The research group at Sphery aims to design, evaluate and proof exergame training concepts and scenarios ensuring an attractive, effective and user-centered ExerCube experience for EveryBody. 

We collaborate with partners from multiple disciplines (Human-Computer Interaction, Game Design & Research, Industrial Design as well as Human Movement, Sports and Cognitive Science) in national and international R&D projects following a holistic perspective of exergaming. In our research projects, we experiment with innovative game balancing approaches, game mechanics, soft- & hardware designs and training concepts that allow players to experience both, an attractive and motivating as well as an effective and holistic body and brain training.

Furthermore, we explore different variations of the ExerCube for different application areas and target populations such as fitness, prevention, rehabilitation, school, @home and (physical) eSports. To get this deep, extensive and individual insights, we use the approach of mixed methods (quantitative and qualitative data). The gained knowledge from our research projects is regularly integrated into our ExerCube training concepts and scenarios as well as published in peer-reviewed journals.  


Key results

Optimal user-centred application and training experience

Improvement of cognitive functions (e.g., flexibility, concentration and divided attention)

Strengthening of cognitive-motor processes

Beneficial for cardiovascular parameters

Generating ideal (high) training intensities

Human-Computer Interactions (CHI) Play (2019)

Towards Socially Immersive Fitness Games: An Exploratory Evaluation Through Embodied Sketching

Within this work, different social game mechanics of the ExerCube were explored. Based on the study results, the ExerCube multiplayer scenario was further developed. Furthermore, this findings could inspire others designing in this domain and support the development of a rich design space for co-located exergames.


Human-Computer Interactions (CHI) (2019)

ExerCube vs. Personal Trainer: Evaluating a Holistic, Immersive, and Adaptive Fitness Game Setup

This comparative study evaluated the subjectively experienced effectiveness and attractiveness of a workout in the ExerCube (in two sub-conditions: adaptive and non-adaptive) and with a personal trainer. Based on the results, specific design recommendations were derived for future work. 


Frontiers in Computer Science (2020)

"HIIT" the ExerCube: Comparing the Effectiveness Of Functional High-Intensity Interval Training in Conventional vs. Exergame-Based Training

In this study, an adaptive functional HIIT protocol for the ExerCube was designed to create a HIIT-level functional exergame. We  compared this new ExerCube training protocol against a conventional fHIIT by assessing objective (physiological) and subjective measures of training intensity in healthy young adults. Furthermore, we evaluated participants’ subjective experience with regards to motivation, flow and enjoyment during both types of training.


Ongoing Projects

Project Partners:


September 2020 – April 2023

Innosuisse Project - ExerCube @Home

The aim is to develop an ExerCube for the home setting to engage inactive people in physical activity and overcome barriers such as lack of time, motivation and access. Together with the end-users and movement scientists (focus groups), industrial designers  have developed a system that translates the haptic and immersive experience of the ExerCube into a body-based feedback system. Vibration motors (haptic), LED’s (visual) and sound systems (auditory) were integrated into the existing hand trackers, which provide the players with feedback on the exercises in real time. A first study showed a good usability and positive training experiences, such as high motivation, fun and flow. In a second study, physical and cognitive functions are assessed after a training intervention with the ExerCube @Home system.


AAL Project - ExerGetic

The aim is to extend the existing ExerCube system for the use with older adults to train important motor and cognitive functions for performing activities of daily living. The focus is on the adaptation of the hard- and software for a user-centred solution. Industrial designers extend the ExerCube scaffold with a harness system that can serve as a fall protection during the training. Based on a training concept (designed by therapists and movement scientists), game designers develop a game scenario in nature. Specific and everyday activities can be flexibly strung together (mini-games) and individually adapted in real time, depending on the training focus and difficulty level. In a first study, the usability and training experience is investigated in older adults. 

Project Partners:


May 2021 – October 2023

Project Partners:


September 2021 – August 2023

DIZH Project - ExerUP

The aim is to develop and evaluate an ExerCube training scenario for effective and attractive sports rehabilitation, especially for knee injuries. The focus is on phase 3 of the rehabilitation process. In this phase, it is important that patients re-learn to couple their gained physical functions to cognitive stimuli and to shift their focus using a motivating and fun environment. Based on focus groups together with rehabilitation experts, game designers are developing specific game scenarios triggering important process for this rehabilitation phase.



