The first time I trained in VR it happened by accident. I came out of my first Beat Saber session, blinking wide and dripping with sweat, after just unpacking an Oculus Quest 2 an hour earlier, my only previous VR experience a few years earlier with the now-forgotten Google Daydream.
As the editor of this website, I’ve read a lot about VR – we cover the best Oculus Quest 2 games and accessories in detail – but I wasn’t expecting to be felled for as hard or as quickly as I did. Maybe it’s just novelty to pretend to your brain that you are not in the same house, in the same room that you have lived and worked in for the past 18 months. Maybe it’s because of the driving nature of the input itself – games not only react to the trigger movements of my thumbs and fingers, but my entire hand, my arms, my head. It is the wealth of experience that made me fall in love.
Unlike most training notifications, I don’t get annoyed about the ones I get through Supernatural. Still.
So, after that first Beat Saber game session and knowing that I’ve been exercising less than I’d like in the past few months, I looked for Supernatural, the $ 20 a month fitness app that takes up aspects of Beat Saber and adds recognizable music (without DLC), an emphasis on full body movements with squats and lunges in a 360 degree space, and coaches to keep you motivated during each 25 minute session.
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While I understood the criticism of Supernatural – that it’s way too expensive, that it lacks gamification or multiplayer support, and that it doesn’t really add anything to the existing rhythm game canon – I was quick to fall for anything the service gets right. Taking you to beautiful remote landscapes (though admittedly at low resolution) to hit targets racing towards you at different speeds and angles, to a playlist of popular songs, the disembodied voice of a trainer you start and end watch for a few minutes The training motivates you while you walk, I look forward to every session, even if my phone annoys me to “meet” every morning [my] Trainer in 15 minutes. “
I’m less interested in judging Supernatural alone as a workout that I could lose interest in over time, like any other, and more in the exhilarating way VR helps me forget that I’m doing something, which I don’t find particularly pleasant in other forms. I’ve never been satisfied with a treadmill or an exercise bike, but rather went to the tennis or basketball court with friends.
But Supernatural’s debut in the early months of the pandemic caused the same small revolution in the VR world as Peloton did for spin addicts who were no longer able to take personal classes led by their favorite teachers. I remember seeing the awards for both services in mid-2020 and wondering how effective (and possibly uncomfortable) a VR workout could actually be.
It turns out that it can be pretty strong. Supernatural workouts are divided into three tracks: low, medium, and high intensity, with options of varying lengths for each, although most have between two and five songs in their playlists. The bulk of the subscription cost goes into music licensing, as the songs you jump to are recognizable hits from just about every popular artist and genre. (Supernatural will mirror any workout playlist on Spotify if you’re interested in finding them again.)
One of my recent favorites called Shower Songs combined a cover of A Crowded House’s famous one-hit wonder “Don’t Dream It’s Over” with Janelle Monae’s “Make Me Feel”, Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend”, The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” and Tegan and Sara’s “Closer”. You pay for access to the music, of course, but mostly for the curation of how the end result feels like more than the sum of its parts and especially for the extra boost towards the end of the last track when you are particularly exhausted from the instructor who encourages you to “find your moment” and “try to enforce it yourself”.
Like other workouts that combine cardio with mindfulness, with a particular emphasis on self-improvement and discovery, Supernatural is easy to criticize for its attempt to build community around a culture, especially when the mechanics of the actual workout – with your Oculus Touch controllers – are around cancel incoming destinations to a music beat – can be easily reproduced in a number of other cheaper options on the platform. But after trying most of the competitors on the platform, there’s nothing that makes me return day after day to unceremoniously drip sweat on a mat in the middle of my office.
I don’t know if I’ll be spending the $ 180 on an annual subscription to Supernatural when my free trial ends. I’ll probably do it because God knows I’ve spent more on stupid things in the past year, and even if I do use it a few times a week, I’ll feel reasonably validated in my decision. But more importantly, I discovered VR as a really wonderful vehicle for movement, the kind of uninhibited, unimpeded movement that was literally impossible a few years ago without VR being limitless. Yes, you need ample space to move around safely, but getting to know the Oculus ecosystem over the past few weeks has been a delight, especially as someone who has come out of the familiar duality of consoles and phones. I don’t like Facebook’s assault on Oculus any more than I like the next person, but there are bounties here if you know where to look.
Enter the gym
More than a workout
Push your limits with this incredible VR experience, with new workouts every day from real fitness trainers and the most popular music in the world. There’s nothing like it anywhere, but it’s undoubtedly a little expensive.