Well, it's the end of Week 2 of the Coastal Point Health-Tech Challenge, and I've been pleased with my ability to keep up my new exercise regimen using Wii Fit. On the down side, I've gained 4 pounds since starting the program two weeks ago. On the up side, even without verification with a body-fat calculation and with my diet unchanged, I'm positive that all of that extra weight (and probably more) is muscle.
Why positive? I'm feeling noticeably stronger and more energetic, and my clothes seem to be looser. What more do you really need?
And while my BMI readings from the daily Wii Fit body tests have only gone up (since they use only weight and height as a measure), my Wii Fit Age numbers have improved substantially, from the high 40s at the worst to being generally in the mid-30s in the last week – below my actual age. Part of that, I'm sure is a growing familiarity with the tests. But I do feel like my balance has also improved. And, as is a stated goal of Wii Fit, I do feel more aware of my posture and balance throughout the day.
Going through the second week of body tests has reinforced two things for me: (1) You really shouldn't pay too much attention to the BMI reading, particularly if you're not also using another method to track your body fat percentage. The upward creep in that number has the potential to discourage you from keeping up with the program, as well as other efforts you may be making toward better fitness. (2) While some fitness experts do recommend a daily weigh-in, the general consensus these days seems to favor weekly weigh-ins as the most frequent interval you should be using, and I'm in agreement, for the same reasons as I stated regarding the BMI. It may behoove you to cut back to a weekly body test if you're seeing upticks during the week that you find discouraging.
The only other real complaint I have about Wii Fit is that there is no offering of a real training program, such as a group of exercises combining aerobics and strength training, for instance. The suggestion to combine a particular yoga pose with a given strength exercise was a step in the right direction, but they could have really taken the “game” to the next level by offering some sample workouts for a variety of needs. You'll have to use some common sense and self-knowledge (and maybe a consultation with a fitness expert) to really maximize the benefit of the many great options offered in Wii Fit.
A minor annoyance: If kids aren't willing to put in the time on a variety of games to gain Wii Fit credits and unlock new ones, they're going to eventually be unhappy that other people in the family have access to games they'd like to play. I'm also a little disappointed that the Mii avatars show such clear frustration and sadness when they don't do well. It makes the kids think they should be sad or frustrated, and that means they're less inclined to try again and improve. But, overall, I've seen tremendous enthusiasm from members of my household of all ages for this "game."
A regular regimen
As of the end of Week 2, I've put in seven hours on Wii Fit. That's an average of a half-hour a day, which is pretty standard for my daily regimen. I've missed only two days – one to a busy schedule and another to illness. Otherwise, I've averaged 30 to 45 minutes per day: five to 10 minutes of balance games, 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic activity and about five minutes of yoga and/or strength exercises.
As a result, I've unlocked all of the yoga exercises, all but three of the strength exercises, all of the aerobic activities except the “Free Run” and all of the balance games.
Under Aerobics, that gives me access to Hula Hoop, Super Hula Hoop (3-, 6- and 10-minute intervals), Basic Step (about 3 minutes), Advanced Step (about 6 minutes), Free Step (10-, 20- and 30-minute intervals), Basic Run (short and long distances), 2-person Run (short and long distances), Rhythm Boxing (basic at 3 minutes, advanced at 6 minutes and expert at 10 minutes).
The full slate of Balance Games now offers Soccer Heading (beginner and advanced), Ski Slalom (beginner and advanced), Ski Jump, Table Tilt (beginner and advanced), Tightrope Walk (beginner and advanced), Balance Bubble (beginner and advanced), Snowboard Slalom (beginner and advanced) and Lotus Focus.
The newer games and activities have been pretty fun and are now part of my daily regimen.