Comparison of an exergame and a moderate-intensity endurance training intervention on physiological parameters.

Schürch, Y., Burger, M., Amor, L., Zehnder, C., Benzing, V., Mieschler, M., Baur, H., Schmid, S., Bangerter, C., Nigg, C. R., & Ketelhut, S.

Current Issues in Sport Science (CISS), 8(2), 071.

Exergames are interactive video games that stimulate an active, whole-body gaming experience (Best, 2013). By combining electronic entertainment with physical exercise, exergames offer novel opportunities to expand physical activity in different age groups and settings. Even though studies have found a significant increase in energy expenditure when playing exergames compared to normal video games, most games only induce low to moderate-intensity activity which is too low to result in relevant physical adjustments (Biddiss & Irwin, 2010). 

This study assessed the effects of an 8-week exergame-training (EXT) in an innovative exergame called the ExerCube and compared it with a typical moderate-intensity endurance training (ET) intervention. Methods In total, 19 individuals (10 female; age 26.9 ±8.7 years; body mass index (BMI) 23.6 ±3.1 kg/m2) participated and were block randomized into an EXT group (n = 9) and an ET group (n = 10). Throughout the 8-week intervention period, the EXT group attended 20-30-minutes of EXT three times a week while the ET group completed 15-45-minutes of ET (jogging/cycling at 65-75% of maximal heart rate) three times a week. Before and after the intervention BMI, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and VO2max (spiroergometry; start: 50 or 75 W; increment: 25 W/min) were assessed and compared (paired-samples t-test, ANOVA). 

Significant time × group interaction effects were found for VO2max (F(1,17) = 11.345; p = .004, ηp2 = .400). The EXT group revealed significant within-group effects in VO2max from pre (43.2 ±10.6 ml/kg*min) to post (46.9 ±10.9 ml/kg*min; p = .004, d = 1.308) while the ET group revealed no significant changes (pre: 39.4 ±5.4 ml/kg*min; post: 39.7 ±4.9 ml/kg*min; p = .466, d = .241). No significant time × group interaction effects were detected in systolic blood pressure (F(1,17) = .050; p = .825, ηp2 = .003) or diastolic blood pressure (F(1,17) = .005; p = .943, ηp2 = .000). However, there was a significant decrease in the peripheral systolic blood pressure from pre (122 ±10 mmHg) to post (117 ±12 mmHg; p = .034, d = .792) in the ET group but not in the EXT group (pre: 118 ±8; post: 114 ±7; p = .156, d = .523). Concerning BMI, no significant interaction effects (F(1,17) = 2.818; p = .111, ηp2 = .142) were detected. 

The EXT seems to be more effective as conventional ET exercise approach to improve endurance performance. This is promising as exergame may develop intrinsic motivation/enjoyment for physical activity. Further studies confirming these findings and extending to psychological variables are needed.


ExerG: adapting an exergame training solution to the needs of older adults using focus group and expert interviews.

Ringgenberg, N., Mildner, S., Hapig, M., Schättin, A., Niedecken, S., Martin-Niedecken, A. L., (…).

Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation 19, 89 (2022).

Exergames are playful technology-based exercise programs. They train physical and cognitive functions to preserve independence in older adults (OAs) with disabilities in daily activities and may reduce their risk of falling. This study gathered in-depth knowledge and understanding of three different user groups’ experiences in and relevant needs, worries, preferences, and expectations of technology-based training, to develop an exergame training device for OAs. 

We conducted a qualitative study using semi-structured focus group interviews of primary (OAs in geriatric or neurological rehabilitation) and secondary (health professionals) end users, as well as expert interviews of tertiary end users (health insurance experts or similar), exploring user perspectives on adjusting an existing exergame to OAs’ needs. Voice-recorded interviews were transcribed by researchers and analyzed using thematic analysis (TA) following an inductive, data-driven, iterative approach. 

