Gamify my exercise experience! Difficulty level: stationary bike
August 27, 2014 1:39 AM   Subscribe

So I have achilles tendinopathy as well as problems with my knees and feet which means (long story short) I need non-weight-bearing exercise. I have a recumbent stationary bike which is great for developing strength in knees, is easy on the poor achilles and is generally a good idea. Problem: I loathe doing it because it bores me senseless. Solution, I hope, is to gamify it.

I have tried listening to music, watching TV/movies and reading. Nothing works well enough to motivate me, and I think it's because they are distractions from the exercise rather than actually incorporating the exercise. I think I need to gamify the exercise so that actually doing it is integral to the game. The game is not a distraction from the exercise, the game IS the exercise.

A friend of mine raves about Zombies, Run! and this is the kind of thing I am thinking of. However, I cannot find anything conclusive on their website about whether it works on a stationary bike. Treadmills, elliptical, running are all obviously out. So if you have ZR! and know it works on a bike, great! Please let me know. Any advice about how to get it to happen would also be gratefully received.

Otherwise, are there other apps out there that are similar? I have done some trawling through apps stores but so far they seem to be of the distraction variety - ie, look at these pretty bits of scenery while on the exercise bike and imagine you are cycling down the beautiful cherry blossom trail, or through the Alps, or what have you. This is not what I am looking for. I have a Sony phone (ie Android) so anything appy would need to work on Android.

Alternatively, I am also open to suggestions that don't involve phones or apps. I can't imagine how it could be game-like without some kind of aid, but I don't have the best imagination around exercise. A simple calendar with shiny stickers is insufficient motivation; setting rewards after X complete doesn't work either. Don't underestimate my loathing of exercise, I need a really compelling motivator like zombies trying to eat my brains!

And please be gentle with me. I know the answer may well be, exercise is boring but you have to so suck it up, sunshine, but I'm trying to motivate myself and bullying myself is (from much experience) not the way to go about it.
posted by Athanassiel to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Zombies, Run doesn't "work" on a stationary bike, or even on an elliptical, in the sense that its stat-gathering relies on impact measurement and/or GPS. But I don't see any reason why you couldn't do it on a stationary bike, if you don't mind the fact that it isn't able to measure your workout. You can manually enter in the miles you cycle on the web interface, but the progress of the story and the gameplay (i.e. accruing of credits for building your base) is not dependent on you actually running. I'd give it a go, it's great fun!
posted by idlethink at 2:37 AM on August 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't know if you've checked out Virtual Active, but it is slightly interactive in that it picks up the vibrations from the bike, so you travel faster through the scene the harder you pedal. You might also look into Tabata apps, if interval training is of interest to you - aside from the reported cardio benefits, breaking your workout into chunks can be a good way the relieve the boredom.
posted by embrangled at 2:46 AM on August 27, 2014

Best answer: if you put your phone in your pocket and set the mode to accelerometer it will sort of work - the measurements obviously wont be accurate but it will be able to measure your relative speed - iirc you need a 20% speed increase to escape random zombie attacks although you don't have to have them turned on at all. All the base building and story stuff will work fine

There's also one by the same people called "the walk" which is designed to work with pretty much any kind of activity, not just walking
posted by missmagenta at 2:48 AM on August 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Does it have to be a stationary bike? A real road bike has been great for me, the most fun I've had since I was 8 years old. The quietness of country roads, the wind in my hair also brings a kind of peace. Robin Williams used to cycle too, and he described it as moving meditation.

