July 7, 2008

Work It With Wii Fit

By Catherine Mallette, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas

Jul. 7--Where's my nunchuk?

As soon as the thought pops into my head, it makes me laugh out loud. That just isn't a thought I ever imagined having, and yet here I am on a Tuesday morning in my living room, frantically digging through a pile of Wii accessories so I can attach the nunchuk to my Wii remote and start whacking away at the air, in an attempt to virtually knock out the talking cartoony punching bag on my TV screen.

Exactly 36 days before, when it debuted in late May, I'd purchased the new Wii Fit game, embarking upon a grand experiment to find out:

a) If Shigeru Miyamoto, the Japanese dude who invented Wii Fit for Nintendo (and who also created Mario, The Legend of Zelda and a slew of other games) could really come up with a video-game exercise program that would appeal to middle-age women like me;

b) If I could actually stick with the program despite the time demands of work, kids and an aging car whose "check engine" light comes on every three weeks.

Results of the Great Wii Fit Lab Experiment, 8E

The Great Wii Fit Lab Experiment

Materials and methods

Nintendo Wii game system

Nintendo Wii Fit game (software and Balance Board)


Yoga mat

Over a five-week period, I put Wii Fit to the test, "playing" with it almost daily for 30 to 60 minutes at a time much to the amusement of my cat, who thought it odd that I was standing on a foot-by-foot-and-a-half piece of hard plastic (the Balance Board) contorting my body instead of resting on the couch next to him.


In many ways, the Wii Fit serves many of the same functions as a "personal trainer." (Although, quite honestly, I've never had a personal trainer, so I'm guessing about this.) To wit, Wii Fit:

Is interactive! There are loads of characters to interact with on screen. It's a little like going to a gym to work out, except that none of these characters are intimidating or leave sweat on the equipment. When you first start the game, you'll create a little cyber version of yourself, your "mii." To play, click on your mii, and a little cyber cartoon version of your Balance Board will greet you and tell you how many days you've been working out. The Balance Board will give you your daily Body Test, asking you to stand still ("are you fidgeting?") so he can measure your center of balance and weigh you.

He'll tell you your Body Mass Index (a calculation involving height and weight), and then if you'd like, he'll administer a couple of balance tests, which range from standing on one foot (hard) to standing still (my favorite). At the end, he'll present you with your Wii Fit age, and say something encouraging (and just a wii bit condescending) like, "Hey, you're still in pretty good condition!"

Gives feedback! After your Body Test, you can choose any of four activities: Yoga, Strength Training, Balance Games or Aerobics.

With Yoga and Strength, you're given a realistic-looking (and attractive!) cyber trainer to show you how to do the exercises. At the end of each exercise, you'll get points based on how well you've done, and a rating, from 1 to 4 stars. Then you'll see how you rank in the top 10 scores for that exercise, pitting you against the other members of your family who are Wii Fitting, too. With the Balance Games and Aerobics, you're in a cartoony world, and your mii represents you. All the other miis are in the same virtual world, and they cheer for you and sometimes work out beside you. Again, you'll get points based on how well you've done and a star rating. And you'll be able to see that even though you've just Hula Hooped like a mad woman and think you deserve a Gold Medal, you earned only 669 points and your 14-year-old daughter once got 795.

Provides instant gratification! As you work out, the game keeps track of the minutes you've spent exercising and congratulates you when you hit 30. As you complete various exercises, you "unlock" new, harder exercises and advance to new levels. I don't know why it feels good to be told that you can now do 20 jackknifes or pushups in a row, instead of just 10, but it does!

Makes you feel good!The game keeps track of all your progress, and you can look at the handy little line graphs and bar charts that show how many minutes you've logged over the past week or month and how you're doing with your weight, BMI, etc. Plus, the exercises get easier to complete as you go along, and you really do start to feel stronger.

Is easy to use! You don't have to go any farther than your TV. You don't have to drive your gas-guzzling car, make polite conversation to strangers or find workout clothes that don't have holes in them.

Even makes you feel guilty! The Balance Board will nag, er, remind you if you've missed a day, or three. If other members of your family have used the Wii Fit, the Balance Board also might ask about those people. "Where's David been?" my Balance Board queried the other day, although it didn't respond when I answered, "Out of town."

Observations, part two

While you will bond with your Wii Fit and start to think it is a real person, it is not. And the game can be a little frustrating. Here's what bugged me:

Its scale is a bit messed up. My Balance Board had me gaining and losing up to 4 or 5 pounds daily while my digital scale in the bathroom said my weight was consistent.

The board is awfully hard. My hands hurt when I did the pushups and planks as my palms dug into the hard plastic.

It can get very repetitive. Three times in the course of 30 seconds it told me why the triceps extension is so popular.

It can be overly chatty. It always wants to share fitness tips and tell you how great you are. Sometimes you just want to get on to the next exercise.

