Look, just because you are the official household Wii Tennis champion, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re ready to walk out onto centre court take on Serena Williams, does it? There has been a lot of debate surrounding the effectiveness of virtual reality games and training programs, specifically relating to their effectiveness on athletic performance. And while any movement is better than none for overall fitness, the academic research on the topic is split.
It seems that the effectiveness of virtual training comes down to the sport and skill you're wanting to improve.
There is certainly evidence to suggest that virtual reality (VR) simulations can be extremely effective in elite training, with the US Ski and Snowboard team reportedly utilizing VR programs in their training programs. According to the team, they utilized VR machines in the lead up to this year’s Winter Olympics and we all now how that worked (they smashed it).
Given the nature of snow sports, it seems that the skill increases experienced by athletes are due to proven applications to balance improvement as a result of virtual reality training.
A metadata analysis of 28 studies, published in the journal Clinical Rehabilitation, reviewed results from subjects following anywhere between 6-12 week training programs of rehab patients, finding that VR training increased their balance and decreased their fear of falling when compared to those who used traditional methods; both skills that are extremely transferrable to skiing and snowboarding.
“We found that virtual reality games presented positive effects on balance and fear of falling compared with no-intervention,” the researchers say in the report.
Despite this progress achieved in balance through VR, it seems that gross motor skills may not experience such a significant boost. Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman of the popular TV series Myth Busters decided to test the theory, choosing golf as their test-case skill. The gents played a round of golf, and after one day of training with a real life coach and on a VR program respectively, Adam and Jamie went out for another round on the same course.
While Adam experienced a 10 stroke improvement following his lessons, it seems that Jamie actually lost skill, with 2 strokes more than his first effort.
While neither study is conclusive (the Myth Buster lads did only train for one day after all), it seems that heading to your local arcade won’t land you in the NBA, at least as a training program on it’s own. Our advice? Stick to unquestionable old school training if you’re aiming for the big time, and hit up the Wii purely for bragging rights.