Hands On

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1008… 1009… 1010… Hey, soldier. You just caught me in the middle of my mid, mid-morning workout. I’m Sergeant Flex ‘Muscle Hustle’ McSlamblin, former head of squat thrusts for the U.S. Marine Corp.

I’m here in response to a distress call radioed in by the civilians at Ready Up. Apparently, those fine patriots over at Microsoft recently deployed their Xbox One video games command centre. A high tech piece of new hardware that comes complete with an entire battery of free fitness programs for Xbox Live Gold subscribers. So, as this is traditionally the time of year when you chubby console cuddlers make your annual attempt at a push up, I’ve been drafted in to put the programs through their paces.

I know exactly what you’re thinking: “Sergeant Flex, your fitness levels may be off the charts, but what do you know about video games?” Well, here’s some key intel: I was the first man in the history of armed conflict to start taking cover behind those packing crates and waist-high walls that, as we all know, litter every battlefield. And during the many suicidal frontal assaults I participated in, while my squadmates fell around me, I was able, through sheer willpower alone (and some dubious experiments carried out on me during the Reagan administration), to regenerate my own health and push on. Any further questions? Alright then, let’s form up at the start of the next paragraph.

Getting Started

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Sergeant Flex is a five time Wii Fit world champion

After my entire Steel Battalion squad were wiped out by a traitorous Xbox 360 camera unit, I had sworn I’d never trust a motion-controlled machine again. So, before I began testing, I took some precautionary measures. I started by bulldozing the back wall of my house then pushed my sofa into the next county to try and clear enough space for the Xbox One to get a bead on me. Thankfully, the system seemed much better at this than its predecessor. Corporal Kinect instantly recognised me as its commanding officer and, aside from occasional moments of insubordination when it lost track of my position, we formed an immediate rapport.

As an absolute minimum, I would advise establishing a perimeter 6ft by 6ft front and centre of your TV in which to perform your manoeuvres.  This should suffice for all standing exercises, although more room is recommended for exercises that require you to lie on the floor, and to allow you to have an energy beverage of choice close at hand. (I read a report the other week claiming that consuming too many energy drinks could lead to dwarfism of the male genitalia. Well, I’ve been getting through 15 a day for years and I can assure you mine are exactly the same size they’ve always been… moving on…)

The biggest demerit I can place against Xbox Fitness is its absence of basic training. Granted, this is a free application, so perhaps an in-depth tutorial was a bit above and beyond, but apart from a five minute demo, there’s little assistance for new recruits. The exercise programs come with basic descriptions and can be sorted by things like duration and popularity, but there’s no filter for difficulty or intensity. These are faced-paced, often complex workouts many of which are NSFW (Not Safe For Wussies) so it’s mandatory you carry out your own recon to find out which are best for you.

Basically, you’re on your own out there soldier, just like me back in ’75. I was in Nam for the after-party. For 4 years following the U.S. withdrawal I ran covert keep fit classes out of a bivouac leisure centre just south of Hanoi. It was like Platoon, but with Pilates. While the Viet Cong were celebrating, we were doing pelvic thrusts right under their noses. That was one in the eye for Uncle Ho.

The Workouts

Trainer Tony Horton leads his New Kids on the Block tribute group

Trainer Tony Horton leads his New Kids on the Block tribute group

Before we go any further, I’d just like to say that Microsoft is a terrible name for a company. ‘Micro’ means small and ‘soft’ means weak. How are you going to strike fear into the hearts of your corporate enemies with something like that? What your company and your futuristic, voice-activated console needs is a name that’s the exact opposite of Microsoft. A name, like MassiveHard.  Imagine what your neighbours would think if every night they heard you screaming through the walls “MASSIVEHARD, ON”. Now that sends a message.

Each of the Xbox Fitness workouts operates to the same basic protocols. You attempt to recreate the exercises shown on screen while the software analyses your movements and provides real-time feedback on your efforts. Although occasionally it isn’t ideal having to exert yourself whilst maintaining overwatch on the TV, the saturation bombing of challenges, awards and encouragement throughout Xbox Fitness make for compelling motivational tools. The greatest commendation XF deserves though is for the impressive library of programs it has on parade. It’s a show of might and muscle on a military scale that ensures there’s something here for almost anyone looking to get fit, including:

10 Minute Solutions – Short, sharp, relatively low intensity routines such as Belly Fat Burner and Cardio Kickboxing ideal for beginners or those after a quick blast.

Tracy Anderson – A female civilian who presents body toning workouts with names like Metamorphosis and Transform. Her philosophy of inclusivity and the way she’s constantly switching positions make her seem shifty to me. I suspect she may be a commie.

P90X – Strenuous and intense stamina training that focuses on repetition of exercises.

Jillian Michaels – Jill (as I’m sure she’d let me call her if she ever returned my calls), is the perfect combination of exercise coach and drill instructor. Her programs include Extreme Shed & Shred, Hard Body, Killer Buns & Thighs and Ripped in 30.

Mossa – Power workouts that focus on developing core muscle groups.

Insanity – An extreme plyometrics and cardio workout session that pushes the exercise envelope so far people will think you’ve gone postal. Mark this as Sergeant Flex’s natural habitat.

Sergeant Flex’s Final Debrief

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Sergeant Flex unwinds with some one armed push ups

So, there you have it. Mission complete. It doesn’t take long scoping out Xbox Fitness’s exercise armoury to realise that as engaging as the app is, it’s also a cunning marketing tool. Most of the workouts included are merely taster sessions for purchasable programs which XF conveniently offers through its links to Beachbody.com. Personally, that’s something I have no interest in. The only time you’ll find me on a beach, is if I’m storming it. That said, the choice of free routines available and the quality of the Kinect integration make Xbox Fitness a powerful weapon in Microsoft’s arsenal.

Alright, I’m off to report back to the boys at the base… Homebase, that’s where I work these days. At ease, soldier and remember, whatever you do, stay Oscar Mike.

Sergeant Flex, over and out.