We interviewed 24 primary, 18 secondary, and 9 tertiary end users at two rehabilitation centers in Austria and Switzerland. Our TA approach identified five to six themes per user group. Themes in the primary end user group reflected aspects of safety, training goals, individuality, game environment, social interactions, and physical and technical overload. Themes in the secondary end user group comprised facets of meaningfulness, distraction through the game environment, safety, gamification elements, the availability and accessibility of the exergame. Tertiary end users’ themes addressed aspects of financial reimbursement, suitable target populations, professional training for the handling of exergame devices, training goals, and concerns about the use of exergames in geriatric rehabilitation. 

In conclusion, an exergame for OAs must be safe, motivating and fully adaptable to the target group while promoting the return to or preservation of autonomy and independence in daily life. Our findings contribute to developing hard- and software extensions for the ExerG training device. Further research is needed to expand the validity of our findings to larger populations.

Development of a Novel Home-Based Exergame With On-Body Feedback: Usability Study.

Schättin, A., Pickles, J., Flagmeier, D., Schärer, B., Riederer, Y., Niedecken, S., (…), Martin-Niedecken, A. L.

JMIR Serious Games; 10(4).

With more than 1.4 billion adults worldwide classified as physically inactive, physical inactivity is a public health crisis leading to an increased risk of cardiometabolic diseases. Motivating and engaging training strategies are needed to tackle this public health crisis. Studies have shown that exergames, games controlled by active body movements, are potentially usable, attractive, and effective tools for home-based training. The ExerCube (by Sphery Ltd) has been developed as a physically immersive and adaptive functional fitness game. The development of a home-based version of the ExerCube could increase accessibility, reduce barriers to exercise, and provide an attractive solution to improve physical and cognitive health.

The aim was threefold: (1) to develop a usable home-based exergame system, (2) to evaluate the usability and training experience of the home-based exergame and its early-stage on-body feedback system, and (3) to identify avenues for further user-centered design iterations of the system. 

A total of 15 healthy participants (mean age 25, SD 3 years) completed 2 laboratory visits consisting of four 5-minute exergame sessions. In each session, the on-body feedback system provided a different feedback modality (auditory, haptic, and visual feedback) to the participant. Following the second visit, participants completed a range of assessments, including the System Usability Scale (SUS), the Physical Activity Enjoyment Scale (PACES), the Flow Short Scale (FSS), the Immersive Experience Questionnaire (IEQ), and a rating of perceived exertions (RPEs) both physically and cognitively. Participants answered questions regarding the on-body feedback system and completed a semistructured interview. 

Usability was rated as acceptable, with a SUS score of 70.5 (SD 12). The questionnaires revealed medium-to-high values for the training experience (FSS: 5.3, SD 1; PACES: 5.3, SD 1.1; IEQ: 4.7, SD 0.9. Physical (mean 4.8, SD 1.6) and cognitive (mean 3.9, SD 1.4) RPEs were moderate. Interviews about the on-body feedback system revealed that the majority of participants liked the haptic feedback and the combination of haptic and auditory feedback the best. Participants enjoyed the distinct perceptibility, processing, and integration of the exergame and its supportive and motivating effect. The visual feedback was perceived less positively by participants but was still classified as “potentially” helpful. The auditory feedback was rated well but highlighted an area for further improvement. Participants enjoyed the training experience and described it as motivating, interactive, immersive, something new, interesting, self-explanatory, as well as physically and cognitively challenging. Moreover, 67% (n=10) of the participants could imagine exercising at home and continuing to play the exergame in the future. 

The home-based exergame and its early-stage on-body feedback system were rated as usable and an enjoyable training experience by a young healthy population. Promising avenues emerged for future design iterations.

Integrating Regular Exergaming Sessions in the ExerCube into a School Setting Increases Physical Fitness in Elementary School Children: A Randomized Controlled Trial.

Ketelhut, S., Röglin, L., Martin-Niedecken, A. L., Nigg, C. R., & Ketelhut, K.

Journal of Clinical Medicine, 11(6) (p. 1570).

