A Next-level Full-Body Work Out
By Ana Lete
Imagine this: It’s workout time. But instead of going to a typical gym where treadmills are lined up in a row and you have to wait to use the weight set, you go into a high-tech room and put on a headset.
Suddenly, you are shooting fire beams and meteor strikes to defend your base. But with each fire beam or meteor strike, you’re doing an overhead-shoulder press or chest press to get to beat the game. The best part? As you unlock each level of the game, you’re also unlocking your next level of fitness – without even realizing it.
While this sounds like something you might see in a futuristic movie, thanks to Black Box VR, it’s right here in Eagle, ID.
According to the founders of Black Box VR, Ryan Deluca and Preston Lewis, the idea for a virtual-reality workout program came after working for bodybuilding.com. “At bodybuilding.com, we learned a lot about customers in the fitness industry. The crazy thing is that we didn’t lose our customers to GNC, or even amazon, but to the couch. When people stopped working out, they weren’t buying protein powder or pre-workouts anymore,” Deluca said.
So, upon leaving bodybuilding.com in 2015, Deluca and Preston set out to form a new startup that would inspire people to continue their workout programs long term.
“We started seeing that virtual reality was this hot new thing, and all these companies were coming out with these cool headsets,” Deluca said. “So, we got together and asked, ‘Is there a way to use this technology to go inside of a game and have your body be the controller? Can we combine video games with fitness to inspire people to keep up with their fitness program so they won’t quit?”
Once inspiration struck, Deluca and Lewis spent the next three years perfecting Black Box VR. “we started out by duct taping VR handles to dumbbells to see what it felt like to work out in VR,” Lewis said. “After tweaking four different versions of the dynamic resistance machine, we landed on our most recent version.”
After three years of workshopping the technology, Deluca and Lewis opened their first flagship gym in San Francisco, across the street from Uber and Twitter headquarters. At 4,000 square feet, the gym contains several private 10 x 10 rooms, each containing its own dynamic resistance machine. At 9-feet tall, these dynamic resistance machines have vertical articulating handles on both sides for you to grab onto as you’re playing the virtual reality game, and a bench pad to stabilize you.
“We use the HTC Vive Pro – the headset – which gives you six degrees of freedom. You can walk forward, backward, side-to-side, up-and-down, and the whole time it spatially tracks you. We also use HTC Vive pucks, and created proprietary mounts for your hands so you can see both of your hands while you’re in the game,” Lewis said.
“There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes technology in the game to make sure you are using correct form because we didn’t want a coach to be standing in front the whole time,” Deluca added.
In addition to the game’s proper-form algorithms, the game also includes a progression algorithm to gradually challenge you throughout the game. “In fitness, if you aren’t pushing yourself each day, you aren’t going to improve,” Deluca said. “These algorithms track 50,000 data points per workout in order to learn about you and your performance, so it can change your next workout based on your specific needs for next time.”
When asked what the response has been like from those who’ve tried BlackBox VR, Lewis said, “We have a bunch of anecdotes that are super fun, but the one I always talk about is my sister. For pretty much her whole life, she struggled to stick to a fitness program. Like most people, she’d get frustrated two weeks in when she wouldn’t see results, and would say, ‘Oh, it’s not for me.’”
After giving her a code to their beta gym and showing her the ropes, though, Lewis’ sister finally found a workout program she could stick with. “Even though she isn’t a gamer, she loved the game,” Lewis said. “Fast forward eight weeks later, she had been going 3x per week, and had increased her strength by nearly 200 percent in every lift – all while simply playing a video game.”
According to Deluca, “That’s the best part – you don’t have to think about anything – you’re just defending your base and are working really hard to win a game, while we’re making sure you’re getting a great workout – almost – on accident.”
When asked what the industry feedback has been like, Deluca said, “We got the best startup at CES last year, and have been featured on the Today Show and the BBC. A lot of personal trainers and gym owners are like, ‘What is this?’ and want to be a part of it.”
“Personally, I think it’s really cool we’re doing this in Idaho. A lot of people think of potatoes and farming when they think of Idaho, and don’t realize we have a great tech industry here…We feel really lucky that we didn’t have to start this company somewhere else, and that this huge industry-changing technology can be created right here in the Eagle-Boise area.”
This August, Black Box VR plans to partner with The Gym on 8th and main in downtown Boise to open seven virtual-reality workout rooms so members of the Treasure Valley can experience these virtual-reality workouts for themselves.
To learn more about Black Box VR, or get a Black Box membership, visit www.blackbox-vr.com.