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Immersive Fitness Impacts RPE

Novice fitness participants are attracted to visual effects.

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Immersive imagery may improve new exercisers’ enjoyment of higher-intensity training programs, according to research findings in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (2017; doi:10.1249/MSS. 0000517458.24189.cc).

Pennsylvania State University researchers conducted a pilot study to compare results of six elite and six novice participants in a music-only, instructor-led indoor cycling class versus a music-plus-immersive-digital-imagery class led by the same instructor. Investigators collected data on the amount of time cyclists spent in the maximum heart-rate training zone and on their ratings of perceived exertion (RPEs), satisfaction and class enjoyment levels.

Data analysis showed that, even though novice participants worked at the same intensity level in both class settings, they reported significantly lower RPEs during the immersive class. While both elite and novice participants reported higher RPEs in the music-only classes, novices’ time in the highest heart-rate zones did not differ between conditions.

Lead study author Jinger S. Gottschall, PhD, associate professor of kinesiology at Penn State, thinks immersive fitness may help new exercisers stick with a training program. “The reports of greater satisfaction and enjoyment, despite [new exercisers] being in that challenging max heart rate for a significant period of the class, have a major bearing on keeping new exercisers going back for more, based on our previous work showing that enjoyment and satisfaction are linked to adherence.

“Another benefit of immersive training for novices is that they do not feel like they are being watched by the instructor or the advanced participants. Studies show that new participants find cycling programs [in general] less intimidating [than other cardio programs or yoga].”

Gottschall added that group fitness instructors can welcome new participants by helping them feel comfortable and in control while they also have fun.

The immersive setting used in the study was THE TRIP, by Les Mills International. A video projected on a floor-to-ceiling curved screen creates a virtual world with more than 10 themes, including city, nature, jungle, space and velodrome settings. Les Mills International funded the research. For more information, go to LesMills.com.

Shirley Archer-Eichenberger, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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