This study aimed to investigate the effects of a school-based exergame intervention on anthropometric parameters and physical fitness. Fifty-eight students (10.4 ± 0.8 years; 48% girls) were randomized into an intervention (IG) and a control (CG) group. Both groups participated in regular physical education classes during the three-month intervention period. The IG additionally received a 20-minute exergame intervention twice per week. At baseline and following the intervention period, body mass index (BMI) and waist-to-height ratio (WHtR) were assessed. Furthermore, a sprint test (ST), a countermovement jump test (CMJ), and a shuttle run test (SRT) were performed. Due to prescribed quarantine measures, only 34 students (18 IG; 16 CG) were included in the final analysis. A significant group-time interaction was determined in CMJ performance (p < 0.001; η2 = 0.403), with a significant increase (+2.6 ± 2.4 cm; p < 0.001; η2 = 0.315) in the IG and a significant decrease (-2.0 ± 3.1 cm; p = 0.009; η2 = 0.190) in the CG. Furthermore, ST performance significantly improved in the IG (-0.03 ± 0.08 s; p = 0.012; η2 = 0.180) but not in the CG (0.13 ± 0.16 s; p = 0.460; η2 = 0.017), revealing significant interaction effects (p = 0.02; η2 = 0.157). Significant group-time interaction was observed for the SRT (p = 0.046; η2 = 0.122), with a significant increase (+87.8 ± 98.9 m; p = 0.028; η2 = 0.147) in the IG and no changes (-29.4 ± 219.7 m; p = 0.485; η2 = 0.016) in the CG. Concerning BMI (p = 0.157; η2 = 0.063) and WHtR (p = 0.063; η2 = 0.114), no significant interaction effects were detected. School-based exergaming is a suitable tool to influence students‘ physical fitness positively.

Acute Effects of Heart Rate-Controlled Exergaming on Vascular Function in Young Adults.

Kircher, E., Ketelhut, S., Ketelhut, K., Röglin, L., Martin-Niedecken, A. L., Hottenrott, K., & Ketelhut, R. G.

Games for Health Journal (pp. 58-66).

Acute and regular moderate-intensity endurance exercise (MIEE) is known to positively affect vascular function. The present study assessed if an exercise session in an innovative exergame called the ExerCube can induce similar vascular reactions as an MIEE session. Twenty-eight healthy recreationally active participants (13 females and 15 males; aged 24.8 ± 3.9 years; with body mass index 23.2 ± 2.3 kg/m2) completed an exergaming session (EGS) in the ExerCube (25 minutes) and an MIEE session on a treadmill (35 minutes, 65%-70% of maximal heart rate [HR]) in a randomized order. Both before and throughout the 45 minutes after the training sessions, pulse wave velocity (PWV), total peripheral resistance (TPR), stroke volume (SV), and HR were recorded. The study was approved by the Research Ethics Board of the Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg (Medical Faculty of the Martin-Luther-Universität 2019-177). There were different hemodynamic responses to both types of exercises. PWV was significantly decreased 45 minutes after the EGS (p < 0.001). No significant changes were detected after MIEE (p = 0.109). TPR was significantly lower after both exercise sessions (p < 0.01). Only the EGS resulted in a significant decrease in SV 15 minutes after exercise (p < 0.001). The HR was significantly (p < 0.05) higher after both exercise sessions. After the EGS, the increase in HR was still significantly higher (p = 0.011) 45 minutes after the session. The interaction effects revealed significant differences in PWV (15 minutes, p = 0.035; 30 minutes, p = 0.004; and 45 minutes, p < 0.001), favoring the EGS. The EGS seems to induce a relevant exercise stimulus that can modulate vascular function. Therefore, this exergame may present an effective tool for prevention of cardiovascular diseases

Gaming Instead of Training? Exergaming Induces High-Intensity Exercise Stimulus and Reduces Cardiovascular Reactivity to Cold Pressor Test.

Ketelhut, S., Ketelhut, R. G., Kircher, E., Röglin, L., Hottenrott, K., Martin-Niedecken, A. L., & Ketelhut, K.

Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine, 55.

