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Reviewed: Yourself! Fitness
Author: Michael Ahlf       Date: March 9th, 2005 - Images courtesy of responDESIGN
Page: 2

When I first picked up Yourself! Fitness, I wasn't in too bad a shape. For my height and build, according to most calculators, I fell in about 10-15 pounds above optimum weight, weight I'd never dropped since acquiring it in college. The first test was to see how well Yourself! Fitness could handle that. As it turned out, there was no problem; the initial fitness evaluation correctly figured out that my strengths (arms and legs) were doing fine, and my cardio fitness was ok, but my core body strength (read: abdominal and chest area) was a bit weak. Additionally, I'm not as flexible as I'd like.

The game asks how you're feeling before every workout - if you're having an off day, it eases up a bit.

Selected goals are used to customize the workout - pick cardio, for instance, and more aerobics moves will be in your weekly routine.

Tools like a yoga ball, hand weights, and aerobics steps can be added to the routine if you have them available.

Pacing your workout is up to you - rather than requiring a certain amount of time, the game asks you to set a certain amount of time per week and distribute it between days. I took five days a week, decently spread out, and set to work. I was also pitting Yourself! Fitness against the worst time of year for weight gain - the Christmas holiday - so it was a double challenge on their part. Could Yourself! Fitness overcome the holiday season's added pounds and make me healthier?

To be fair to the responDESIGN folks, I should add that I didn't take the full advantage of the program, as I skipped out on the included recipe book and meal planner. Your mileage may vary in that regard as well, since dietary restrictions can render some or many of the recipes unusable, or can lead you to healthy foods and meal ideas that you turn out to love eating.

After the first month, I found that the workouts were indeed helping. My cardio fitness, after pushing through a couple week's 30-minute workouts, had improved, as had my flexibility due to liberally partaking in the meditation garden (a special section of the game which focuses on relaxation and yoga/tai-chi exercises).

Every few weeks, a fitness evaluation tracks your progress.

Exercises are paced and adjusted according to your set and evaluated difficulty.

Multiple workout environments are designed to keep the visuals from getting boring.

The exercises themselves were interesting. Maya opens up by suggesting a focus for the day; Weight loss (pure calorie burning), cardio, upper body strength, core body strength, lower body strength, and flexibility. Upper body strength consists of various arm exercises and variants on push-ups, unless you've got hand weights available. Core body strength worked on abdominal exercises; lying down leg lifts, variants on crunches, and the like. Cardio was most like a traditional aerobics workout, while the flexibility sessions incorporated exercises I'd never seen before, a few of which I found I lacked the balance to do properly the first number of times. I still have occasional trouble falling out of a half-moon on the left side. Lower body strength, cardio, and weight loss all crossed over to some degree, which I can't see as necessarily a bad thing.

After selecting a focus, music, and setting, the workout begins. At this point, Maya asks how you're feeling; if you're not feeling so hot, telling her this will cause the game to run at a slightly lowered difficulty setting based on your last fitness evaluation. Honesty is important at all times; misreport how you did on a fitness evaluation, or how you're feeling, and the workout won't be tailored right.

True to the advertising, the exercises never got boring, predictable, or repetitive. Even after three months of sessions, it was difficult to predict what exercises would be run on a given day's session, beyond a few warm-up basics. That's a good thing, as I can guarantee that after even one month with a traditional workout video I'd have been bored to tears.

Unlike Dance Dance Revolution's snarky, annoying announcer who verbally abuses players for stepping off of the routine, Maya (the game's avatar) remains encouraging at all times. Some of the recorded statements are a little cliche, but they get the point across; being verbally abused in DDR often made me want to stop playing, while Maya's encouragement is a reminder to keep working through the end of a session, even if a certain exercise is tiring or intense. It's also possible to turn down the difficulty (or turn it up) on the fly, in case something is just too difficult or you're having a bad day. After each section of a workout, Maya also asks for feedback on how hard the session was; if it was too hard (or too easy) that's noted for the next time this focus comes up.

Ultimately, I found myself sticking with the workouts more and more; they were easy to come back to, convenient (being able to do them alone, in my own home, was a great improvement over traveling to a gym where workout nuts would be present), and the lack of others made it much easier to be honest about how the workout felt and how much I was physically capable of doing.

In terms of picking a console to buy the game on - Xbox, PC, or PS2 - I'd have to go with the Xbox first, followed by PS2, followed by PC. The reasoning is simple: while there's not much difference between the versions, unless your computer is located in an amazingly large and empty room, acquiring the space in which to work out may be difficult. Clearing out an 8x8 space in a living room, by contrast, is fairly simple. Additionally, most gamers interested in this title will have a larger TV than they do computer monitor; even with the PC's higher resolution, the larger screen makes the game's text easier to read when it's being read from 8+ feet away.

The end result of the experiment? After three months, including Christmas week's added poundage, I'm down no significant weight loss, but I'm an inch smaller on the waist, a few inches more flexible, and I feel better overall. I pronounce the experiment a success.

I sent a few questions off to responDesign, and their co-founder Phil Barnes responded. My questions are in green, his responses in tan:

What was the inspiration for Yourself Fitness? Boredom at traditional workout videos, or something else?

The concept for Yourself!Fitness first emerged as I was training for an Iron-Distance triathlon. I was using PC software to monitor my workouts and progress, and being a “gamer,” I started thinking about ways that the game console could bring value to consumers beyond entertainment. My personal interest in health and fitness and a Christmas visit to my in-law’s home 6 months before I was to be married, solidified the consumer need for a product like Yourself!Fitness.

At Christmas, while my brother-in-law and I were playing video games, my then fiancee and female in-laws were discussing how stressful it was to get in shape for the upcoming wedding. There was no time to workout, there were no convenient gyms in the area and aside from being expensive, gyms were uncomfortable “meat markets”. Instructional home fitness VHS/DVD was a good option, but after a while it felt repetitive and you never really knew if you were getting the workout that was best for you.

The next morning, as we were opening presents, my brother-in-law received a very generous assortment of video game related gifts. Gift after gift, games, a new console, game controllers, and more and more games. While these gifts all came from different members of his family, each one was given by a woman.

This led me to realize that women are not naïve about video games, but that they are simply not interested in the content available in current games on the market. I thought that we could change that by creating the first personalized, interactive and goal oriented fitness experience for the gaming console, such as PlayStation2 or Xbox.

My business partner and I founded the company in May of 2003 and we set out to bring the latest in health and fitness guidance to the anyone who is willing to make the commitment and can afford to spend $35 for a personal trainer who is available 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.  Yourself!Fitness came to market for the PC and the Xbox last fall and most recently available for the PlayStation2 earlier this month.

There's a lot of division in the workout community regarding theory on how to do some exercises, or even if some should be done at all. How did you decide which particular exercises, and variants, got into the game?

We worked closely with a team of fitness experts and personal trainers, including Reebok University Master Trainers, to determine and develop content for the program. Based on their comprehensive knowledge and extensive personal training experience we were able to develop a well-rounded training program.

A couple times, I've seen a slightly lopsided workout, where an exercise that has left and right sides was only done on one side. Is that normal?

The exercises selected by Maya are based on your personal fitness goals and progress. She evaluates your profile and identifies your greatest deficiency and then builds a program that is right for you. In certain step exercises, Maya may use her right foot as a lead rather than her left. While this does not change the overall quality of the exercise, concerned clients may wish to mirror Maya and use their left foot as the lead on alternative days of step-aerobics and cardio exercise.

Did you consider an option to let users block out certain exercises (for instance, if they don't have the balance necessary to perform a Half Moon)?

For this version of the game, there is not an option to block certain exercises, however we are looking to potentially incorporate this in upcoming versions.

The responses to #3 and #4 were gratifying to see; while Yourself! Fitness is very well designed, there's some room for improvement.

Still, the experiment was a success. Yourself! Fitness succeeded at making me healthier and taking an inch off my waist; as I ramp up the exercise times in the future, I'm expecting this to improve.

Added:  Thursday, March 10, 2005
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Page: 2/3

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