Gamify Your Workout During the Pandemic

Photo Credit: Creative Family/Shutterstock

Big, dramatic confession time: I have a hard time motivating myself to workout. Oh, you do, too? What a coincidence! I, like many of us, love the benefits of working out, but hate the costs of it — the time investment, the soreness, the actual gym cost. So, when I find a workout that works for me, something that I may even (gasp) enjoy doing, I stick with it. And, I’ve maybe tried them all.

From Wii Fit to CrossFit, I have tried almost every at-home and in-studio exercise system around. But, as someone who wants to be challenged as much as I want to burn calories, I’ve always had a hard time finding a workout that kept my attention. It feels like I basically have to trick myself into working out. That is, until I found my favorite boutique-fitness running class.

At first glance, this class may seem like your typical running class. You work out in sections in one of three stations — running, rowing, and weightlifting — which you evenly rotate through. But, the genius of this particular class is the heart-rate monitor.

Even if my gym does open, I won’t be back just yet.

While working out in this fitness class, your heart rate and the heart rates of your classmates are displayed on multiple screens throughout the studio, tracked through a wearable heart-rate monitor that is connected to the system via Bluetooth. Your heart rate is color-coded to make it easier to read, and you earn points for every minute you are in the desired fat-burning heart-rate zone. You’re told to spend at least 12 minutes of your workout in the desired heart-rate zone, or to “earn 12 points or more.”

Earning Workout Points

This gamifying of my workout really helped me stay the course and stick to a routine. Because I had a goal to work toward, I would push myself harder. Because I knew the amount of points that I had earned in previous workouts, I tried to beat them. And, it was even easier to see the progress I was making by looking at the numbers and how they changed over time. Plus, I have to admit, having the points system to focus on took my attention away from the obsessive timer and clock watching I am prone to doing mid-workout.

But then, COVID came to town and my favorite gym was forced to close. Even if my gym does open, I won’t be back just yet. This New Yorker is still too worried about heavy breathing in an enclosed space with multiple strangers, mask or no mask.

So, how have I been able to maintain my fitness during quarantine? I won’t lie to you, it hasn’t been easy. And I’m not in the same-caliber shape that I was in when I was going to the gym five times a week. But I have managed to find some ways to get my heart rate going while still finding the fun.

Zombies, Run!

One of my favorite workouts is running. Running is a great way to see real comparable results, and you can pretty much do it anywhere — gym membership or not. But there are some days when my music just does not cut it. I feel bored out of my mind and find myself literally counting the minutes until my workout is done.

This is not true on the days when I use the running app Zombies, Run! Like a mildly interactive radio play (or podcast for those of you born after 1990), each workout session in Zombies, Run! plays out as a chapter in a larger story. As you run, you can earn supplies for your scrappy little group of survivors while moving forward in the story. There is also the option to add intervals to your workout — moments where zombies will chase you and you have to momentarily increase your speed to outrun them.

Zombies, Run! also has other non-story-focused workout options, and non-zombie-related stories for your running pleasure. You can also listen to your own playlist integrated with the storyline, so you don’t have to miss out on the boost you get from Lizzo’s beat drops. This best-of-both-worlds workout app manages to capture my attention and my imagination, actually giving me something to look forward to with each subsequent workout. As the protagonist in my own zombie series, I have to know how the story ends, right?

Fitness Boxing

What do you get when you combine a $200 Target gift card earned from a carefully timed Black Friday purchase with the mind-numbing boredom inflicted by a nationwide quarantine? Your very own Nintendo Switch! After exhausting almost every entertaining facet of our apartment over the course of five-or-so months, my fiancé and I both decided it was time to get a Switch. While of course I was excited at the prospect of playing hours of Mario Kart — and I have — I also was intrigued by the fitness aspect a Switch could offer. One of my best friends, Mallory, had been raving about the Fitness Boxing game for Switch and I was excited to finally try it.

I have to admit, I had not been all that impressed by the offerings of its predecessor, the Wii Fit. While some of the games were fun and all, I never felt properly worked out after completing a session. So, I was understandably skeptical when I logged on to Fitness Boxing for the first time. After only about 20 minutes of gameplay, I was surprised that not only was I sweating, but I was also having fun. I was even learning proper boxing moves in the process! Through a combination of punches, jabs, and squats, my body was really getting a complete workout!

The next day, I was even more surprised to find how sore I was. Now, keep in mind, I move a lot less due to the quarantine, so I am not in the same shape I was at the beginning of the year. Even so, Fitness Boxing had worked out more muscle groups than I had expected, even more fervently than I had anticipated.

With Fitness Boxing, you can choose to do the daily workout, train, or even play against a friend locally. The songs you can box to are contemporary and upbeat. It plays a lot like Dance Dance Revolution, with your movements needing to sync up with the corresponding symbol scrolling up the screen.

Do I think that Fitness Boxing can help you get in the best shape of your life? Probably not. But it has been a great way to get a workout in on days when I’m especially reluctant. And the 200-300 calories I burn per session are nothing to sneeze at!

Ring Fit Adventure

Ring Fit Adventure, also for Nintendo Switch, has been my latest foray into the world of fitness games. (Note: You have to buy a physical copy of the game; you can’t purchase it through the online store. This is because Ring Fit Adventure comes with a leg strap and, no surprise here, a giant ring that you need to use for your workouts.)

So far, Ring Fit has been a lot of fun to work out with. Combining the best parts of Wii Fit with the improvements of modern technology, you end up controlling an avatar that pretty accurately mimics your real-life movements in the game. You will need to jump, jog, and more to complete the levels and move forward in the game. The jungle-themed adventure I am currently on reminds me of a cross between Tomb Raider and Mario — both of which I loved growing up.

And, as I need a workout that will distract me from the fact that I am working out, Ring Fit is fitting in quite nicely with my exercise routine. Having my exercises actually accomplish something like jumping over fire or even opening a door in the game definitely makes them easier to endure. Plus, the added bonus of making progress in the game, both plot-wise and advancing to new and exciting levels, definitely makes it less likely for me to skip a day.

Just because you may not be able to go to the gym doesn't mean you can't work out. And working out doesn't have to be so much work. There are fun ways to get your body moving without feeling like you are missing out on your free time. A happy brain, a healthy body — what more could you ask for?


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