I Tried Mixed-Reality Strength Training – and It’s Not What I Expected

Courtesy of Litesport

What makes a great workout? Is it the trainer? Is it the environment? Is it the type of exercise you’re doing?

For me, it’s a mix of all three. That’s why I was very skeptical to try virtual reality workouts when they first came out. I mean how good could the instruction actually be?

When COVID hit I got myself a Quest 2 and explored the different fitness-minded games they offered, such as rock climbing the Alps in the Climb, meditating in another galaxy in Maloka, or working out in AI-like environments in Supernatural. They were all super fun, engaging, and at times left me sweaty and breathless. But I didn’t necessarily feel like any of them went above and beyond when it came to true fitness instruction. Perhaps I felt this way because I’m a strength workout fanatic and there wasn’t anything out there that filled my need to lift – and lift heavy.

Then in 2023, I heard about Litesport‘s new MR (mixed reality) platform that uses certified trainers to offer personal training with – get this – physical dumbbells. I was intrigued and terrified all at the same time. If you’ve seen the videos of people walking into walls in VR headsets you know why.

I received my new Meta Quest 3 and was immediately aware of how much lighter it was than the previous model. Aside from its size, the Meta Quest 3 has a new feature called Passthrough, which seamlessly blends reality with virtual reality. The Passthrough feature is what makes the virtual reality mixed reality so you don’t need to worry about accidentally bumping into anything. (Worth noting, Supernatural also just launched a mixed-reality mode that lets you “[blend] your workout experience with your surroundings,” the brand notes.) Eager to get started, I quickly threw on some gym clothes, cleared a radius of 6.5 meters per Meta’s recommendation, and plugged in.

For those of you who are fitness buffs like myself you may recognize Litesport as Liteboxer. In 2017 Liteboxer came on the scene as one of the first connected fitness devices for boxing. Their big thing was having great, licensed music so you could punch to the very catchy beat of popular music across genres. As the music played, lights would flicker in the direction you needed to punch. The beat helped create muscle memory of the cadence and flow – but truth be told, I found it very hard (even with over a decade of boxing classes under my belt). What’s undeniable is the flow state the workout brings you into – the lights, music, and act of punching all come together for a common goal of fitness. I was curious if that flow state would appear in their one-on-one strength workouts, too.

Litesport is similar to the other VR programs in that it drops you into an immersive experience right from the get-go. When my headset turned on, my living room disappeared, “transforming” into a spacious gym with a boxing ring. I selected a strength workout and was prompted to choose what weights I planned on using. To familiarize myself with the workout, I decided to forgo the weights at first and use the light remote controllers as the only resistance.

The workouts are organized by the number of songs and body parts worked. I settled on “3-Song Upper-Body Mixed Tape” with GW. Once I hit start my controllers were transformed into dumbbells – and I was transported back to my living room where my trainer, GW, greeted me.

He made sure I had my weights with me and Passthrough turned on so that I could see everything around me. To the right of the trainer, there was a VR diagram of a human body with different muscle groups highlighted to show what the exercises are working. Round one was a mix of dumbbell rows, overhead presses, and lateral lunges. A clock counted down the number of seconds I had left on each exercise as my coach guides me along move by move.

After getting a feel for the workout, I decided it was time to upgrade with actual dumbbells. I paused my workout and because of the Passthrough function, I didn’t need to take off my headset to grab a pair of dumbbells. I was a little apprehensive going into it but was pleasantly surprised at how easy it felt to do the workout even in the headset (just make sure you adjust the straps so it’s securely fastened to your head). I definitely think the constant cuing from the trainers helped me stay focused and engaged in the exercise. As someone who’s used to staring at a mirror during a workout, it was really nice to focus on the workout and not on how I looked in the mirror; it also helped me get back into that flow state.

Onto round two, single upward flys were followed by double upward flys and reverse lunges with high pulls. By this point, beads of sweat were forming on my upper lip and my body was entirely warmed up. Dumbbell circles and hammer curls rounded out the second set, and finally, we made it to round three, which was mix of squats, overhead squats and high pulls, and overhead presses.

Each exercise is calculated to be safe with the headset on and meant to be slow and controlled – i.e., no burpees, but a fair amount of compound exercises. When we were asked to do high knees, GW demonstrated a moderate pace, telling us to flex our toes in each rep to really engage the muscles. Before I know it we were at the cool down portion and I was left feeling like I wanted more.

The screen then took me to more stats with time spent on each muscle group, key muscles worked, and the total weight lifted – which seems impressive at over 600 lbs, given I was using my 2 lb weights. Nevertheless I felt accomplished and took a swig of water before trying my next strength workout, an EMOM workout with Jill and Anthony.

Most of the strength workouts are around 10 minutes long with a few offered at the five- or 15-minute ranges. That’s on purpose, Litesport VP of Talent & Production Anthony Crouchelli notes. These snackable workouts are an efficient way to get moving when you’ve been working from home all day. If you’re looking for something a little longer, stack three of the workouts to build a 45-min session.

Crouchelli shares that more strength programming is coming to the platform – and soon. “Starting in June we’ll have curated six-week and 12-week programs to help you build towards your strength goals and we’ll have all your data stored in one place,” Crouchelli says.

So, who is Litesport strength good for? “Anyone, and EVERYONE!” says Crouchelli who references his clients in their 20s who “love the gamification fitness side of Litesport, all the way to my parents who are in their 70’s who utilize it for their at home workouts to stay strong when it can be tough to leave the house.”

In my experience, Litesport is great for someone looking to build up their strength in a fun way, and for those that work at home or don’t belong to a gym or any fitness classes. Unlike mobile apps, there’s something really special about having your trainer appear in front of you as an almost life-sized person. The format reminded me of how The Mirror operates, but it has the benefit of being mobile so you can do it from anywhere. You get the feel of an in-person class in the comfort of your home – or wherever you decide to take LiteSport with you. The bottom line: I’m a fan.

Marietta Alessi is a wellness writer with nearly ten years of experience. Her work has appeared in Shape, Bustle, and many other outlets. She is based in Hoboken, NJ, but loves travel, boxing, and long walks on the beach where she makes sea glass jewelry in her spare time.

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