Weighing in at half the cost of the Wii Fit package and targeting the same demographic, is another exercise/lifestyle program for 30-something home executives to embark on while the kids are at school.
EA have thrown their sweatband into the ring with the latest calorie burning, fat blasting, muscle toning title: EA Sports Active.
The packaging depicts an attractive, smiling, middle class family whose members don’t look in need of a fitness program. Being slim does not necessarily mean you are fit, however, so we didn't judge this book by its glossy cover. Inside are some interesting - and mildly scary looking - accessories. For starters, there's an adjustable neoprene leg strap, which must be securely fastened to your right thigh. On the front of this is an oddly shaped pouch designed to hold the nunchuck. It’s a snug fit, but it needs to be, as during each workout you will be jumping around a fair bit. The other accessory is a stretchy, pilates band, which is used to add resistance to certain exercises, such as biceps curls… and yes, it is possible to cheat and cut corners, but why would you?
The program kicks off much as you'd expect: with the creation of a user profile. Your avatar’s appearance can be tweaked to suit your personal preference, right down to body shape, hair style and workout gear. Most blokes probably wouldn’t be bothered with such details, but for some of us girls it’s important to look your best when you’re working up a sweat! There’s an obligatory journal to chart your progress, plus the choice of a male or female personal trainer. So far, so predictable… Once you dive into the workout options however, it quickly becomes apparent that this is not just another five minute wonder.
The best starting point is the 30 Day Challenge, which is designed to introduce the many exercises and activities, and ease you into the routine of daily exercise. There are also options for preset or customised workouts. If you want to target specific muscle groups or exercise at a set intensity or duration, there’s a huge array to choose from. Every workout has a helpful summary, e.g. ‘full body circuit training featuring cardio and toning exercises’, and once you’ve made your selection there’s a detailed list of every exercise, so you know what to expect.
Concise video tutorials ensure you know how to execute each exercise, and there are easy to follow onscreen prompts, so there is no guessing. Your onscreen avatar (stylishly decked out in the threads you’ve chosen), goes through the motions with you. Your personal trainer offers plenty of positive reinforcement and vocal encouragement (which some folks may find a bit grating after a while).
The exercises themselves are a real mixed bag, combining the usual lunges, biceps curls, boxing, running etc. with the unconventional, such as downhill inline skating (with ramps and tricks!), plus sports such as tennis and volleyball. As with any fitness regime, a measure of self discipline is still required to stick with it and reap the benefits, but the variety of exercises on offer makes this less of a chore.
One of the most attractive features of EA Sports Active is the option to workout with a friend. Any fitness buff will tell you that having an exercise buddy is one of the best ways to stay motivated; if you have prearranged to run/cycle/what-have-you with someone you are less likely to wimp out. Plus there's nothing like a bit of friendly competition to keep you pumped.
The leg strap works pretty well, but it did slip a few times. We found it worked best with fitted pants, rather than baggy trackies, and it must be secured as tight as you can handle without cutting off circulation. The cord connecting the nunchuck and Wii remote does tend to flap around when you are engaged in some of the more vigorous exercises. This was distracting and annoying… go for a wireless nunchuck, if you have one. The resistance band has simple, webbing handles rather than solid ones. These make it less of an effort to hold onto both them and the controllers; it's a simple touch, but one which is appreciated. A Wii balance board is not required; however if you do own one, some of the exercises are compatible with it. Unnecessary, perhaps, but it’s a very good way to get more mileage out of your expensive peripheral.
There are also a couple of optional lifestyle and nutrition surveys to take, which maybe you would do once, just out of curiosity. Certainly, these factors play an important role in promoting good health, but we felt the surveys were superfluous and a bit gimmicky.
Visually, graphics are fairly basic – even bordering on minimalistic, but judging exercise software on video game standards is not comparing apples with apples. Your average gym bunny won’t care whether their workout experience is enhanced by stunning FMV, an orchestrated score and a super-smooth frame rate. All that’s required here seeing the results of your efforts on screen (which you can, courtesy of a real-time calorie counter and various awards), and receiving positive reinforcement via feedback from the personal trainer… Oh, and being able to select your music preference is an added bonus.
Overall, EA Sports Active is a well designed, well executed fitness program, with more exercises than you can shake a Wii remote at. What’s more, it’s accessible, flexible and fun; perhaps most importantly it offers just the right amount of challenge and variety to keep you coming back for more.