Before we do our warm ups, I must confess to being no stranger to exercise. My day job involves spending many hours with the Bell brothers (Dumb, Bar and Kettle), or pounding the pavement in a bid to reach my fitness goals. It’s a never ending process; at times it feels like Groundhog Day (the movie, that is), with workouts becoming repetitive and predictable, so I'm ever on the lookout for ways to inject some variety into the mix. Even better if this involves a console and a swag of new exercises cleverly disguised as games.
There's certainly no shortage of fitness titles out there, riding the tsunami of fitness fads, TV shows and celebrity trainers. The Biggest Loser, Zumba, and Jillian Michaels all spring to mind. Such titles generally cater to a market of (mostly) women who want to lose a bit of weight and perhaps tone up; nothing too intimidating, and the novelty is usually short lived. Then they tend to get shelved in the software graveyard, until the next one is released.
Nike+ Kinect Training is one of the few titles out there aimed at those with serious athletic aspirations, or athletes wanting to supplement and enhance their current training regime. Offering the combined expertise of Nike's professional trainers and a comprehensive, customisable program, it looks to have real staying power... provided you've got the stamina and willpower to see it through.
Firstly though, you'll need workout space, and lots of it. Some of the exercises involve multiple sideways leaps, and others require your whole body to be visible side-on, so you'll want to clear an area large enough to accommodate this. We're fortunate enough to live in a house with a massive, barnlike living room, but the average Kiwi lounge is probably a little too compact to comfortably fit the bill. Shifting the furniture is a workout in itself... and a great way to put your back out. Over the last couple of weeks I've grown to dread the daily battle with our wood framed three-seater sofa... that sucker is heavy!
The next step on your quest for fitness is to set up and calibrate the Kinect device... a fairly straightforward process, requiring no neoprene straps, bespoke gadgets, or other peripherals. While the Kinect is able to detect your stance and motion with uncanny accuracy, it is not infallible. Sometimes it would pick up phantom movements, acting as if possessed and selecting options I hadn't chosen. At other times it had trouble differentiating between left and right (usually when the subject is side-on to the camera). On a couple of occasions it even cut short my workout, just as I was getting ready for another set.
Of course, it pays to heed the manufacturer's recommendations and wear fitted clothing, as opposed to the baggy, vintage Adidas trackies I usually work out in. Minimal background visual pollution also helps the clever little gizmo do its thing.
Before you can get down to the business of blasting that spare tyre into lipo-blivion, you must first submit some stats (height, weight, age, gender etc.), and undergo an initial fitness assessment. This is standard practice at any gym and takes around 30 minutes or so. Allow extra time to learn the individual exercises (which are demonstrated on a need to know basis), and you can easily clock up an hour's worth of exertion in your first session.
There are two expert Nike trainers to choose from, both accurate representations of their real life counterparts. Your trainer will guide you through the goal setting process (i.e. whether you wish to become stronger, more toned, or more athletic), and help you establish a lifestyle-friendly workout schedule, depending on how many days per week you can exercise.
If you're not keen to get locked into a comprehensive fitness program, or you simply wish to use N+KT as an occasional training tool, you can elect to do a quick workout. You'll start each session with a proper warm up and finish with a cool down, which is good to see.
There's a mixture of strength and cardio, and an impressive selection of exercises and fitness games to keep things interesting. Most of the strength exercises use bodyweight (very popular right now), but be aware you will need to invest in some dumbbells as well.
As for cardio sessions, personally I prefer to conduct mine outdoors. There's nothing like a lungful of eau de cattle truck and a trail of snot rockets in your wake (the latter is generally frowned upon indoors), but there would be times where a program like this would be very handy indeed - either as a 'can't be bothered leaving the house’ replacement workout, or for those who don't wish to pay a goodly portion of their disposable income on a gym membership and personal trainer.
In addition to the standard exercises we all know and love - or loathe (I'm looking at you, mountain climbers and burpees), you'll also find yourself diving onto the floor in a bid to avoid moving obstacles, or ducking left and right to avoid a barrage of incoming missiles in a virtual game of dodgeball. It’s all good fun, and I guarantee you won't see those at the gym!
Much emphasis is placed on correct technique, with the trainer demonstrating each exercise and the option to practice before you do it 'for reals'. A rep won't be counted unless it falls within the acceptable range of movement, so it pays to spend a bit of time doing the drills, learning how to nail each exercise.
Some of the instructions aren't as clear as they could be, which could be a major deterrent to fitness noobs or the coordinationally challenged. There are a number of visual cues to assist with correct positioning, and audio/vocal prompts, for those times you can't see the screen. In no time at all you'll be better trained than Pavlov's dog.
The trainer's movements and responses are about as close to the real thing as you can get. They're professional, knowledgeable, never lose their cool if you get it wrong, offer encouragement when you're doing well, and explain each exercise in great detail, so you know which muscle groups you're working, and why. A countdown timer displays time remaining for each exercise and for the workout, and your rest time between sets is realistic, although you can verbally request a time out if you need a breather... or if you need to call an ambulance.
Post workout stats let you know how many calories you burned (sadly, it's always less than you think), and there's also an award/achievement scheme in place, with various Nike sponsored athletes weighing in with a congratulatory video clip when you reach certain milestones. Your improvements are measured through fitness assessments every four weeks; incentive enough to stick with a program for at least that long.
Your exercise environment is a playing field or gymnasium in pristine condition. It's a bit too clinical; there are no dings in the wall where some testosterone-laden grunt biffed a 20kg weight at the dumbbell rack, no queue of sweaty Zumba mums by the water cooler, and no ambient noise from treadmills, rowers, and other machinery to distract you from the task at hand. Nope, it's just you and your trainer, with some pumpin' workout tracks to get you into the groove. Gossip mags take great delight in publishing photos of celebrity cellulite and muffin tops, but there's not a scrap of either to be seen in the video segments of happy, fit young things working out in perfect sync. Something to aspire to, I guess... and a great way to showcase Nike's extensive range of stylish gym gear.
So, how did Nike+ Kinect Training stack up against my real gym and PT sessions? Truth be told, a couple of weeks isn't long enough to deliver a full verdict - hell, it's two whole weeks shy of my first assessment, so I can't even document any improvements for you. For what it's worth, my first impressions were that, while the duration and intensity weren't quite on par with my current fitness level, there was some genuine challenge to be had, and those with the willpower and stamina (and furniture shifting skills) to stick with the program will definitely see some benefits. Plus the wide variety of exercises will ensure you don't get bored. Recommended for the fitness enthusiast in your life.