Indoor Traveler Home Setup

In my last post, “How I Overcame Exercise Boredom”, I defined two rules to maximise the virtual travel experience:

  1. Provide the most immersive travel video experience, that won’t require too much cognitive effort (no lector, no subtitles, no maps, no other distractions), but will arouse positive emotions like curiosity, joy, awe, etc.
  2. Engage in simple and comfortable physical activity that will simulate walking (or cycling) moves, with a challenging fitness goal.

Below, I describe how you can set up your own home environment to enjoy traveling indoors. Each time, you will come across a dilemma over which option to choose, just answer these two questions: “What will provide the most immersive travel experience?” and “What is the most comfortable way of doing it?” I encourage you to use these questions to test all of my suggestions.

Let’s start with finding a machine that will allow you to move while staying in the same location.

1. Home exercise machine

There are many types of home exercise equipment available on the market, but we are interested only in a few types, such as treadmills, elliptical cross trainers and stationary bikes. What these devices have in common is that they allow a person to perform moves that most people are very comfortable doing, because we do them naturally every day. They are walking and cycling (first principle: check; second principle: check).

Let’s start with low-impact machines that are gentle on the joints.

Stationary Bikes

Bike Types

Different types of stationary bikes require different body position during exercise

Woman_on_stationary_bike_seat

Recumbent Bike

There are many stationary bikes on the market that are available in various shapes and price ranges. They can be divided into three categories depending on the body position you need to take during training and, therefore, required effort. Your position during exercising will determine which parts of your body will be more active or more passive.

A recumbent bike (first from the left) is especially helpful for people with back issues or other health problems. During cycling, you sit in a seat that leaves your back muscles resting. You can also hold the handles located next to the seat, which will give you additional support, especially during a more intense workout.

The bike in the centre is probably the most popular among home users. It allows people to perform medium-intensity training, with a straight back while holding the front handles. This will require more muscles to work, and you will feel more like you’re cycling. It also takes up less space and is usually cheaper than the two other bikes.

ChairMaster

ChairMaster turns an armchair into the exercise machine

The bike that’s first from the right is a specialized machine used often during group exercises called “spinning classes”. It is designed for high-intensity training, with multiple adjustment points to properly fit the person. This is very important, because bad position during training can lead to back and knee injuries. This is why this machine is classified for more advanced users.

If you have skilfully avoided physical activities before, don’t worry. You don’t have to jump into the deep end. You can start from a very low-intensity workout sitting in a comfortable position (image beside).

Bear in mind that if the chosen machine can’t give you enough physical challenges, you might quickly become bored with it, and you might stop using it altogether.

Elliptical Cross Trainers

Elliptical Types

Ellipticals classified by their weight

An elliptical cross trainer is a great machine for exercising both the legs and arms. It can simulate walking or running, keeping your feet on pedals, which also makes it a low-impact device. In most machines of this type, you maintain an upright position. (Yes, there are also recumbent ellipticals where you can sit while walking). This makes the weight of the machine itself an important factor of exercise comfort. If the elliptical is too light compared to your body weight, you might waver while exercising, which may move your focus from the trip experience into constantly holding your balance.

The second important factor is the distance between pedals. In cheaper models (often called “compact”), the pedals may be separated by the machine’s other parts, which also may make you feel uncomfortable if this becomes too different from how you usually walk. It is very important that you try the machine before you buy it, so that you can check yourself if a specific model is the most comfortable for you. If you don’t feel comfortable using an elliptical cross trainer, or any other exercise machine, you probably won’t use it at all. (Not to mention you’d be violating the second principle: “Engage in a simple and comfortable physical activity.”)

Treadmills

Treadmill Types

Treadmills classified by their maximum speed

Treadmills can give you an excellent walking or running experience because they will make you actually walk or run on them. I focus here only on treadmills that have motors that spin the track. They are designed to maintain either a small range of speeds (for walking or power walking) or a very wide range of speeds that will allow you to run really fast. In the second case, you should bear in mind that running will impact your joints more seriously compared to stationary bikes and ellipticals, so if you haven’t been active before, make sure you don’t injure yourself. You might want to look for models with amortized tracks that decrease the negative effects of running.

