After spending a full hour throwing jabs and hooks on top of a volcano in Iceland, I took off my Oculus headset and indulged in an extra-long savasana on my living room floor. I was covered in sweat. My dog came up to lick my salty arm as I lay there catching my breath, readjusting to my non-virtual reality surroundings as the sounds of Below Deck drifted out of the TV in front of me.
I had been testing out the boxing workouts on Supernatural, a virtual reality fitness app. Basically, I was working out in the metaverse — the vast VR-based connective world that’s poised to become a Big Thing. Since at-home workouts have become the norm, it’s likely that exercising in the metaverse will be the way your living room sweat sessions evolve. Like, sooner than you think — the metaverse is already a space where you can go on dates, trade cryptocurrency, and shop.
Supernatural launched about a year ago with cardio-based workouts, guided meditations, and recovery sessions, adding boxing to its fitness offering repertoire in October. Boxing actually makes for the perfect kind of workout to do in a virtual reality setting: Much like Mortal Kombat, Primal Rage, and other classic video games based on one-on-one fighting, throwing punches at moving targets — with far-away locations like the Sahara Desert and the peak of Mt. Everest as your background — feels a lot like… a video game. Only this time, it’s like a way more high-tech version of the Nintendo Wii.
Whether the thought of the metaverse gives you the anxiety sweats or you’re ready to embrace the world of VR, you’ve gotta admit: It’s intriguing. Read on to learn about my experience boxing on Supernatural, which just might inspire you to buy an Oculus headset and move on from those YouTube workouts you’ve been doing for the past year.
As with everything else in the metaverse, you’re going to need the virtual reality gear in order to access Supernatural’s workouts — the Oculus Quest 2, to be exact, which retails for $299 (or $399 if you want more storage). That’ll come with the headset and its accessories along with your two controllers. Once you’ve got your hands on one and have entered VR, you can download Supernatural from the MetaQuest app store. A membership will run you $18.99 a month or $179.99 a year after your free trial is up.
Supernatural’s boxing, stretching, meditation, and what it calls “flow” workouts, aka a high-intensity rhythmic movement that lights up all areas of your body, all take place in scenic hotspots around the globe and offer guidance with one of the app’s coaches, with new sessions added each week. With boxing, you can pick from three different difficulty levels: low, medium, and high intensity. Once you choose your level, you hit start to be immediately transported to one of 100 random destinations rendered in 3D (these have all been shot on-location in 360, so they’re about as realistic as you can get without actually being there). This is a key feature that makes the metaverse so darn cool.
Let me give you an idea of the places you can work out on Supernatural, for reference: Machu Picchu, the Rongbuk Glacier in Tibet, the surface of the moon, the Egyptian pyramids. If 8-year-old Super Nintendo-loving me knew about this technology, her head would explode.
Supernatural also has the perk of actually good playlists for your exercise sessions, so you don’t have to suffer listening to the licensable background music found on some fitness apps and YouTube workouts. While you sweat, you’ll hear bops from top musicians and bands like Billie Eilish, Lizzo, James Brown, and Fleetwood Mac.
What Boxing On Supernatural Is Like
Let me preface this by saying this was my first time dipping my toe into VR land. The second my Oculus turned on and took me to the Supernatural app, I was already shook: When you’re on the main menu, you’re in some gorgeous mountainous region with orangey peach skies and vivid green grass. Smack-dab in the middle of it is a widget where you use your controllers to browse the workout offerings, which you can filter based on the playlist, length, and intensity levels.
I started with a boxing tutorial (something I highly recommend even if you’re a boxing pro). A trainer named Coach Leanne (a real-life person) popped up in front of me — standing on a mat in a glacier lake with mountains in the background — and started talking to me about the punching basics before I went through some practice rounds. Basically, bubble-shaped targets come flying at you, and the direction they face indicates the kind of punch you’re supposed to throw to hit it. There are also long lightsaber-looking bars you have to dodge by ducking or weaving (boxing defense moves). After the six-minute tutorial, I felt up to speed.
Then came my first actual boxing workout. I hit start on a 14-minute session, a trainer named Coach Doc greeted me in front of an ancient temple in Egypt, and before I knew it, the bubbles and wands came whizzing towards me at a pretty fast pace. Every time you punch your target, the bubble explodes, which is incredibly satisfying. Throughout the session, Coach Doc’s voice motivated me to keep going with encouraging words and reminders about form. Fast forward to the end of the session and I was surprisingly sweaty and out of breath. When you finish your workout, a screen pops up to show stats like your accuracy rate and score, so for those who are competitive or like to track their activity, you can keep tabs on your progress.
Despite being in a 5-by-7-foot diameter section of my tiny New York City kitchen, all I could see — 360 degrees around me — was whatever stunning lake or desert scene any given workout had me in. This is a huge difference from what I’d normally see in my at-home sweat sessions (e.g., a sink full of dishes, my husband watching TV, my dog prancing around).
According to Leanne Pedante, head of fitness at Supernatural, the platform’s scenic locations do more than allow you to (virtually) travel around the globe. “Supernatural and virtual reality are completely immersive, so you’re completely present in what you’re doing,” she tells Bustle, noting it might be the only point in your day where you’re not multitasking. This also allows you to work out without any judgment — both from others and yourself. “There are no mirrors, you’re not worrying about looking silly, you’re not comparing yourself to others around you,” says Pedante.
Another upside? Compared to true boxing, using your Oculus controllers to swing at targets is completely safe. “You never have to worry about getting hit in the face,” notes Pedante. But, despite being an imaginary target, you still feel like you’re hitting something. “We use something called haptic feedback, so even though you’re not actually hitting an object, every time you connect with a punch, there’s this perfectly timed vibration in your controllers that feels like that satisfying crack you get when you strike a bag.”
Overall, Supernatural’s gamified take on boxing is what really sets it apart. Every time I did a workout on the platform, I didn’t feel like I was doing a workout: It felt like I was playing a game. If you’re ever not in the mood to take a fitness class or have had trouble sticking to a workout routine, this form of movement would probably appeal to you. You get a dose of cardio (and resulting feel-good endorphins), you work your entire body, and you practice your boxing skills — all while actually having fun. Though you’re not hitting a punching bag, you’re still working the same muscles you would in a more traditional boxing class… which means I still felt that familiar soreness in my arms and abs.
If digital fitness is venturing into the VR territory, I, for one, am all about incorporating it into my weekly workout routine. As someone who clutched her Blackberry in 2007 to protest the iPhone’s new touchscreen technology, that’s saying a lot.