Ace brands across the connected fitness industry have undergone layoffs amid fears of a recession and physical gym locations welcome back members as Covid-19 restrictions dissipate, virtual reality fitness app FitXR has seen growth. According to the company’s CEO Sam Cole, FitXR has quadrupled its number of members over the past 12 months.
“Historically you’d have your home, your office, and your gym. The degree of separation that you got between those different physical environments was often really important for people,” says Cole, who co-founded FitXR in 2016. “I think with the pandemic, people started to merge home and work, and then people also started to go home, work and gym. What we’ve found with FitXR is that being able to transport yourself into a different destination when you put the headset on from your home is really, really important.”
FitXR’s immersive Quest VR workouts aim to give users a new experience from the comfort of their own home.
For $9.99 per month, users can subscribe to FitXR to gain access to a library of on-demand workouts across boxing, dance and HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training). The pre-recorded workouts are led by professional trainers, whose digital avatars direct and voice movements as users tune-in through their virtual reality headset.
FitXR is currently only available on Meta’s Oculus Quest, where its app has one of the top three retention rates among all fitness games on the Oculus store. It will also soon launch for Steam and PlayStation VR.
Historically you’d have your home, your office, and your gym. The degree of separation that you got between those different physical environments was often really important for people. I think with the pandemic, people started to go home and work, and then people also started to go home, work and gym. What we’ve found with FitXR is that being able to transport yourself into a different destination when you put the headset on from your home is really, really important.
FitXR debuted its new mobile companion app for iOS and Android devices in August so that members can track their fitness progress and workout data on their phones, schedule classes in advance, and set weekly exercise goals. The companion app is expected to add more immersive workout features in 2023 and was crucial for FitXR as Cole expects consumption of VR headsets to grow more than 10x over the next three years as new headsets are released from Apple and ByteDance, the owner of TikTok.
“We think of ourselves as focused around everything from virtual reality to augmented reality, [and] mobile does open up some interesting augmented reality opportunities,” Cole says. “Many of our customers have bought a headset and found out about FitXR through a friend or family member referring them. Our word of mouth is so strong and I think that’s because the underlying experience is so experiential. So for us, I think mobile is a way to broaden that to give more people a taste of what we do at FitXR.”
While exercising at home, users can select from one of six virtual environments on FitXR to immerse themselves in vibrant virtual worlds within parks, rooftops and fitness studios. Workouts on FitXR are categorized by length and degree of difficulty. Former professional boxer and two-time Olympic gold medalist Nicola Adams is among the trainers to instruct on-demand fitness classes on FitXR, as well as Zion Clarka professional wrestler born without legs.
Cole says FitXR has tested having trainers host live workout classes, adding, “We’ve got the technology to support that, we just need to figure out a full go to market strategy about when’s relevant to launch something like that.” But Cole seems more bullish on pre-recorded classes being upgraded through improved movement-tracking from new headset hardware and artificial intelligence that will let FitXR provide feedback based on player movements.
“It starts to blur the boundaries between this is an avatar talking to me and this is all pre-recorded, but it’s giving me specific prompts based on how I’m playing. It feels more like its live feedback,” Cole envisions.
Between Sony’s upcoming Playstation VR2 headset, ByteDance’s Pico headset and the debut device from Apple, several new challengers will hit the US market over the next year to compete with Meta’s Oculus Quest headset. In addition to dominating the virtual reality hardware space, Meta made a deal last year to buy FitXR competitor Within, maker of the popular VR fitness app Supernatural. The FTC is attempting to block the acquisition, accusing Meta of violating anti-trust laws. The social media giant also owns the popular VR dance app Beat Sabre, which Meta (then known as Facebook) bought in 2019.
“Soon you will have almost full body positional data from the headsets. Right now you can infer full body, we get [data] from the headset itself and hand movements from the controllers through things like inverse kinematics,” Cole says. “Those AI systems are getting better and better every day. But also new headsets are bringing out additional tracking by cameras that will start to also make fuller arm tracking possible, lower torso tracking possible.”
Another avenue for FitXR to improve its workout experience is through leveraging data from wearables, which Cole expects to soon begin doing through integrations with Strava and Apple. The data would be used to personalize workouts as they’re happening to the point where FitXR ensures a user can finish their workout, because the company’s research shows users who complete a VR workout are more likely to come back the next day and build habits around the product.
“I love this vision where you go through a hard run today and then tomorrow you boot up FitXR. We welcome you into the experience, congratulate you for going for a run and we tailor the whole class recommendation based on how you went for a run ,” Cole says. “As you’re progressing through that experience, say you’re just a little bit off, maybe you’ve got a tight hamstring, but we adapt the class live in the moment to optimize getting you to a finish position. I really feel like that’s the next generation in terms of truly personalized fitness.”