In the study, researchers assessed participants’ performance while lifting weights using a VR headset that simulated their environment. They set up a series of trials in which participants were asked to hold a dumbbell in a curl position (or more specifically, an isometric contraction with the elbow flexed at a 90-degree angle) for as long as they could. Each trial examined the effectiveness of specific uses of VR, such as distracting participants from pain or showing an altered version of their surroundings.
Overall, participants who wore VR headsets mid-workout had a lower heart rate, lower reported pain intensity, and lower perceived exertion compared to the control group. In addition, the VR participants had a longer time to exhaustion—up to three minutes longer than normal.
“The use of VR technology offers the individual the ability to exercise for a longer period of time without burdening the heart,” lead study author Maria Matsangidou, Ph.D., said in a press release.
That’s good news for people with heart problems, for example, since VR could potentially help them exercise to strengthen their heart without putting them at risk for complications. Decreasing the pain and discomfort associated with exercise could also help more people develop healthy workout habits and/or cope better with difficult physical therapy sessions after an injury.
It could also have benefits for the the average gym goer, too: Lower pain intensity and prolonged time to exhaustion mean you can go harder for longer. Matsangidou pointed out that VR can allow athletes to “increase their exercise intensity” as a result.
The old adage “no pain, no gain” is starting to show its age: In the workout of the future, the rule might be less pain, more gain.