The present study assessed if an exercise session in an innovative exergame can modulate hemodynamic reactivity to a cold pressor test (CPT) to a similar extent as a typical moderate endurance training (ET). Furthermore, cardiorespiratory, and affective responses of an exergame session and an ET were compared. Twenty-seven healthy participants aged 25 ± 4 years (48% female; BMI 23.0 ± 2.1 kg/m2) participated in this cross-sectional study. All participants completed both an ET on a treadmill and training in the ExerCube (ECT). HR and oxygen consumption were recorded during both training sessions. Before and after both exercise sessions, the hemodynamic reactivity to a CPT was determined. During ECT, HR, oxygen consumption, energy expenditure, and the metabolic equivalent of the task were significantly higher than those obtained during ET (p < 0.001). With regard to the CPT, the participants showed significantly lower responses in peripheral systolic (p = 0.004) and diastolic blood pressure (p = 0.009) as well as central systolic (p = 0.002) and diastolic BP (p = 0.01) after ECT compared to ET. The same was true for pulse wave velocity (p = 0.039). The ECT induced a significantly higher exercise stimulus compared to the ET. At the same time, it attenuated hemodynamic stress reactivity. The ECT presents a relevant training stimulus that modulates cardiovascular reactivity to stress, which has been proven as a predictor for the development of hypertension.

A Game-Based Approach to Lower Blood Pressure? Comparing Acute Hemodynamic Responses to Endurance Exercise and Exergaming: A Randomized Crossover Trial.

Kircher, E., Ketelhut, S., Ketelhut, K., Röglin, L., Hottenrott, K., Martin-Niedecken, A. L., & Ketelhut, R. G.

International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(3) (p. 1349).

The present randomized crossover study aimed to determine whether an exergaming session in an innovative, functional fitness game could be an effective exercise approach that elicits favorable blood pressure (BP) responses, such as a typical moderate endurance exercise (ET). Therefore, acute hemodynamic responses after a training session in the ExerCube and an ET on a treadmill were assessed and compared. Twenty-eight healthy recreational active participants (13 women; aged 24.8 ± 3.9 years) completed an exergaming session (EX) and an ET in a randomized and counterbalanced order. Before and throughout the 45 min after the training, the peripheral and central BP were measured. After the ET, there was a moderate decrease in both peripheral systolic (-1.8 mmHg; p = 0.14) and diastolic (-0.8 mmHg; p = 0.003), as well as central diastolic (-1.5 mmHg; p = 0.006) pressure compared to the resting value before the exercise. After the EX, there was a significant decrease in peripheral systolic (-6.3 mmHg; p < 0.001) and diastolic (-4.8 mmHg; p < 0.001), as well as central systolic (-5.8 mmHg; p < 0.001) and diastolic (-5.3 mmHg; p < 0.001) pressure compared to baseline. The interaction effects showed significant differences in peripheral and central systolic BP as well as in peripheral diastolic BP (p = 0.05). The EX seems to be an effective training approach that triggers relevant peripheral and central BP-responses, which are more pronounced than after a typical ET. Therefore, the ExerCube can be a time-efficient training tool to improve cardiovascular health.

The New Way to Exercise? Evaluating an Innovative Heart-rate-controlled Exergame.

Ketelhut, S., Röglin, L., Kircher, E., Martin-Niedecken, A. L., Ketelhut, R., Hottenrott, K., & Ketelhut, K.

International Journal of Sports Medicine, 43(01) (pp. 77-82).

Exergames may offer novel opportunities to expand physical activity. Most games, however, only result in low to moderate-intensity activities that are too low to allow relevant physical adjustments. In the present study, the exercise intensity of a new, heart rate controlled, functional fitness game was assessed. 28 subjects (aged 24.8±3.8 yrs; 46% female; BMI 23.2±2.3 kg/m2) were enrolled in this study. VO2max and maximal heart rate (HRmax) were assessed during a maximal graded exercise test on a treadmill and compared with the oxygen consumption (VO2) and heart rate (HR) during a game in the ExerCube.In the ExerCube, the subjects reached a peak HR of 187.43±9.22 bpm, which corresponds to 96.57±3.64% of their HRmax. The mean HR throughout the game was 167.11±10.94 bpm, corresponding to 86.07±4.33% of HRmax. VO2peak reached 41.57±5.09 ml/kg/min during the game in the ExerCube, which corresponds to 84.75±7.52% of VO2max. The mean VO2 consumption during the game reached 32.39±4.04 ml/kg/min, which corresponds to 66.01±5.09% of VO2max. The ExerCube provides a form of vigorous physical exercise. Due to its playful, immersive, and motivating nature, the ExerCube seems to be a promising tool to facilitate physical activity.


