Nintendo’s latest brainchild, Wii Fit, could send ripples through the home-fitness market. Released last week in North America, Wii Fit is not meant to replace a gym. But in a world of $3,000 (around Rs1.26 lakh) elliptical machines and $150-an-hour personal trainers, it has at least a chance of becoming a global, affordable, mass-market interactive home-fitness system (on its overseas debut last month, it became one of the fastest-selling games ever in Britain).
Exercising with Wii Fit is like having a personal trainer gently cajoling you through exercises, praising, nudging, even reminding you to eat a banana once in a while. It also lets you see how you stack up against friends or family members.
Weiss using the Wii floor-based pressure board that, along with hand-held motion sensors, tracks the user’s weight, posture and movements (Photo by: Beatrice de Gea)
The system costs $90, plus $250 for the basic Wii console. It uses a television and a sensitive “balance board” placed on the floor to present a few dozen activities, from push-ups to yoga, to more entertaining challenges such as balance games and aerobic contests. Wii Fit is meant to appeal to the person busy with work and family who just wants to have fun getting a little toned at home.
To evaluate the system, we recruited two fitness professionals, an avid exerciser and one work-at-home parent to try Wii Fit at the Chelsea Piers sports complex in Manhattan. Here is what we thought:
Shira Weiss, a 33-year-old mother of two and a publicist for small businesses, wants Wii Fit because it fits both her lifestyle and her doorway. “Let me put it this way: I clean with vigour. I like aerobic exercise and would like a treadmill. But we tried to get one, and the door of our house was too narrow.”
Looking at the 12-inch by 20-inch Wii Fit board—“but this could work,” she says.
Wii Fit’s almost 50 exercises are divided into four categories: strength training, aerobics, balance games and yoga. Each user creates a personal profile, including a potential weight loss (or gain) goal. The system tracks a user’s weight and body-mass index as well as performance on individual exercises. To help prevent novices from over-extending or frustrating themselves, only a few exercises are initially available in each category; more advanced activities are unlocked only after completing simpler options.
Weiss found her groove in Wii Fit’s aerobics section. She proved a quick study with the hula hoop game before finding her long-sought treadmill replicated in the running game. In Wii Fit, running does not use the board. Rather, the user puts the TV-remote-size Wii controller in her pocket or hand and runs in place while the motion-sensitive controller serves as a pedometer.
“I enjoyed it,” Weiss says. “It’s more interesting than running on a treadmill because it gives you something to look at. It’s like an interactive exercise game. In some ways, it’s like playing Nintendo, but with your body.”
Bottom Line: Wii Fit could be the right choice for exercise amateurs trying to get in shape in the living room.
THE SWEAT HOUND
Luke McCambley, 18, a student at the School of Visual Arts in New York, works out six days a week, and is studying to become a personal trainer.
So, it wasn’t surprising he had little problem with various strength exercises such as push-ups and leg twists. He aced balance games such as skiing and heading soccer balls, and looked like he could punch through the screen in his aerobic boxing session.
“For someone who doesn’t want to leave the living room it would be great,” he says. “Overall, I liked it a lot. It seems really well-designed for the people it’s for. I worked up a sweat with a couple of the exercises.” He adds, “This would be great for mothers, or if they want their kids to get a little more in shape.”
Bottom Line: Serious athletes don't need Wii Fit, but you (or your children) might like it.
THE YOGA MASTER
Wii Fit is not, however, the right choice if you want to impress Cyndi Lee, 54, the founder of Om Yoga in New York.
Cyndi Lee found the Wii a poor yoga teacher (Photo by: Beatrice de Gea)
Before trying the system, she eyed the board and declared, “It’s too small.” Nonetheless, she sailed through a progression of Wii Fit’s yoga poses, including the half-moon, warrior, tree and sun salutation.
“This is a little dumbed down and they are teaching more from a fitness or gym perspective,” she says. “They're saying things like, ‘Tighten your glutes’, which we would never say in yoga.”
Bottom Line: Wii Fit will not make you a yogi.
THE FITNESS PROFESSIONAL
Sharone Huey, 51, an exercise physiologist at the Sports Center at Chelsea Piers, spent the most time with Wii Fit. Over two days, she spent at least two-and-a-half hours with the system herself.
Her initial scepticism evolved into somewhat surprised admiration.
“Actually, I think it's pretty good,” she says. “You can definitely get a workout. When I started doing it, I realized all the activities were pretty much on point. This will be a good tool for people who can't make it to the gym.”
“I can see this in a seniors centre or senior community and it would be very interesting to be able to set up a whole class of people on boards, tracking their progress,” says Huey, who reigned supreme as the week’s hula hoop champion.
Bottom Line: Watch for the Chelsea Piers Wii Fit class coming soon (maybe, just maybe).
THE COUCH POTATO
And what about Mr Lumpy Flounder himself?
For me, the key is that one can approach Wii Fit like a game. In its sheer variety of activities, you can always find something to do. It beckons me to unlock the different exercises, to get four stars in snowboarding, to get through six more jackknife crunches.
I’ve spent about 7 hours with Wii Fit recently and I’m still doing it. I’m even running a little. But I realize that in an exercise programme, no manner of electronic frippery (or fancy workout clothes) can make up for old-fashioned motivation. If I stop using Wii Fit, it won’t be because the graphics or the sound were bad. It will just mean I got tired of exercising, and no mere product will be at fault. Will I achieve the modest weight loss goal I’ve set? I can only hope so.
And no, I won’t tell you what it is.
©2008/The New York Times
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