I used to be very proud of my legs. I have slight knees and ankles. But the muscles around the bones were very strong. And in my early 20s, as a full-time martial artist, I could kick very hard. My nose bled like a faucet, but I will say I could hold my own good and I was never so happy as at the end of a long day of training. Then things went sour, as they can. My friend who owned my boxing gym was mortally hurt outside of it in a fight with criminals, and a few months later I smashed my leg in a bad bike accident. I quit it all and my body has since been ravaged by the high-tech lifestyle. I'm now incapable of jumping high or running fast. If my body was a gadget, I'd have thrown it out a long time ago. I think of all these things when I use the Wii Fit and grow a bit sad. But what's positive is that for the first time in years, I'm excited to exercise. Wii fit is making me happier and healthier. (However retarded it is to exercise in front of a TV.)
Above, me at 30. Below, only five years earlier. Life is cruel.
Wii Fit the game has special hardware: an electronic sensing balance board the size of a car floor mat. It doesn't just take stock of the pounds you've packed on. The board can tell where my feet are in a two dimensional grid using four sensors, and measure pressure within fractions of pounds, 60 times a second. Nintendo's parlayed the board's capabilities into a watchful eye, taking stock of your balance and skill in several exercises. The 50+ drills take about 1-6 minutes each, and are spread across yoga, strength, aerobics and balance. At first, I entered my height and the board measured my weight. It used both to calculate my body/mass index. It's here that the board told me I was overweight, and the debate is out whether or not that is from the extra mass in my legs or the ring of lard around my waist. (BMI does not account for body fat %.) Next, the game challenged me with some basic agility tests, and combined those results with my BMI to get my Wii Fit Age. I scored a Wii fitness level appropriate for a 48-year-old. (My real age is 30.) Humiliated, I set a goal to lower my BMI (and weight) by a few notches within the next few weeks and improve my general fitness.
Me Before: Eat whatever I want, exercise a lot, get buff.
Me Now: Too out of shape to do any sports, hate going to the gym, think yoga is boring.
Me Now: I guess I can play 30 minutes of Wii Fit for a work break.
Living With Wii Fit
I used the exercises in the yoga section to warm up. There's a decent variety of poses here, from simple breathing exercises to ballet-like poses that'll challenge even the most balanced and flexible. Being neither at this point, I enjoyed the static subtle workouts my feet, leg, hips, core back and abdominal muscles received. All the while, the trainer will encourage you with compliments about your ability to remain static in a stance, or chide you for wobbling. Previous to this, my experience with yoga included a class from some hippie with the last name Love. I was bored out of my mind, but Wii fit made it fun. The short duration of each test, along with the earning of a few "Wii Fit credits" for every few minutes of exercise.
Me Before: 100 explosive push-ups, no sweat.
Me Now: 10 explosive push-ups, no sweat
Me With Wii Fit: 10 slow-paced push-ups, with planks in between each repetition. Lots of sweat.
I earned credits for other types of exercises, too. The strength training has a focus on the core and legs, which I agree with as the most important in general power. There are squats and lunges for the legs, but no calf raises. There are planks and jack knifes for my abs, but no crunches or leg raises. There are slow push-ups interspersed with planks for shoulder, chest and tricep strength. Note: There is no opposite exercise for the biceps. I nitpick about drills I'd like to see the game recommend because over the months you'll want to cross train or your body will fall into a rut. The good news is that you won't get bored too fast: to unlock all the basic exercises takes a good number of hours, and I'd gather impossible to do within a week unless you're very fit already. But the available exercises are good basics and were challenging at the controlled slow pace that the game has you perform them at. I did some drills with dumbells to make things more challenging at times, and would probably work a medicine ball and some outdoor activities into the mix for variety.
Me Before: Run five miles for a warmup before training. Like a gazelle.
Me Now: Hate running. Get tired being pulled along by a 10-pound dog. Haven't thrown a real punch with any heat on it in years.
Me With Wii Fit: Running in place around my living room is pathetic. At least I'm sweating. If my friends from the boxing gym could see my now they'd laugh and cry. At least I'm in my own home, blinds down.
Aerobic workouts were definitely capable of making me sweat. I enjoyed jogging through a virtual park; the step class was not challenging; the hula hoop games are the most fun. But the most intense drill happened to be the advanced six-minute boxing drill. (The foot and hand combinations get complicated, requiring me to think while trying to react quickly, and the end-of-round bonus punching free-for-all added a nice bit of exhaustion to the workout.)
Me Before: Stand on one leg for as long as I'd like.
Me Now: No matter how much I use it or walk on it, the left leg is shaky from it being broken and pinned together a degree pigeon-toed.
Me With Wii Fit: Doing one-legged drills on my left is making my balance a lot better, very quickly.