Adaptive High-Intensity Exergaming: The More Enjoyable Alternative to Conventional Training Approaches Despite Working Harder.

Röglin, L., Ketelhut, S., Ketelhut, K., Kircher, E., Ketelhut, R. G., Martin-Niedecken, A. L., … & Stoll, O.

Games for Health Journal, 10(6) (pp. 400-407).

The purpose of this study was to assess psychological and physiological responses to an exergaming session in the ExerCube (EX) and compare them with the responses of a moderate endurance run (ER). Twenty-eight healthy adults (13 women) aged 24.8 ± 3.8 years took part in this study. The first test day, participants performed a graded exercise test on a treadmill to determine maximal heart rate (HR) and lactate levels. The following test days 2 and 3, the participants completed an EX session and an ER on a treadmill in a randomized counterbalanced order. HR, rate of perceived exertion (RPE), and lactate levels were assessed during both sessions. After the sessions, the participants completed the „Physical Activity Enjoyment Scale“ and the „Flow Short Scale.“ The analysis of variance revealed that enjoyment (p = 0.036), flow (p = 0.042), RPE (p = 0.005), as well as mean and peak HR (p < 0.001) during the EX session were significantly higher compared with the ER. Gender did not affect the differences between the two conditions for mean HR (p = 0.61), maximal HR (p = 0.122), RPE (p = 0.862), flow (p = 0.376) nor enjoyment (p = 0.867). During the EX session, the lactate levels of all participants exceeded the individual lactate threshold (LT). During the ER, lactate values remained below the LT. The ExerCube presents both a physiological relevant exercise stimulus and a joyful gaming experience. Despite the higher exercise intensity achieved during the EX session, enjoyment was significantly higher compared with the ER. Therefore, the EX can be a promising and appealing tool to facilitate physical activit

Exploring the Design Space of Immersive Social Fitness Games: The ImSoFit Games Model.

Márquez Segura, E., Rogers, K., Martin-Niedecken, A. L., Niedecken, S., & Vidal, L. T.

Proceedings of the 2021 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 1-14).

The design space of social exergames remains narrow despite the many benefits of playing and exercising together. Towards opening this design space, we followed a Research through Design (RtD) approach focused on exergames that can be fun and immersive social training experiences. Through embodied sketching activities with designers and 10 pairs of players, we explored future games for the ExerCube, an immersive exergame platform. Our work contributes with forms of intermediate-level knowledge: a design space model (the Immersive Social Fitness—ImSoFit—Games model); and a novel design vocabulary including new bodily orientations in co-located physical interaction. We illustrate their use and value scrutinizing three of our games and applying three analytical lenses to 1) understand how design choices impact how players move together; 2) evaluate design expectations and analyze players’ behavior in relation to design choices; and 3) potentially extend the design space of immersive co-located social fitness games.

Sound design for exergames: a design research pilot project.

Hug, D., Papetti, S., Martin-Niedecken, A. L., Graf, E., & Rogers, K.

Frontiers in Psychology, 12.

Exergames profit from bodily action sounds. How can these action sounds be designed in order to enhance flow, motivation and self-competence in heterogeneous player groups? Mainstream film & game sound define our listening expectations and interpretation and provide a huge collection
of sound design “success cases”. How can successful mainstream sound design patterns be used as basis for adaptive action feedback sound design? To answer these questions, we combine qualitative interpretation, signal analytics, and sound-design expertise in a “research through design” mixed-methodology