An average day's “workout” (hard to call it that when it's all fun and games, even when you work up a sweat!) now consists of about five minutes split between Soccer Heading, Ski Jump, Table Tilt and Ski or Snowboard Slalom; six minutes of Advanced Step, which is getting easier to follow, netting me three of four stars most times; six minutes of advanced-level Rhythm Boxing, which nicely balances out the mostly lower-body work of Step with all that punching; three minutes of hard-core ab-focused aerobic work with Super Hula Hoop; then a cool-down with part 1 of a Wii Fit-recommended complementary exercise set using sideways leg lifts; and part 2, the yoga Sun Salutation; followed by a couple minutes of stillness and deep breathing with Lotus Focus.
New games, new options
That's one game I didn't introduce in Week 1, because it hadn't been unlocked yet. It's very different from nearly all the rest of the games in Wii Fit. First, you sit in the lotus pose, or cross-legged, on the balance board. Then you aim to be as still as possible while focusing on a virtual candle in a dark digital evening out on a virtual cabin's porch. You face the distractions of kamikaze moths, creaking floorboards, crickets chirping and the results of any restlessness you're indicating via the balance board: flickering of the candlelight.
Wiggle, or even breath too unevenly, and the flame flickers. If it flickers too much, it will go out – or reach out and toast a month, which will send the flame sputtering out, too. I'm an old hand at meditation, so it didn't surprise me that I completed the 3-minute time period the first time out.
What's irritating is that sometimes, that flame just catches the moth, even though I think I'm sufficiently still, and then there's a guttural exclamation (apparently from your off-screen Japanese yoga master) and the smack of a symbol on the screen, and you're done. Still, trying to use this as a cool-down exercise after the rest of my regimen is a great challenge, since it involves slowing down, breathing slowly and keeping those freshly exercised muscles in firm control.
The other really new one is Free Step, which is along the same lines as the other Step games, but offers the multi-tasker some new options. In Free Step, you set your total time (which comes with an accompanying number of steps as a final goal) and then you start stepping. There is no visual step guide this time. In fact, your Mii is spotlighted amidst darkness.
The idea is that you can then turn your TV to your favorite TV show, the morning news, cartoons for the kids, etc., and that the soundtrack to Free Step – now coming through the built-in speaker in your Wii remote – will give you the guide you need for stepping in time for your desired time period. You can choose between a variety of rhythm guides, such as a metronome, beep, music or voice. The voice will give you cues to change your leading leg and note whether you're keeping a solid rhythm or falling out of time.
I appreciated the option this game provides, especially if you're sharing the TV with other family members but still want to get in a good workout. Fortunately, in my house, the kids like watching the games while other people are playing. And as I mentioned in our introduction to Wii Fit, I particularly like the challenge of matching the designated rhythms and step patterns in the Advanced Step game, so this holds less appeal for me than it might otherwise. But it's a great option to have.
Similarly, Free Run provides audio cues with synthesized footsteps and a voice guide for a 10-minute or longer run around that virtual island I mentioned last time out. And the game notes that you can also turn the TV off for this one and run solely with those sounds as a guide. However, the big appeal of Free run is that you can run around (and explore) the entire island, which has features such bridges, a wind farm, parks, a (vaguely Romanesque) town center, tunnels, etc. You really can get that feel of running through a virtual world, if you can get past the fact that you're jogging in place. (Again, using this in conjunction with a treadmill or similar device would help if jogging in place is an issue for you.)
With Free Run, you control the pace, aiming for a good calorie-burning lope (go too fast and you'll fall down!); in Free Step, you'll aim to step in time, with an adjustable pace that you can choose at the outset. These both make for very customizable workouts if you're aiming for a longer duration of aerobic activity.
We've had a great response to the Coastal Point Health-Tech Challenge thus far. One question I got after the first week was about the weight limit for the balance board. The official limit listed on the box and in the documentation, for the U.S. version, is 330 pounds. That is reportedly the maximum weight the body test function will register. Reports also suggest that the board has a physical capacity of 600 pounds, so if you were worried that you might break it, most all of us are completely safe. So, if you hesitated to pick up Wii Fit for that reason, give it a try.
Check in next week for an update on Week 3 of the Coastal Point Health-Tech Challenge, online and in our special To Your Health section in print. For those of you who have picked up your own copy of Wii Fit or will in the near future, I'll include tips for some of the games.