Introduction High-intensity interval training (HIIT) has the potential to improve human cardiometabolic health, however concerns remain over real-world long-term adherence and compliance.. Exergaming can increase enjoyment (a key predictor of exercise adherence) and performance of cycling. The objectives of this study were to determine if: i) virtual-reality (VR)-HIIT (track) can elicit higher levels of enjoyment and performance compared to a standard HIIT (blank) and; ii) performance during VR-HIIT can be increased by having participants race against their own performance (ghost) or by surreptitiously increasing resistance (hard). Methods Sixteen participants (eight males, eight females, maximal aerobic capacity: 41.2 ± 10.8 ml/kg/min) completed four VR-HIIT conditions in a partially-randomised cross-over study; 1a) blank, 1b) track, 2a) ghost, and 2b) hard. VR-HIIT sessions consisted of eight 60 s high-intensity intervals interspersed by 60 s recovery intervals, at a resistance equivalent to 70% (77% for hard) and 12.5% maximum power output, respectively, at a self-selected cadence. Enjoyment was assessed using the Intrinsic Motivation Inventory (Ryan, 1982) immediately post-exercise. Paired t-tests were used (blank vs. track, track vs. ghost, ghost vs. hard) to assess differences between modes. Results Enjoyment was higher in the track compared to the blank condition (4.7 ± 0.4 vs. 3.8 ± 0.7, P<0.01), with no other differences observed. Mean power output for each high-intensity interval was 9% higher during the hard compared to the ghost condition (199 ± 57 W vs. 181 ± 51 W, P<0.01) and 3% higher for the ghost compared to the track condition (176 ± 50 W) (P<0.01), with no differences between track and blank conditions.
Conclusion VR-exergaming can increase the enjoyment of an acute bout of HIIT in recreationally active individuals and, given that enjoyment of exercise predicts adherence, it may be effective for promoting adherence to HIIT in the general population. By helping individuals race against their previous performance and by surreptitiously increasing resistance, it is also possible to increase exercise intensity without compromising enjoyment. These may be effective techniques to maximise exercise stress and adaptation during a HIIT programme.