Ever since the Microsoft Xbox, Nintendo Wii, and Sony PlayStation added motion controls, couch potatoes have had the ability to transform into fitness freaks. We evaluated five of the most popular fitness games to see how much of a workout they provide and how much fun they offer.
Each game requires the optional motion controls for your gaming consoles: Wii Remote for Nintendo Wii U, the PlayStation Move and Eye for the Sony PlayStation3, and the Kinect for the Microsoft Xbox 360. Kinect games have a distinct advantage in this category since they track your full body movements, though accuracy varies from game to game.
How we tested
We had two of our in-house fitness experts and our resident gaming expert evaluate each game. On the gaming end, we paid special attention to:
Visual elements. The onscreen trainers should be detailed in appearance and well-animated so that their movements are easy to follow.
Fun factor. We looked beyond traditional workout routines to see what else the games had to offer. For example, some of the games offer dance routines or mini-games such as dodgeball, which players might find more fun than a traditional grueling workout.
Accuracy of movement tracking. This is important in fitness games so that the game can provide proper feedback on form. The whole point of these games is to get in shape, and doing exercises incorrectly can diminish the value of the workout or even cause injuries. To test each program’s tracking, we did the moves correctly to see how accurately they were tracked, and then performed them incorrectly to see if the game caught us "cheating."
In terms of fitness, our experts evaluated the games on criteria including the following:
Session sequencing. This refers to how the workout is structured. A good session should include warm up, conditioning, and cool down.
Conditioning elements. These include strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular conditioning, and flexibility. Each of these elements was analyzed based on the appropriate metrics for that type of exercise. For example, we measured active heart rate for cardiovascular exercise, fatigue level during repetitions for strength or muscular endurance exercise (these will differ based on a person's current level of strength), and the amount and type of stretching during flexibility training.
Skill-based elements. This refers to the speed, power, balance, reaction time, agility, and coordination required for the program.
The fitness evaluations also included our experts' general impressions of the programs’ flow, level of challenge, and feedback given by the game. They also looked at each programs' appropriateness for different abilities, and the systems’ and games’ ability to recognize motion during standing and floor exercises.
If it's been a while since you exercised regularly or if you have a high risk of coronary heart disease or a chronic health problem, refer to this advice from the American Heart Association before you start an exercise regimen.