Balance games are parlor games that encourage you to develop dynamic control in shifting your body weight. One game had me smashing soccer balls with my head while dodging cleats (hated it) but the best were the ski jumps, slalom and snowboarding emulators. (I could play those all day.)
While Wii Fit supports profiles for you and your friends and family, there is no versus mode. To challenge each other in ski jumping, for example, you either had to log Wii Fit credits on each other's accounts or back out to the main menu and reload your profile. That's a waste, because some of the best workouts I've had with Wii Fit were my matches with buddies.
After a Week
I used Wii Fit to track my fitness and focused on longer workouts of +40 minutes, with days off in between. My Wii fit age, largely by improvements in balance, improved to 31. While I don't think I burned much fat off (Ice Cream Wins Every Time) a week really isn't long enough to show real results in this regard. That said, I'm not sure you're going to stay sane doing 30 minutes of cardio in your living room, but people do such a thing on gym StairMaster machines all the time, so what the hell do I know. I also feel stronger from doing the sit-ups, squats and push-ups. Not necessarily strong, but taut.
Me Before: Eat two hamburgers, run five miles right after, gain no weight.
Me Now: Eat at a hamburger while doing a blog post in five minutes, gain weight.
Me with Wii Fit: Eat at a hamburger, do a week of Wii Fit, don't gain weight.
Long-term Motivation: Habit Forming by Shame
I'd never been a fan of the gym commute's inefficiency. Making an hour's worth of travel, parking and changing just to do an hour of solitary weightlifting seems like a waste of time. Using the Wii Fit for a few minutes at home is a lot easier, and because of that and the way it would graph my efforts, I found the barrier to exercising much lower and the motivation to do even a little bit of activity much greater. In other words, Wii Fit brings video game addiction to my exercise regimen, and my body is the bloated scoreboard.
Every day, I'd check my body age and weight, and every day, I'd become more and more aware of my fitness. Did I gain a few pounds? Wii Fit made me admit if it was from night snacking on Haagen Daz or overeating (Answer: Both.) Did I miss a day of training? Wii Fit reminded me. And every day, the Fit never neglected to reinforce that I was currently "overweight" and weaker than I should be, while encouraging me with cheers of "good job" during exercises. It was very effective, like having a personal trainer. Except, not really.
Me Before: Couldn't take a day off from exercising without feeling guilty.
Me Now: Eats lots of ice cream when stressed at work. Can't take a day off from work without feeling guilty. Don't generally give a shit about exercise.
Me With Wii Fit: I feel guilty skipping exercise or eating crap both, but feel good when the Wii Fit says I'm strong or am doing a good job.
See, Wii Fit asks you to set goals of gaining weight (presumably muscle) or losing weight (presumably fat) but unlike a trainer, never ever goes as far as to customize your workouts to achieve this goal. I'd tend towards working out very hard on one day (1+ hour) and then taking a day off in between to build strength and power. The game offers no such advice. Another gripe: along with the lack of recommended training regimens, there's no way to have the game automatically step you through a circuit of exercises. Consequently, screwing with menus makes it so that a 45-minute workout includes 30 minutes of fiddling to choosing exercises, etc. That's a waste of time. A trainer would also differentiate between me being overweight or simply muscular.
What It Isn't
I suppose the first step in appreciating it is to treat it like a healthy video game, not a replacement for the gym. Not a personal trainer. Not a set of free weights. Not a bicycle. You won't make it to six-minute mile shape. Or 12 rounds of boxing shape. You won't be able to even run swiftly or jump high or swim far or do pull-ups, let alone build skills in an actual sport any more than Wii Baseball teaches you how to hit home runs. And why shouldn't you get in shape while learning a skill and coordination, too? No one is ever going to get past basic fitness by only playing Wii Fit alone.
If you need a little help getting into shape for the first time or back to your former glory, Wii Fit is the coolest, most interactive and kind way to ease your bloated body back into activity. And for serious athletes, it's a fun supplemental tool for measuring weight over time, and for improving balance on your days off. It's real exercise, but mild compared to what you'd get with free weights or running or swimming.
Let's put it this way: While I exercised a total of seven hours in a week with Wii Fit, I probably burned about a combined 1000 calories. Even though my muscles feel significantly tighter, even in just seven days, I easily wiped that weigh-loss potential away with the single pint of ice cream I ate watching Lost.
So what's it good for? In fitness, no machine can ever replace the drive to be healthy. Not Bowflex, not Thighmaster, and not Wii Fit. The real difference here is that Wii Fit builds fitness consciousness, reminding us of our body's state of being, chiding us for bad habits while encouraging the good. And this is while building up the basic fitness necessary to start doing high intensity workouts or sports. It makes exercise feel like a video game, and we all know we can have fun playing those for hours.