If it must be a stationary bike, you can get trainers with virtual reality, and climb up the French alps.
posted by stereo at 2:50 AM on August 27, 2014

Also: sorry if this is an absurdly obvious suggestion, but…are there any particular barriers to you getting an actual bike and riding it around in the fresh air? Melbourne has lots of lovely bike paths, particularly along the Yarra and Merri Creek. Even if you don't feel confident riding on the road, you could probably take a train to somewhere bike-friendly and get your exercise there. For what it's worth, I loathe exercising at the gym (although I have done it consistently at various times in my life), but I never feel grumbly about actually going somewhere on my bike.
posted by embrangled at 2:51 AM on August 27, 2014

Response by poster: Forgot to say: actual bike riding is complicated by the number of accidents I had when I tried commuting by pushie having left me a bit leery of real roads, traffic and their ability to hurt me. Plus, very unfit, so possibly something to aspire to rather than start with.
posted by Athanassiel at 3:03 AM on August 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

You can buy a cheap chest strap heart monitor (I have the Polar one and am happy with it) that syncs with your phone over bluetooth and a lot of exercise apps will work with hitting a heartrate goal instead of distance or speed. Polar Beat can do that for a 20min session where you hit X% in the ideal heart rate during those 20 minutes etc, beating the last goal or whatever. Using a heart rate monitor and getting the instant feedback is motivating even if you're not covering distance.
posted by viggorlijah at 3:27 AM on August 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Have you tried dedicated bike paths? Even in my non-bike friendly city there are several paved bike paths (some in parks, others independant pathss).
posted by Aranquis at 4:29 AM on August 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've not tried any of them, but there are some smartphone/tablet apps that make use of vibrations created by exercising on cardio machines such as stationary bikes to create a gaming environment. Two I found (but having tried) are BitGym's offerings and GameFit Bike Race Pro.
posted by drlith at 4:47 AM on August 27, 2014

Best answer: (Rereading your question, BitGym's Virtual Active may not be the sort of game you're looking for, but Fit Freeway may be more your speed, pun intended.)
posted by drlith at 4:57 AM on August 27, 2014

Ok, so I like bike racing and road bike riding but I hate doing indoor trainer rides due to boredom as well. I found the only thing that kept me motivated was watching Sufferfest videos on a TV (I used to Airplay them from a laptop).

They are basically structured, high intensity workouts but cloaked in scenes where you are riding on beautiful roads then suddenly thrown into race simulations using race video from famous races.

I found it really fun one long winter and did it 2-3x a week on my own. If you like watching bike racing, it might work for you too.
posted by mathowie at 5:06 AM on August 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

Expanding on the heart rate monitor idea, I've noticed that watching the real time graph of my heart rate on the polar app motivates me to try and keep it up. That combined with some good music or an audio book keeps me going. Another tip with audio books is to find a really compelling one send only let yourself listen to it when you exercise.
posted by poxandplague at 5:07 AM on August 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Holy hell do I get bored on most machines, but I have a couple routines that work for me.

On the treadmill, I Youtube my way through an hour of running. I watch music videos, with lyrics, in a language I'm trying to learn. This stimulates my eyes, my ears, and my brain, all at once. The game part comes in trying to outlast the previous session. When I started, I was 1-song-running-1-song-fastwalking. Now I'm 6-songs-running-1-song-fastwalking. The lower speed is a chance to drink, wipe face, etc.

On the erg, I have no Youtube and cannot read, but there the game is entirely a mind game. What's the time now? How is my /500 m time? Can I get it down to this goal? What /500 m do I have to maintain to finish 1 minute earlier than before? If I'm doing x strokes per minute, how many meters per stroke? Oh geez nearly 3k look I'm halfway done. Surely I can do what I just did, one more time. This requires being good at talking to yourself and doing math mind games. I wish I could meditate, but it is not in my skillset. The closest I can get is watching my posture based on the mirror in front of me and the feedback from the machine's behavior.
posted by whatzit at 5:20 AM on August 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Thirding idlethink and missmagenta, if you don't mind too much that Zombies, Run! will get your distance wrong, you can use it on a stationary bike. I use it on a treadmill and it gets my strides/distance all wrong, but I've decided not to care because the primary thing is that it's super-motivating and makes me want to get back to exercising to hear more of the story. I think that aspect of it would work just fine on a stationary bike. You can even turn off the zombie-chase aspect if you find the 20% speed-up thing isn't working on a stationary bike, and it's still fun and motivating.
posted by Stacey at 5:26 AM on August 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Recently saw this article about Goji Play, a company putting sensors and video games together for exercise equipment.
posted by undercoverhuwaaah at 6:13 AM on August 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Designer of Zombies, Run! here: Everyone above is correct, you can still play Zombies, Run! on a stationary cycle, but it won't be able to track you. A lot of people don't mind that because they want to hear the story, but some people do.