It doesn't think. Wii Fit won't help you figure out what you should be doing for overall training. In the beginning, before you unlock new exercises, you could probably do every available exercise in one session. But pretty soon, you'll need to break it up unless you don't have a job and just want to Wii Fit all day long. The entire Yoga sequence takes about 35-40 minutes to do all 15 poses, for example. The Strength sequence currently takes me about 45 minutes for the 12 exercises. As it allowed me to do more exercises for a longer time, I had to keep re-evaluating my daily workout plan, ie: "OK, today I'll do strength, tomorrow yoga and balance games," etc. But then again, God did give me a brain bigger than my cat's, so I suppose it's good if I put it to use from time to time.

The aerobics exercises are lame. They're fun, but they're not heart-pumpers. If you're just starting a workout routine and you haven't exercised in a while, they'll probably be fine for you. But I pretty quickly abandoned Hula Hooping and the Free Run (you just run in place) for a real run outside.


Show, don't tell: Let's use that nunchuk-seeking Tuesday morning as an example:

I didn't want to work out. I had a terrible head cold. I just wanted to refresh myself on the game so I could prepare this report.

Then I noticed that I really hadn't done much with the Aerobics section. In fact, I still had two of the nine exercises to unlock!

A flicker of competitiveness broke through my snot-filled head. Well, maybe if I just did the Hula Hoop exercise. So I did, but wait -- I got third place. My daughter, Hadley, had 293 spins and I only had 164!

So I redid the exercise, and got 271 spins, but then I realized there was a Super Hula Hoop exercise that I had forgotten about, so after 3 minutes of faux hooping, I was getting just a bit sweaty, but feeling good about my 668 points and three-star rating. Then I saw that Hadley had earned 795 points! Grrrrrr.

The Wii Fit was there for me, though, rewarding me with double the number of minutes of faux hooping, which allowed me to get 249 points and establish a new family record. Ta-da!

Next up was boxing to see how Hadley had fared. I really couldn't quite figure out the footwork and got a miserable 181 points -- and learned Hadley had 239!

I still hadn't unlocked either of the two remaining games, so I thought I'd try the Step exercise, which I was terrible at but for some reason (maybe to encourage me for my effort?) the game unlocked the Advanced Step exercise, which of course I then had to try -- several times, because I kept getting confused when they added kicks and turns.

Before I knew it, the game gave me a little celebration, rewarding me for 30 minutes of exercise.


In just five weeks, I became a wii bit of a Wii Fit addict. Hence:

a. Shigeru Miyamoto is a genius.

b. I am stronger than I was. Although I am now often late for work.

The skinny on Wii Fit exercises Exercises are divided into four categories: Balance, Aerobic, Strength Training and Yoga

Most fun: All the Balance games

Best on a hot summer day: Ski slalom and ski jump (both Balance)

Hardest: All the Strength exercises

Most nerve-racking: Tightrope walking (Balance)

Most pointless: Lotus focus (Balance) (you sit on the Balance Board)

Most likely to leave you gasping for air: Single-arm stand (Strength) Basically you have to just lie down and get up quickly however many times in a row while holding one arm straight up

Most relaxing: Anything in yoga

Most likely to give you washboard abs: Jackknife (strength)

Most likely to make your leg shake: Tree or Dancer (yoga) (both involve standing on one leg for a stretch of time)

Most dreaded if you're mii: Push-ups (strength). They. Are. Hard. For. Mii.

View Wii Fit in action At youtube.com, search for "Wii Fit demonstration."

The official video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=jA-2qxXs7-E

Where to get Wii Fit I preordered Wii Fit and got mine for about $90 when it launched in late May. Because of their wild popularity, they are now hard to find and overpriced. Look on www.wiishopnet.com, or keep an eye open at places like Target and amazon.com.

The Wii console also goes through periods where it's hard to find. Again, check www.wiishopnet.com, where at press time they had some reasonably priced at about $150. Check with Game Stop, Best Buy, Target and other stores for their next shipments.

Yoga! Warrior pose

The Balance Board helps you distribute your weight evenly.

Balance games! Ski Slalom

Shift your weight left to right to go through the flags as you whiz downhill.

Strength training! Side planks

Your cyber trainer leads you through, step by step.

Aerobics! Super Hula Hoop

Other miis you've created cheer you on as you spin multiple hoops.

Yoga! The tree pose.

Mimic your cyber trainer as she does this one-legged pose.

Balance games! Soccer headers.

Shift left to right to hit the flying balls with your head.

Strength training! The jackknife.

A whistle blows on screen letting you know when to start each rep.

Aerobics! Rhythm boxing.

The punching bag teaches you combos of hits and blocks.

What you do What you see on the screen

What you do What you see on the screen

Get started Start the game at the Wii Plaza, and click on your cyber self, or mii. All your personal data is stored here, including graphs of your BMI and records of your workouts.

Instant gratification! After each exercise, find out how you stacked up against the top 10 scores.


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