Sweat SF: Fight like a hero at SF's new Black Box VR gym
(Courtesy of @thisishowyouvegan)

Sweat SF: Fight like a hero at SF's new Black Box VR gym


Leave it to San Franciscans to come up with a workout for screen-addicted techies.

That's right, at Black Box VR, the world's first virtual reality gym that opened at Market and Ninth streets this spring, you don't even have to put down your video games—you are the video game.

Founded by Ryan DeLuca and Preston Lewis—two fitness fanatics and creators of the online supplement site Bodybuilding.com—the all-glass storefront opens to a clinically clean space that offers workouts based on virtual games and very real sweat. But this being a tech-forward gym, you must first download their app, where you'll create an account, schedule your session, and get a virtual sneak peek of what's to come.

IRL at the Mid-Market facility, you'll be greeted by cordial receptionist who will ask you to sign a waiver (you know, lest you somehow injure yourself while punching the air) before suiting you up with a pair of battle gloves and a VR headset. Don't freak out if this all seems foreign—your first-timer's hour-long session includes a full tour of the place and a guided introduction before the 30-minute game. And, if you're worried about leaving their flagship with rings around your eyes from the headset, don't worry: Like the soft, spandex-like gloves you'll don for the workout, the well-padded, adjustable headset is plush.

At first glance, Black Box VR looks a bit like an Apple store. The 4,000 square-foot interior is modern and futuristic-looking in all white with high ceilings, a cushy waiting lounge, and gender-neutral bathrooms with showers. But once you enter the fully-equipped VR studio, the vibe changes from day to blacked-out night, with your VR headset suspended from the ceiling in a way that will allow you to swivel and move around freely.

First-timers will instantly be curious about Black Box VR's Dynamic Resistance Machine, the primary touchpoint for all workouts here. Created by DeLuca and Lewis to perform a myriad of strength training exercises, it allows for minute-to-minute adaptability in order to inch you closer to your fitness goals—automatically.

The machine is "specifically designed to deliver real resistance in a virtual environment...So when you reach out to grab a virtual handle, you are actually grabbing the handle in the real world. You can feel it," said Lewis.

Once you become acquainted with this robotic personal trainer of sorts and the motion-sensors on your gloves are activated, your first few minutes of the demo will be spent getting accustomed to virtual reality—it's a trippy experience, for sure. But once you get the feel for it, you'll be ready to enter a universe unlike anything you've ever seen this close up before, a world filled with mystical creatures.

You're the hero in this otherworldly game that tricks you into testing and pushing your physical limits. The intensity of your strikes against your opponent depend upon the exercises you perform—chest presses ("fire beams"), overhead presses ("meteor strikes"), rowing motions ("lightning bolts"), squats ("ice shards"), and deadlifts ("cold fusions"). These same exercises also are used to summon more (self-guided) soldiers to your battle team. As you play, you'll also rack up trophies and increased energy reserves to fight off your opponents, be they generated by the computer or by another human playing and working out in a shouldering studio.

Black Box VR's algorithm constantly adjusts your resistance levels and repetitions, and allows you to access your stats after you've finished a workout and keep tracking your ongoing progress via the app, which will store everything from your rep count to your average pulled resistance weight.

Even if your patience (and stamina) are tested while battling digital demons, the workout's half-hour format makes this sweaty endeavor approachable for anyone, even the Luddites among us.

// Free 30-day trial period are available after completing a complimentary demo; Black Box VR, 1390 Market St., Suite #102 (Mid-Market), blackbox-vr.com.

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