One of these days we'll have to investigate using the device's accelerometer to try and measure 'effort' on a stationary cycle. It's not at the top of our list, to be fair, but it should be totally possible. In the meantime I have heard good thing about Bitgym!
posted by adrianhon at 7:53 AM on August 27, 2014 [5 favorites]

I gamify my exercise bike riding by taking virtual trips. Usually my stationary bike is my time-cycle and each kilometer equals a year back in time. Then I make a daily blog entry where I post a picture from what ever year I have achieved found with an internet image search and describe what it's like to be experiencing the Cuban Missile Crisis, Women's picture hats and corsets, steam trains, the new exciting advent of the bicycle or whatever is current. I've also done virtual trips across country where each kilometer is equal to a kilometer. You can also find pictures of the various stops you make on the way to illustrate an on line journal.

You can design your own reward system easily. What large number of small things would you like to own? If you collect real objects make each kilometre equal to one dollar and the amount of biking you do will dictate your budget for collecting the desired reward. This works for things like Magic the Gathering cards. One thousand virtual dollars per kilometer can be used to pay for virtual luxury purchases such as financing your own movie production, or a trip to Monte Carlo by First Class.

Alternatively you can create your own character and have each kilometer equal to some stat increase, and each time you increase the tension level on the bike equal to a level up and so on. This takes a bit more imagination to enjoy. Keeping a record of your characters stats in Excel or some other database program makes it easy.

I also use my exercise bike as a forcing function to do things I want to. There is one on-line game I like to play that used to be in development and subject to frequent crashes. Every time the game crashed I found myself desperately attempting to log in again, over and over, because I wanted to go back to playing. I set myself a rule that I had to peddle at least one kilometer every time the game crashed before I could attempt to log in again. One day I managed twenty-one kilometers.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:57 AM on August 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I saved this on reddit 9 months ago. A dude developed an RPG that uses a stationary bike for travel.

Looks like he has a website now.
posted by TomMelee at 9:35 AM on August 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You say music doesn't work, but have you tried to optimize your playlist around beats per minute? A lot of people find themselves syncing up to the rhythm of whatever's playing, like it or not, but planning the rhythm into the workout is another thing. You could set it up for intervals, e.g., one minute at a higher bpm, one minute at a lower one. Transitions might feel a bit medleyish, but if you treat it as a game, it might increase interest. (I don't know about you, but I really like intervals inasmuch as each one is a kind of mini-goal -- minute 1 reached! next! 6 to go! etc.)

(One issue with that, though, is that if you're like me you might ignore pain to keep with the beat, but it might help if you're firm with yourself around stopping at pain or shortness of breath, etc.)

If you like the idea of intervals, there's also the Gymboss interval timer, if you don't want to get your phone sweaty.
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:02 PM on August 27, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for suggestions so far! Goji Play only works with iOS so no go for me, but found a review of it which mentioned another thing called Story Running (link is a review but links to game site) which sounds a bit Zombies, Run-ish in that it tells a compelling story, uses BPM to help you accelerate etc. Designed for running but after all the helpful advice from Zombies, Run! players and designers, I think it could probably still work for the bike.

Any other ideas still welcome!
posted by Athanassiel at 6:19 PM on August 27, 2014

Not sole motivation, but two fun add-ons. If you have (or get) a Fitbit activity tracker and log your non-step exercise (like biking), then you can use the FitRPG app to convert your fitness data into your character’s strength, HP, endurance, dexterity, and experience points. I have the iOS app, which is wicked buggy. Hopefully Android is better.

If you have a Jawbone UP, Fitbit, Moves, or Ledongli, you can use your fitness data to “feed” a Wokamon virtual pet.
posted by editorgrrl at 8:39 AM on August 28, 2014

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