Physical inactivity remains one of the biggest societal challenges of the 21st century. The gaming industry and the fitness sector have responded to this alarming fact with game-based or gamified training scenarios and thus established the promising trend of exergaming. Exergames—games played with the (whole) body as physical input—have been extolled as potential attractive and effective training tools. Simultaneously, researchers and designers are still exploring new approaches to exploit the full potential of this innovative and enjoyable training method. One way to boost the attractiveness and effectiveness of an exergame is to individualize it with game adaptations. A physiological parameter that is often used to balance the physical challenge and intensity of exergames to the player’s fitness skills is the heart rate (HR). Therefore, researchers and designers often rely on age-based, maximum HR (HRmax) formulas originating from performance diagnostics. In combination with the player’s assessed real-time HR during an exergame session, the pre-determined HRmax is used to adapt the game’s challenge to reach a pre-defined HR and physical intensity level (in-exergame adaptations), respectively. Although the validity and reliability of these age-based HRmax formulas were proven in heterogeneous target populations, their use is still often criticized as HR is an individual parameter that is affected by various internal and external factors. So far, no study has investigated whether the formula-based pre-calculated HRmax compared to a standardized individually pre-assessed HRmax elicits different training intensities, training experiences, and flow feelings in an exergame. Therefore, we compared both variants for in-exergame adaptation with the ExerCube – a functional high-intensity interval training exergame – in healthy young adults. Comparing the results of the two conditions, no significant differences were found for HR parameters and perceived physical and cognitive exertion, nor for overall flow feelings and physical activity enjoyment. Thus, the formula-based in-exergame adaptation approach was suitable in the presented study population, and the ExerCube provided an equally reliable in-exergame adaptation and comparable exergame play experiences. We discuss our findings in the context of related work on exergame adaptation approaches and draw out some implications for future adaptive exergame design and research topics.


“HIIT” the ExerCube: comparing the effectiveness of functional high-intensity interval training in conventional vs. exergame-based training

Martin-Niedecken, A. L., Mahrer, A., Rogers, K., de Bruin, E. D., & Schättin, A.  

Frontiers in Computer Science, 33.

Regular physical activity is crucial for a physically and mentally healthy lifestyle. Training methods such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT) have become increasingly popular as they enable substantial training effects in little time. HIIT typically involves recurring short phases of close-to-maximal exercise intensity, interspersed with low-intensity recovery phases. Originally mainly practiced via uniformly repetitive movements, newer variations include varied functional and holistic exercises (fHIIT). While HIIT facilitates many health advantages, fHIIT is considered more beneficial since it activates more muscles, requires more coordination, strength and balance, and mimics more natural movements which transfer well to daily life. However, fHIIT is a very intense training approach; it requires strong focus and intrinsic motivation to frequently push beyond perceived physical and mental limits. This is a common barrier to exploiting the full potential of this efficient training method. Exergames may facilitate this kind of training due to their playful, immersive, motivating nature. Yet so far, few studies have investigated HIIT-exergames – no fHIIT-exergames. This is possibly because few exergames featured both (1) an effective training concept that is comparable to HIIT, and (2) an attractive and motivating game design. We believe that this lack of holistic integration of both aspects is partly why there is currently little evidence for long-term motivation and training effects in exergame-based training. Our work addresses this gap through the design of an adaptive fHIIT protocol for the ExerCube fitness game system, creating a HIIT-level functional exergame. We conducted a within-subjects study to compare objective and subjective training intensity induced by the ExerCube against a conventional fHIIT session with healthy young adults. Furthermore, we evaluated participants‘ subjective experience with regards to motivation, flow, and enjoyment during both conditions. Our results contribute empirical evidence that exergames can induce HIIT-level intensity. While perceived physical exertion was slightly lower in the ExerCube condition, it yielded significantly better results for flow, enjoyment, and motivation. Moreover, the ExerCube seemed to enable a dual-domain training (higher cognitive load). We discuss these results in the context of exergame design for fHIIT, and provide practical suggestions covering topics such as safety precautions and physical-cognitive load balancing.

Let the body’n’brain games begin: toward innovative training approaches in esports athletes. 

Martin-Niedecken, A. L., & Schättin, A. 

Frontiers in psychology, 11, 138.