Home_gym_couple

Treadmill vs Elliptical

The main noticeable differences between slow and fast treadmills are their size and cost. Slower machines are much cheaper and smaller, which makes them a perfect addition to a stationary bike or elliptical for walks on your days off. You can also find models with adjustable angles of inclination that will make your workout a bit more varied.

The type of exercise machine you should choose is completely up to your own preferences and health needs. My strong advice is to select a machine(s) that you find comfortable and that provides a set of challenges you will be eager to overcome to fully enjoy your physical development.

2. Immersive Video Image

Display Types

To fully enjoy virtual travels, the proper video image size and your distance from this image is as important as your comfort in using an exercise machine. To immerse yourself into the visited place as easily as possible, you should obtain the biggest video display you can, on the condition that it supports at least Full HD video mode (1080p – 1920×1080 pixels). Then you should put both the exercise machine and your display next to each other and start slowly moving one of them away while watching high-quality travel video. You can do it in many phases, moving one device a few centimetres away each time you test how much you like the picture.


The moment you can’t distinguish individual pixels and start feeling comfortable watching the video determines your minimum distance to the screen. The bigger display you have, the longer the distance should be between you and the screen, and the higher the comfort level you will feel by looking farther away. You definitely don’t want to put any effort into staring at a small screen; therefore, don’t move your screen too far away. Also, forget about using a smartphone or tablet as your video device. They are completely inadequate for this role.

Depending where you are going to exercise, you might consider two devices: a big flat-screen TV or a video projector. A video projector (second from the right) will allow you to create a 100-plus-inch picture on the wall in front of your exercise machine. To get the best picture quality, you should use a projector screen (first from the right) that can be fixed to the wall or can be rolled up automatically. The biggest disadvantage of this solution is that to get good image quality, the room must be dark while projecting the video.

With LED TV prices going down, and new models getting bigger and bigger (going beyond 100-inch diagonal), a big TV will probably be the most popular solution. Displaying a high-quality image regardless of room brightness is definitely a big advantage of an LED TV over a video projector. Also, a curved TV (first from the left) might improve the immersion effect by increasing the field of view. However, you should bear in mind that it is designed to be used from a specific distance. If you move it too close, the image will become too distorted. If you move it too far away, you won’t benefit from its features (it will look like a flat TV).

It is important that the projector screen or TV be placed directly in front of the exercise machine, at the height of your head. This probably will be higher than a conventional TV setup, but to make your trip nice and easy, you shouldn’t need to look up or down (and neither left or right) when the video you are watching shows continuous movement forward.

3. Playing Travel Video and Music

Once you have your exercise machine and a screen display device set up, it is time to play the travel video.

Google Chromecast

Google Chromecast

The easiest and the cheapest way to play the video is to buy a small HDMI casting device, like Chromecast. Once you connect it to your display device and your local WiFi network, you will see in YouTube (and in other supported applications) a new button labelled “Cast”. Now you can use either the phone, tablet, PC or Mac to 1) open the Indoor Traveler portal, 2) select the video you want to play, and 3) press the “Cast” button on the YouTube player. The selected video should appear in seconds.

If you have a smart TV or a game console connected to your TV, the YouTube application might already provide the “Cast” feature, which will make purchasing Chromecast superfluous.

Some of the above slides show a TV with a soundbar – a wide device mounted directly below TV. Depending on the exact soundbar model, this might be a very simple solution for wirelessly streaming your favourite music directly from your phone to the speakers. In most cases, the sound quality will be much better than in most modern TVs.

Exercising makes your muscles heat the entire body; therefore, you might consider using a fan to cool yourself down. This can also make your travel experience more immersive, adding a breezy sensation.

Photo: iannnnn CC BY
Photo: samsungtomorrow CC BY-NC-SA
Author: Tom Steck
Professional coach and mentor in London startup scene. Enthusiast of new technologies that improve the quality of our lives.

What is your indoor traveler home setup? Can you create even more immersive environment? Share your experiences in the comment box below!