Fat, tired and insecure: Supernatural VR makes workouts more accessible than ever

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Gyms never was my friend. Like 99.3 percent of the adult population, I hate working out. I stare at myself in the gym mirrors, berate my form and technique, and imagine every single person in every fitness center secretly laughing at me for even trying to inhale their smoothie-filled, protein-powdered air. I tell myself I’m fat and old and out of shape, and it’s all at least a little bit true. In fact, I’m afraid to go to any gym or participate in any fitness activities, but when I don’t, I kick myself for being a failure. As it turns out, I’m not alone in this.

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I know this because I recently found myself quietly hiding in Facebook community of 58,000 members behind supernaturalworkout app available on Quest Meta virtual reality device. While most fitness-focused groups seem to be full of burpee monsters and weight-watching warriors, the Supernatural group is more like an island of underdog toys who are afraid of gyms.

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There I met people like Joanna, who declined to give her last name to protect her privacy and who lives in Manitoba, where winters are long, dark, and cold. She found Supernatural after she found out she was going blind. She explains that she is “extremely nearsighted” and uses a 38-inch TV as a computer screen 1.5 feet away. Because Quest’s lenses are so close, she feels like she can see everything better, and she says any benefits from Supernatural far outweigh any strain VR could potentially put on her eyes. She says she could no longer drive herself to the gym and hated relying on others to take her. Supernatural kept me sane,” she says, “and I’m also in better shape than ever.”

There’s also Alex Duffy, who has been overweight all his life and says he weighed 550 pounds at his worst. He says that last year he and his wife started raising a child, and he quickly realized that he wanted to be close to his son. “I’ve had coaches before, and when I get a pitying look from them, that’s the end,” he says. “Don’t judge me if you haven’t lived my life. Supernatural made me feel safe and guided without shame.”

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A user named Johnny Rohrbeck told me that he “saw more diversity in the Supernatural group on Facebook” than “at church”, and I believe him. I’ve seen 75-year-old grandmas post sweaty selfies while trans teens who don’t feel at home anywhere thank Supernatural users for accepting them for who they are. There are people who use the app in wheelchairs and war veterans with PTSD who love that the app lets them block out the rest of the world. There are people recovering from eating disorders who praise the Quest headset for literally preventing them from looking at their bodies while exercising. Hard-working ER doctors and single mothers come together to sympathize with how hard it is to find time to exercise, while people living tens if not hundreds of miles from the nearest city check in, looking for a sense of community.

Supernatural creator Chris Milk says his team has always strived to make the fitness app reach the widest possible audience, but he adds that he’s constantly learning more about what users need and want from the program. While the app launched with accessibility features like flex calibration, he says that user feedback on, say, being afraid of heights has prompted Supernatural to develop a wider version of the in-game platform that users seem to stand on. The developers created a “no squat” mode for people who can’t get up and down as easily, and earlier this year they launched a “forward facing” mode for users with limited mobility.

Supernatural even attracted one of the most charismatic members of the community, Chesney Mariani as guest coach. Many, many current Supernatural users say that when they saw the plus size Mariani in the app’s ads and on the website, they were convinced they would join. A user named Tommy Curtis told me, “When I first joined, my first thought was, ‘This is for thin people.’ It’s not made for me. I don’t have room to move around in my apartment.” However, when he saw Mariani, he thought: “She was able to do this job, and if she could do it, then I can do it.”

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This message rings true for Mariani herself, who says she has always felt uncomfortable in gyms. As she explains, “You see people with phones and I don’t know if they are taking pictures of me. They record a video to put it on the Internet and say: “Look at this girl who is trying to train. She’s not very good at it, is she? I was laughed at when I was just walking on the sidewalk.” When she was asked to be a guest coach, she said, it validated her struggles and experience. “Being able to train like a big man,” says Mariani, “made me feel strong. Not in the sense that I was going to take over the world, but in the sense that it made me feel noticed.”

Supernatural Trainer Lynn Pedante says that “one of the superpowers of virtual reality is that it allows people to express what seems authentic to them and what seems to be part of their personality, without tying it to what the rest of the world sees.” She explains that when a Supernatural user is wearing headphones, they are not looking to others for reassurance that they are powerful, valuable, or even worthy. The ability to embody this power while exercising, she says, “makes a big difference in the life of anyone who feels a disconnect between their inner identity and what the world is experiencing.”

“When I’m wearing headphones, I feel like I’m in perfect shape,” Rohrbeck told me. “I feel like a Jedi Master. I have an emotional sense of space and I think, “I’m cool, I’m cool.” God, I don’t look the way I felt. But, hey, he adds, “I’ll take that feeling any day. That’s what keeps me coming back.”

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Credit: www.wired.com /

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