The Effects of Congruent and Incongruent Immersive Virtual Reality Modulated Exercise Environments in Healthy Individuals: A Pilot Study

Oliver Runswick, Leah Siegel, Gerrard Rafferty, Hanne Sovsnes Kudsen, Lucy Sefton, Suzanne Taylor, Charles Reilly, Sarah Finnegan, Martin Sargeant, Kyle Pattinson, Richard Bruce

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Downloads (Pure)


High-immersive virtual reality (VR) environments can increase enjoyment and frequency of exercise participation. As VR can also be used to manipulate sensory feedback it is possible that specialist environments can modulate exercise performance and ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) and breathlessness. We aimed to (i) assess whether cycling in a “congruent” VR environment (where perceived/virtual exercise intensity and actual pedaling resistance are matched) enhances exercise performance and reduces RPE and breathlessness, and (ii) to assess whether cycling in an “incongruent” VR environment can further manipulate these perceptions. Following familiarisation, 14 healthy (7 male, 26 ± 2 years) participants repeated a series of four cycling exercise trials on a gradient adjustable ergometer under two conditions: within VR (VR condition; comprising of a custom-made VR environment in a head mounted display) and without VR (nVR condition). Within VR, the hill gradient experienced was either congruent or incongruent with the pedalling resistance. Participants could choose their power output/RPM throughout. During congruent trials participants chose to perform at a higher power output in the VR condition (+11 W ± 14, p < 0.05) with no difference in RPE or breathlessness. There was also a significant interaction between condition (VR vs nVR) and congruence for RPE and breathlessness. Specifically, when the experienced hill gradient was steeper than pedalling resistance RPE and breathlessness was greater, and when experienced hill gradient was less steep than pedalling resistance RPE and breathlessness was lower. In conclusion, we have shown that congruent VR cycling environments can modulate exercise performance. Furthermore, the novel application of incongruent VR cycling exercise manipulated exercise perceptions in either direction. This technique has potential applications in exercise training or rehabilitation modalities.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 7 Nov 2023

Cite this