take some comfort in knowing that Virtual Alex doesn't have any feelings and isn't actually there in my living room to tell me he isn't mad, just disappointed.

That doesn't mean he's not in my head, urging me to "crush it" even when I'm nowhere near my Xbox. Virtual Alex might be the best trainer ever, and he's not even here.

Have you used a virtual training programme before? What sort of results did you experience?

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