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Online gyms and ‘Exergames’ such as Nintendo’s Wii Fit, which is launched later this month, are flooding the fitness market. But how effective are they? We asked readers to give three of them a workout

Karen Widdowson tries out Wii Fit
Karen Widdowson tries out Wii Fit. Photograph: Sarah Lee

Wii Fit

Reviewed by: Karen Widdowson, 35, electronic communication coordinator, London

I wanted to lose weight but had cancelled my gym membership, so I tried the Wii Fit. You stand on a “balance board”, which has pressure sensors and communicates, via a wireless remote, with the Wii console. It can calculate your Body Mass Index and “Wii age” (mine was 33 but changed to 45 when I was hung over!). There are four types of exercise – yoga, aerobics, balance and muscle conditioning – which include hulahoops, snowboarding and skiing, among others. You set up a profile and it asks for your goals, giving you contextual feedback throughout. The “Wii Piggy Bank” stores your points, allowing you gradually to unlock more challenging games.

I enjoyed the Wii, but, as someone who has run marathons, it was nothing like as strenuous as a gym workout. The skiing was hilarious, but a half-hour brisk walk would probably be better exercise. There are, however, built-in elements such as playing against yourself (and other people) which keep you motivated. The virtual reality aspect was fun – especially the ski slalom and running track. You do feel a little like you’re really on the slope or track. It also responds with sensible advice. I overtook my instructor once and it told me off for not pacing myself and going fast too soon. But what you don’t have is someone assessing you in person. I didn’t know if my “twists” were right and my yoga-loving friend told me that my yoga positions weren’t correct, but the Wii – which judges your posture by assessing your centre of gravity – said they were great.

Verdict: It’s fun, with some challenging aspects. Did I lose weight? No, but I might if I carry on

Virtual Gym

Reviewed by: Maria Jones, 40, senior manager, Bury, Lancashire I used to be very fit, but balancing work with children has made exercise hard to accommodate. I thought the Virtual Gym could work for me. Instead of buying a Patsy Palmer video there was a great choice of workouts (including spinning, aerobics, “legs, bums and tums” and Pilates) and a diary of classes showing on screen, which you can download and copy to CD. This means you can do the classes when and where you want.

Before starting, I had to fill out detailed questionnaires on health, lifestyle, fitness and diet and choose five goals from around 24 options. I opted for improving muscle tone, losing weight, improving strength, reducing anxiety and improving fitness. From this information, the computer-generated “personal trainer” facility recommended that I try Pilates and aerobics. I particularly liked the Pilates. The instructor was clear and I felt confident I was doing the positions correctly, but you can rewind to double check. My only criticism was that I wasn’t sure if the level was novice, intermediate or experienced, and I couldn’t track my progress. And during one session the website kept logging me out – once during a class – which was irritating.

Verdict: I’m happy to have discovered Pilates and that I have managed to find time to exercise regularly for the first time in ages. My muscle tone has improved, but I am worried I might lose motivation to continue as the flexibility can make it easy to put off

Swat Rock interactive gym, Clifton leisure centre

Reviewed by: Ashley Ellis, 10, Nottingham

I started going to Swat Rock where we play physical computer games with an instructor six months ago. There are eight dance mats, two games walls with flashing lights and a special PlayStation where you race cars on a track, but instead of using your thumbs [as you would on regular computer games], you use your body to turn the car. We normally start with a warm-up, then have 15 minutes on the dance mats where we have to move our feet to correspond with flashing lights on the wall and mat, five minutes’ rest, then two games on the walls. The coach says the name of a body part and we have to hit the flashing light on the wall with that body part. We also bounce up to the wall on space hoppers to hit the lights, or throw bean bags. Sometimes we stick to one game for two weeks so we can measure our progress. When I started I was on the easy dance mat setting and now I’m on medium. The coach explains what is happening to our bodies when we play. For instance, because our bodies are pumping blood faster, our hearts beat faster, making our veins pump up. And the dance mats and throwing balls at the wall improve our coordination.

Verdict: Afterwards, I come out hot and sweaty, like I’ve worked my body really hard, and I feel really, really good.

The Wii Fit and other Exergaming products can be purchased at Exergame Fitness.com and Motion Kids.com websites in April.

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