In virtual-reality gym, worlds of gaming and exercise collide

KTVU crime reporter Henry Lee got a chance to experience a virtual-reality gym in San Francisco the other day.

"I don’t know what’s real anymore!" he said, waving his hands while appearing discombobulated in a VR headset.

An explanation might be in order.  

Henry’s assignment was to visit the Black Box Virtual Reality Gym on Market Street in San Francisco. He met up with general manager Javi Garza.

"We are the world’s first reality gym. So basically we’re combining VR and gaming with serious fitness," Garza said.

That got Henry worried, as he usually deals with real-life news. He’s not a gamer, and he says he’s not "seriously fit."

"We know traditional gyms are not for everybody. It can feel like a chore," Garza said.

That’s certainly true for Henry. But for this assignment, he got ready. Before dawn, he did some cardio with his wife at home.

He also decided to create his makeshift VR squat by donning a sleep mask, his son’s earmuffs and his DVR remote.  (Henry asks that you please excuse his form.)

He also did some running. "Boy! This is some hard work," he said while hoofing it on a hill.

But it turns out, this gym isn’t about cardio but rather resistance training and muscle endurance. And everything’s specially tailored for you.

"Our workouts, they’re very unique and are customized to each individual person’s threshold," Garza said.

Even if Black Box’s motto is "you are the hero" you don’t have to be a hero.

Henry has seen videos online in which people wearing VR headsets fall flat on their faces.

Henry asked Garza, "So you don’t think I’m going to fall – why not?"

"No, because the room is perfectly scaled, so you know where you have to go to," Garza replied.

And then, it was time to strap on.

"Boy, I feel like a superhero already," Henry said after attaching special sensors on his arms.

"Very Wonder Woman-esque," Garza said.

It was surreal.

"Where did everyone go?" Henry exclaimed. "This is, this is like the Matrix. This is, this is - where did you guys go? Hold on, is this even a real bottle?" he asked grasping at what looked like a tangible bottle.

"No," Garza said, laughing.

Henry said he could feel his Hokas sneakers, but it was more like hocus-pocus, because he couldn’t see his shoes through the headset.

He was connected to a surround-sound personal training system, an automated cable pulley machine.

He did rows. Chest presses. And squats. (Again, please excuse his form.)

But in the VR world, he was breaking through gates, destroying the enemy crystal and earning points. He was racking up gamer cred – and feeling it in his muscles.

"It’s like an alternate universe," Henry said once he took off the gear.

"Yeah, I think that’s the whole purpose behind Black Box VR," said Garcia. We want you to be so immersed in what you’re doing that you’re forgetting that you’re exercising."

That certainly happened. Henry admitted that he was a little scared at first, but in reality, he had a blast.