Zwift, a cycling platform is integrating virtual reality technology to reduce the pain in the legs as a result of hard sprints. According to Zwift, a cyclist will be required to wear a VR headset which then immerses them in a virtual landscape. This virtual landscape will engage the cyclist brain and in the process the brain will release feel-good chemicals. In addition to that, this virtual landscape will distract the brain from pain signals thereby reducing muscle pain during the training process. High intensity training is effective in improving the cyclists’ fitness, however, this training is sometimes painful tempting some cyclists to skip training.
A group of researchers from the University of Georgia performed a study on 94 active cyclists comprising of both men and women. The cyclists performed several sets of Wingate intervals each on duration of 30 seconds. This are sprints performed by cyclists with increasing resistant and it pushes them to their limits. Half of the cyclists performed the test with VR headsets that immersed them in a virtual landscape while the rest performed the test with simply a picture of the landscape in front of them. The results of the test revealed that the cyclists who were immersed in a virtual world felt a significant lower pain compared to those who just had a static photo in front of them.
“Without the head-mounted display, users of Zwift are not fully immersed in the virtual world and can easily draw attention back to their pain as they exercise, the ability of VR with head-mounted displays to be so encompassing and distracting is what I believe makes it specially equipped to alter pain during exercise.” Explained Carly Wender, the lead researcher. However, it has both pros and cons, according to those who tested the Zwift VR. Some of the pros include motivation and pain relieving, “I felt like the ‘landscape’ passed faster the harder I went, which would be more motivating than a 2-D screen for an interval session. I also would definitely choose to use it over cranking my neck to look up at my laptop screen.” Said Riley Missel, Bicycling staffer. According to Missel, Zwift VR cons include motion sickness which makes some cyclists find the headsets somehow uncomfortable.