The phenomenon of eSports is omnipresent today. International championships and their competitive athletes thrill millions of spectators who watch as eSports athletes and their teams try to improve and outperform each other. In order to achieve the necessary cognitive and physical top form and to counteract general health problems caused by several hours of training in front of the PC or console, eSports athletes need optimal cognitive, physical and mental training. However, a gap exists in eSports specific health management, including prevention of health issues and training of these functions. To contribute to this topic, we present in this mini review possible avenues for holistic training approaches for cognitively, physically and mentally fitter and more powerful eSports athletes based on interdisciplinary findings. We discuss exergames as a motivating and promising complementary training approach for eSports athletes, which simultaneously combines physical and cognitive stimulation and challenges in an attractive gaming environment. Furthermore, we propose exergames as innovative full-body eSports-tournament revolution. To conclude, exergames bring new approaches to (physical) eSports, which in turn raise new topics in the growing eSports research and development community.


Towards socially immersive fitness games: An exploratory evaluation through embodied sketching. 

Martin-Niedecken, A. L., Márquez Segura, E., Rogers, K., Niedecken, S., & Turmo Vidal, L.

Extended Abstracts of the Annual Symposium on Computer-Human Interaction in Play Companion Extended Abstracts (pp. 525-534).

Despite many benefits of playing and exercising together in terms of motivation, engagement, and social relationships, many exergames are designed to be single player, while others implement only a facade of social play (e.g., leaderboards). The challenge remains: how can exergames be designed to balance fun, exertion, and social connection? In this work, we ran an embodied sketching activity with multiplayer variations of the Sphery Racer mixed-reality fitness game, allowing us to test physical and social game mechanics. We discuss here: i) preliminary results on how these variations support a rich training and social experience; and ii) the potential of our method to surface interesting design directions. These contributions can inspire others designing in this domain, and support the development of a rich design space for co-located exergames.

ExerCube vs. Personal Trainer: Evaluating a Holistic, Immersive, and Adaptive Fitness Game Setup. 

Martin-Niedecken, A. L., Rogers, K., Turmo Vidal, L., Mekler, E. D. & Márquez Segura, E.

Proceedings of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 1-15).

Today’s spectrum of playful fitness solutions features systems that are clearly game-first or fitness-first in design; hardly any sufficiently incorporate both areas. Consequently, existing applications and evaluations often lack in focus on attractiveness and effectiveness, which should be addressed on the levels of body, controller, and game scenario following a holistic design approach. To contribute to this topic and as a proof-of-concept, we designed the ExerCube, an adaptive fitness game setup. We evaluated participants‘ multi-sensory and bodily experiences with a non-adaptive and an adaptive ExerCube version and compared them with personal training to reveal insights to inform the next iteration of the ExerCube. Regarding flow, enjoyment and motivation, the ExerCube is on par with personal training. Results further reveal differences in perception of exertion, types and quality of movement, social factors, feedback, and audio experiences. Finally, we derive considerations for future research and development directions in holistic fitness game setups.


The ExerCube: Participatory Design of an Immersive Fitness Game Environment. 

Martin-Niedecken, A. L. & Mekler, E. D.

Joint International Conference on Serious Games (pp. 263-275).

Exergames have advanced from a trend of the entertainment industry to serious training applications. Nowadays body-centered games can be played at home, as well as in the gym, and provide an effective and motivating workout experience for the player. However, existing solutions often lack a symbiotic and user-centered design approach encompassing the three exergame design levels: the player’s body (input movements), the controller (input device) and the game (story, game mechanics, dynamics, aesthetics). Consequently, existing systems exhibit weaknesses like motion sickness or a lack of audio-visual and narrative design of the physical and virtual play space. As such, the player’s game experiences remain limited. Our work contributes to the sustainable establishment of fitness games as effective and attractive training tools. In this paper, we introduce the “ExerCube” and the design, evaluation, and subsequent re-design of the early stage prototype. The “ExerCube” is a fitness game setting for adults, which affords immersive gameplay experiences while engaging in a playful motor-cognitive and -coordinative functional workout. Our findings show that the preliminary “ExerCube” prototype was usable and well received by the target audience. We report insights about the target audience’s preferences and identify avenues for the implementation of dual flow-based game mechanics, the optimization of the training concept and hardware, as well as for the further development of the game scenario.


Prof. Dr. Anna Martin-Niedecken

MSc. Yanick Riederer