Whitepaper - Virtual Reality: An Opportunity to Transform the Fitness Industry

Posted by Hannah Barnsdall on 14 July 2017

During Module 5 of Squared Online we ask participants to complete a whitepaper on how future digital trends will impact a specific industry. The top 3 whitepapers are shared on this blog as a celebration of all their hard efforts!

Congratulations to team 27 for this stellar piece of work on “How Big Data is Shaking Up the Insurance Industry”. Team members include: Julia Homayounnejad, Casper Gorniok, Dannyella Glasgow, Joseph Subuola, Shaheen Yaseen and Laura Selby.

Digital technology has without a doubt enabled us to work faster, more efficiently and on a global scale, but it has also contributed to a major shift towards inactivity and sedentary lifestyles. With day to day tasks such as shopping, banking and entertainment increasingly taking place behind a computer or console, the scale of inactivity is now one of the leading risk factors for health and the trend is towards less activity, not more. This white paper looks at an opportunity to utilise emerging digital technology to help reverse this trend through the application of Virtual Reality (VR) and gamification in the fitness i



“Virtual reality is poised to disrupt many industries; it is a technology game-changer with the potential to transform human behaviour and in the fitness industry, the way we do fitness”

Olivier Zitvogel, CEO & Founder, Holodia

Executive Summary2.png

In 2016 VR has reached its Tipping Point

Since 1957 when Morton Heilig invented the Sensorama – a simulator with 3D images along with smells, wind and sound, the concept of VR has been well established in popular culture. Until recently however, the technology to create VR content was neither advanced enough nor affordable to have real commercial applications. As picture and sound capturing, post production and viewing tech has improved in the past 10 years, VR penetration has reached its tipping point.

VR is a computer-generated simulation of 3D images that places users into environments with which they can interact. It is different to Augmented Reality which enhances the current reality with additional layers of information (eg Google Glass); VR is a total immersion in a different dimension. When the human brain is fully immersed through sight and sound, it fills in the gap of smell and taste and engages a part of the brain that creates new memories. These memories are the core of creating truly immersive experiences.

VR has already seen its first $ billion year with sales in hardware reaching $700m and content $300m. This market is estimated to grow to $33.90 Billion by 2022. Primarily driven by its adoption in gaming, applications of VR now span medicine, education, architecture, military, scientific visualisation, film, fashion and entertainment. Its application to the fitness industry is still at an early stage of development with an almost blank canvas to define the opportunity.

The Fitness Industry Searching for Innovation to Thrive

The fitness industry in the UK alone is worth £4bn and forecast to grow 1.4% over the next decade. However, Gym membership is stagnant along with the trend of inactivity, as an increasing number of gym goers are opting to exercise independently at home. Some gyms are consolidating and competing on price, while a few try to innovate the gym experience to retain their core membership base.

A few early adopters, Pure Gym and Fitness First, are experimenting with virtual instructors who lead fitness classes. These trials offer gym goers an ‘immersive experience’ in purpose built studios with cinema quality visuals projected onto a screen.

For the consumer at-home market, a few notable start-ups have emerged; Runtastic offers a more personalised approach, with the use of Oculus Rift headsets where users are coached by a virtual trainer through an exercise routine; while Icaros combines a full body workout with a flight simulator apparatus allowing the user to ‘fly through virtual worlds, play games and exercise the body at the same time’; and Widerun uses the Samsung Gear VR headsets to combine VR with stationary bikes allowing the user to work out across different landscapes.


The key brands enabling the consumer market are Google daydream, Sam
sung, HTC and Sony. All 6.pngof them have released headsets which provide access to a plethora of content focused on entertainment. Consumers can now also create their own VR content with VR cameras such as Vuze and LucidCam – though the quality of the image capture and post production still needs to improve to have mass appeal.

Gaming is currently the force driving forward improvements and innovations with VR. By 2018 it will represent 20% of the VR market with an equal split in value between hardware and software applications.

Mobile driven gaming is set to rise from $30.4B in 2015 to $52bn in 2019. Mobile will allow for an affordable entry point for VR in the at-home market.

VR applied to fitness brings together entertaining experiences and health benefits through technology. Made accessible, it has the potential to grow the fitness industry at exponential rates and reverse the trend of inactivity.

“Coupling exercise to virtual reality results in a more enjoyable experience by contextualizing the exercise. It notably distracts the participant from exercise-induced pain."

Daniel Mestre, Senior Researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research

The Opportunity

As people move towards a more digitalised lifestyle and are looking for new experiences, there is an opportunity to converge familiar technologies that are purporting a sedentary lifestyle for a force of good. In 2015, 45% of all adults and 18-24 year olds said they were interested in tech based fitness innovations and almost half of all adults either received an in-home individual fitness product or received one as a gift.

Therefore, our strategy proposes four key strands to capitalise on the rise of the in-home fitness market. The benefits of personalised VR programmes for this category will see a new frontier explode as we begin to incorporate alternative realities into our everyday workouts.

