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How virtual reality will get you in shape

Step aside CrossFit and Bikram Yoga, virtual reality is taking on the business of fitness with the world's first immersive exercise class.

Pure Group's Pure Fitness launched an 'Immersive Fitness' spinning class last week in its new $4.5 million Hong Kong studio.

Designed by Les Mills – the world's largest provider of choreographed exercise-to-music classes – the program features cinema-quality videos projected onto screens on three of the studio's walls, while an instructor gives cues synchronized with the graphics and music.

Oculus Rift VR headset
Source: Oculus Rift VR Headset | Facebook
Oculus Rift VR headset

"It's basically the gamification of exercise," said Colin Grant, CEO and co-founder of Pure Group in a CNBC interview. "It's that sweet spot where fitness, entertainment and technology meet."

This virtual reality (VR) spinning class simulates cycling across various landscapes including a steep glacier and a futuristic space city.

'Gamification of exercise'

"Coupling exercise to virtual reality results in a more enjoyable experience by contextualizing the exercise," said Daniel Mestre, senior researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research. "It notably distracts the participant from exercise-induced pain."

Not only are VR exercises more engaging, they also lower the perceived level of exertion, according to a 2011 study by the French National Center for Scientific Research and Aix-Marseille University.

While the gamification of exercise is not a new concept, the use of VR in personal fitness is still at an early development stage.

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"You'll see an amazing amount of advancement in this VR space over the next two years," said Rob Enderle, principle analyst at Enderle Group. "It will take a bit to get to where it needs to be to grow an audience, but it is here to stay."

New offerings

The rise of VR gear such as the Oculus Rift, Google Glass and Samsung Gear VR, has led to new opportunities in the saturated fitness industry.

At the CES show in January, fitness tracking app Runtastic revealed its latest software developed for Oculus Rift headsets. Users are led by a virtual trainer through exercises like yoga, squats and lunges. There is even a floating stats board to track performance.

And if Oculus Rift's wires get in the way, Widerun has designed a cycling kit that is compatible with the wireless Samsung Gear VR. This VR startup lets you cycle along a customized track, which includes the Tour de France route.

Runtastic for Oculus is still in early demo, while Widerun is presently raising funds on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter.