Gear Review: Wii Fit: – First Impressions

It was about a week ago, and with a great deal of excitement and curiosity, that I first set foot upon the Wii Fit Balance board. Here are my initial, and somewhat superficial, impressions:

My first step after booting up the software was to create a profile for my Mii and to run through a Wii fitness test. Upon starting the test, I was introduced to the animated balance board. This little B-Board character has a lot of charm, and my kids instantly fell in love with its high-pitched voice. I sometimes catch my son playing in his room mumbling “measuring….measuring….all done” to himself (sadly, I have caught myself doing the same…). Despite its bubbly personality, the balance board was unforgiving in its assessment of my physical condition.

After finishing it measurements, B-Board informed me that my center of balance was tilted to the right (are my legs unequal in length, or is my body lopsided ala Sloth in the Goonies???). Next, after weighing me and calculating my BMI, I was told that I was overweight, and I had to cringe as I watched my little Wii Mii promptly plump up around the midsection. I knew that I had put on some weight over the winter, but to watch the pounds instantaneously added to the waistline of my formerly trim Mii had the desired effect of providing instant motivation. Although I realize that BMI has some drawbacks as a measure of weight/health (e.g., it is only based on height and weight, and does not take into account relative muscularity or body frame size), I know that I could stand to lose a few pounds, and thus the depiction of my Mii is not entirely inaccurate.

I’m now determined to get my Mii down to his formerly trim and healthy self. He has two little Mii’s of his own to play with and care for after all, and they always stand on either side of him in the Wii Fit plaza. This determination exists even though I realize that it is my own body that will have to make this change happen. This is the great trick that the Wii Fit and Wii Sports both accomplish – they make you active without really knowing it in order to achieve video game rewards. For someone like me who can waste hours playing a more conventional game to earn rewards or unlock new levels, this is pure genius.

As a final step in my baseline fitness test, I completed some simple balance tests to finalize a calculation of my Wii Fit Age, which turned out to be some 10-15 years older than my real age. I’m not sure how exactly this age is calculated, but I was immediately skeptical of its value. It seems unlikely that an estimate of “Fitness Age” could be accurate if only based on BMI, weight, and a few balance tests. Having run almost 1000 miles last year, I would hope that I am in better health than that, otherwise I should just hang up my shoes right now. The unreliability of this “Fitness Age” measure was confirmed the next night when it dropped to match my real age. It is unlikely that one night on the Wii Fit could restore 10-15 years to my health, though that would be quite a selling point for this product! Needless to say, the “Fitness Age” measure seems largely useless and I have stopped wasting my time in having it calculated during each fitness test.

Despite my problems with the “Fitness Age” measurement, the balance tests involved in calculating fitness age are really challenging, and I wish you could access them as part of the training component of the Wii Fit package. In fact, they are more interesting and effective than some of the actual balance games because they give great feedback on your stability with little red tracings of your exact center of balance during each test. Some of the tests try to throw you off with visual and auditory tricks, thus requiring you to really focus and concentrate to maintain your balance. One test in particular requires you to stand on one foot while maintaining balance in an increasingly narrow middle strip of the board. Every time the strip narrows, the audio track increases its tempo, and one time I was so distracted by the increasing pace of the audio track that I fell off of the board (thankfully, I was alone at the time). This really forces you to block out external stimuli while concentrating on balance, and is a very effective tool for increasing awareness of body position. Unfortunately, you cannot choose this “on demand” as a training module, and it seems to only randomly appear when doing the “Fitness Age” balance tests.

My hope is to begin analyzing selected training modules in more detail in subsequent posts, but I figured I would start with some first impressions after a week of use:

1. The balance board is an incredible piece of technology. I am continually amazed at the sensitivity of the Wii remotes and their ability to effectively track my movements, and the balance board works just as well, if not better. It can pick up the slightest deviation in my balance, and it is unforgiving if you try to overcompensate. The scale and weight/BMI tracking functions alone almost justify the price of the Wii Fit package.

2. Yoga and Strength Games: These exercises are great, and seeing how much my body wobbles while trying to hold a Tree Pose is really cool, and a bit frightening. Unfortunately Yoga is a bit difficult to do in my basement since I would have to put my arms through the ceiling to perform many of the poses properly. I haven’t really spent much time with these yet, but I see some good potential.

3. Balance Games: The balance games are fun, though I don’t necessarily see a whole lot of replay value. I can head soccer balls for a few rounds, but then it becomes kind of boring. Same goes for the Ski slalom and the Ski jump, though these have a bit more replay value since thy allow you to set more realistic records to try to beat. The tilt board marble game is challenging, though I have only tried it once and will have to spend a bit more time with it before rendering a verdict. I found the tight rope walk awkward and difficult, and probably will not use it much. The Bubble River game is quite challenging and has potential, but I’ve only tried it once so far. The rest have yet to be unlocked.

4. Aerobics/Cardio: Getting an aerobic workout with the Wii Fit will take some creativity. I have read a lot about the Hula Hoop game being a good workout, but I have trouble with the motion (maybe it’s a guy thing), and don’t foresee myself using it regularly. Step aerobics is fun, but for someone with reasonable fitness base it does not provide much of a workout. Adding some height to the balance board may help with this, and I may try this at some point for kicks. The running modules get your heart pumping, and seeing yourself synced on the screen while running is pretty cool. However, I find running in place to be both difficult and painful (my feet begin to ache almost immediately). I have come up with a potential solution that may ultimately make this my my favorite Wii Fit activity, but I will save details on that for a future post.

In summary, the Wii Fit is fun, but getting a good workout requires some creativity. The body tracking feature is fantastic, and after a week of Wiiing and a little outdoor running, here is the change in my body weight (note – the two low values were taken first thing in the morning – confirming that my weight does fluctuate by about 2.5 pounds daily depending on when I take the measurement):

About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.



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