  1. Next-Generation Immersive content and networking to capitalise on the rise of “at-home” or even solus “office” workouts
  2. More investment in the use of sophisticated virtual and customised avatars to act as fitness instructors, exercise companions and physiotherapists
  3. Integrating the principles of gamification using rewards to motivate desired behaviour
  4. Introducing multi-user VR for competition and shared experiences.

Evident Challenges and Recommendations

VR will only progress into the mainstream for fitness when content providers release enough relevant and exciting content and users get to experience the capabilities of VR through multiple entry points – at their gym or at home on their mobile phone.

Trial:As with all breakthrough technologies, trial is critical to increase consideration for the early majority. Google cardboard have already started this trend by releasing its entry-level cardboard product. To access the higher quality technology, producers of equipment may need to provde alternative business models to accelerate adoption in the take-home market, such as equipment hire and licensing content (the Netflix of VR).

Personalised & Relevant Content:There is a gap in the market for personalised content that can easily be accessed and utilised at home. As virtual technology develops, users will be able to monitor personal performance metrics onscreen in their virtual environment. This enables gamification, incorporating rewards and incentives. Wii Fit and Pokeman Go! have already proven the benefits of this approach.

Certification of content:As the number of content creators increase, clear guidelines around safe and decent content needs to be provided to protect users of VR. This has already been implemented in other visual media such as broadcasting, film and gaming. All content should adhere to the internet decency laws and CMA rules.

Health:There will always be a possible risk of injury when trying to improve fitness. VR comes with its own set of risks: for some people this includes nausea, motion sickness, eye-strain and headaches. While the key technology innovators work on resolving these, at present, both Samsung and Oculus advocate users to take a 10-minute rest after 30 minutes of activity. Content creation should be designed to adhere to this time limit.

As the technology is still in its infancy, we have yet to better understand what impact it could have on the mental and physical development of children in terms of sight, sound and formative mental experiences. Safety notifications are already included with Oculus rift and Samsung Headgear devices to warn of the possible health risks for children. We would encourage the whole industry to embrace this notion. Another option would be to adopt the current ratings certifications that are used in gaming from early-childhood to an adult rating. Currently in the US a vendor-neutral rating system known as the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) was developed to overcome this for example: Early Childhood, Everyone, Everyone 10+, Teen and so on.

Personal Injuries:Caused by misuse of VR could lead to litigations. Clear safety guidelines should be provided to those who are new and practising in isolation in terms of correct posture, intensity and duration of use.

Integrating with other fitness trends:Tracking, monitoring and nutrition advice available through devices such as Apple iWatch, fitbit, Jawbone and MyFitnessPal are the current trend in fitness, but not part of the scope of this whitepaper. However, we do see an opportunity to incorporate these elements into VR fitness devices to create a truly holistic fitness proposition.


VR converged with gamification could create a new frontier for the way we see health and fitness as part of our own lives – making exercising entertaining and addictive. By gyms investing in this technology during the early stages, it will create awareness and an opportunity to trial for consumers, while putting gyms back on the growth path with innovative ways to exercise. As the technology improves and becomes more accessible, the at-home market will drive the commercial success of VR in fitness. This technology will see us not only training in virtual worlds but being supported by virtual avatars to instruct, monitor and motivate. Fitness will never be the same again as we choose to work out in the sunshine of LA or do yoga atop a mountain in the Himalayas. We will be able to run multiple marathons, in multiple days from the comfort of our own homes in a terrain of our choosing. With multi-user VR, it will be possible to share this experience with our social networks. Whatever it takes to get the world moving, VR can be at the forefront of making fitness an integral part of our lives.


  1. World Health Organisation (WHO) report on inactivity in the European region 2016
  2. (CEO of WeMakeVR) Avinash Changa’s presentation at Codemotion 2016 Amsterdam: Virtual Reality - Past, Present and Future
  3. Deloitte Global 2016 – Deloitte TMT Predictions 2016
  4. Market report Health & Fitness @whitedotnet
  5. How virtual reality will get you in shape, CNBC 2015
  6. Icaros kickstarter project
  7. Consumer Virtual Reality: State of the Market Report by Kzero Worldwide June 2014
  8. New Zoo Q2 2016 update
  9. 2011 study on VR and Exercise by the French National Center for Scientific Research and Aix-Marseille University
  10. Mintel Health & Fitness Clubs, UK July 2016
  11. Three really real questions about the future of virtual reality, The Guardian 2016
  12. Legal Danger: What We Don't Know About Virtual Reality Today Might Hurt Companies Tomorrow, Recode.net
  13. Regulating the future media / content for VR / AR / MR, Seth Blanken, CEO 4Zen Creative Solutions


You can read more student whitepapers here

Find out more about Squared Online: you can give us a ring on +44 (0) 20 7173 5938, or download the brochure to read about the course and the Squared experience.

Topics: Squared Network, Digital trends, Digital marketing, Business case studies, Whitepaper