Virtual gym offers fitness for people on the run

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 April, 2006, 12:00am

Getting into shape can be an expensive business, with pricey gym fees and personal trainers.

But a new fitness service is offering people the chance to shed unwanted kilos for less than the price of a short skinny latte.

Welcome to sports science expert Stanley Hui Sai-chuen's virtual gym - complete with eight virtual personal trainers and run entirely by artificial intelligence. Membership is $10 a month.

'Hong Kong people are too busy to cook and exercise, and gyms and personal trainers are too expensive. Even if they get a trainer, many people don't feel comfortable telling the trainer all their personal information,' the Chinese University professor said.

'Nowadays people work and play in front of the computer all day and exercise less because of it. So we have found a way to use the computer to get people to exercise.'

He explained that after signing up to the virtual gym, members log on to a website to enter details about their health, fitness and sleeping and eating patterns. Next they can choose or design a virtual personal trainer who will assess whether they need to lose weight and, if so, how much. A process of negotiating follows on how long, when and what type of exercise to do and how many calories need to be cut before the computer announces the exact date when the target weight will be reached.

'People can even log in and see how many calories their lunch amounted to. For instance, a pineapple bun - [a local afternoon tea favourite] - has 360kCal, while a 200-gram serving of satay beef instant noodles has only 260kCal,' Dr Hui said. 'For those who do not need to lose weight, the trainer will help them tone muscles and increase cardiac fitness. People can choose to walk, jog, swim, play ping-pong or do anything they enjoy and are willing to do. There are even 3D demonstrations on exercises and stretching.'

The virtual trainers will send encouraging words and reminders to mobile phones, PDAs and e-mail accounts during the week, to keep people motivated. The SMS fees - with the number of messages determined by the member - are charged to their account directly.

For the less fit or lazy, the trainer will reduce the intensity of the exercise regime, just to get things going.

As the virtual gym has just opened, Dr Hui is offering free membership to 150 Chinese-speaking (an English version will be launched later) white-collar workers between the ages of 30 and 60. Taking a page from real fitness centres, he is throwing in a free health and fitness test and a T-shirt.

For details about the free membership, visit the recruitment page at, or call Dr Hui directly on 2609 8069.