One of the biggest problems with Wii fitness games like Jillian Michaels and The Biggest Loser is that you’re flailing your arms around, but there’s just no resistance. As a result, you get a pretty good lower body workout (because your legs are carrying the weight of your body), but after the workout you really don’t feel like you’ve gotten a very good upper body workout. As a result, games like this usually get played a few times and then go back on the shelf.
There’s also another possible problem that arises because of this. Early on in my Wii exercising days, I experienced a somewhat frightening phenomenon. After a few days straight of playing a Wii game (I think it was EA Sports Grand Slam Tennis), my shoulder started to get really sore, even to the point where it was uncomfortable moving it. I looked online, and I realized I had rotator cuff tendonitis. The phenomenon of Wii-related injuries due to lack of resistance has become so widespread that there’s even a name for it: Wii-itis.
Yes, most Wii games manufacturers (no doubt at the request of their lawyers) put in screen to tell you to take time to rest, but when you’re having fun with a game it’s easy to ignore those.
The cause of shoulder tendonitis is when you simulate sports movements, but you don’t have the natural resistance that comes with a tennis racket hitting a ball, a baseball bat hitting a ball, or boxing gloves hitting a bag (or a person :)). When your body hits those kinds of resistances, it eventually tells you to slow down. But with the Wii, your body never stops, which can result in joint and muscle pain (and if left unchecked, even damage).
Happily, my tendonitis cleared up after a few weeks. But I’m a lot more careful nowadays about playing long sessions at once.
One of the best ways to give your arms resistance is the use of hand weights in your exercise. I received a pair of Riiflex hand weights, and they have breathed new life into my Wii workouts.
Riiflex weights are 2 pound weights that snap onto your Wii remote and nunchuk. While 2 pounds may not seem like a lot, it’s just about the perfect amount of resistance, especially as you’re playing reflex and rhythm games, which essentially are like doing reps.
The weights are bright green in color, fitting well with the whole millieu of Wii Fit and the bright happy colors of those games.
They’re really well built. The weights themselves are solid 2-pound weights, and yet they’re pleasant to hold because the entire surface is made of rubber which is very smooth in your hands. How they work is ingenious. You literally slip your Wii remote and nunchuk into the weights so that the weights and the controllers become unified–they will snap in place into the perfectly-shaped molds and remain there securely. Once they’re in place, you can use your Wii remote and nunchuk as normal. But instead of swinging and flailing your arms wildly, you get a good amount of resistance–and in the process you’re building up and toning the muscles in your upper and lower arms.
Just the other day, I gave my review of My Fitness Coach 2. If you can’t tell from my review, I was not very pleased with it. But with the Riiflex, it breathed new life into the game. Suddenly, those all-too-short exercise routines were much more challenging not just for my lower body but for my upper body too.
The game that really got new life was Gold’s Gym Cardio Workout. While this game did make the Top 10 list, it always struck me that somehow this game was missing something. At the end of a 20-minute session, I really didn’t feel too much “cardio”. That all changed when I slipped on the Riiflex weights. After just one round of the punching bag, my heart was racing, my muscles were toned, and I felt great. So a game that was collecting dust on the shelf is now part of my daily exercise routine again, something that would never have happened without the Riiflex weights.
There are a few drawbacks to the Riiflex weights, more a function of how the Wii was designed than any design flaws on the part of the manufacturer.
First, you have to take the Wii remote out of the protective plastic sleeve to put it in the Riiflex weight. It’s a minor inconvenience, but a necessary one to keep the Riiflex weight’s design streamlined. Luckily for me I have an extra Wii remote that I can dedicate just for this purpose, so I don’t have to keep switching it from the weights to the sleeve.
One good piece of news is, unlike other companies who make Wii dumbbells, the makers of Riiflex were forward-thinking enough to allow theirs to accomodate the MotionPlus (the Wii remote will just stick out of the end a little).
The other thing I would have liked to see is the ability to use two Wii remotes instead of a Wii remote and a nunchuk. Many game designers are realizing that the nunchuk is not as precise a controller for fast movement as the Wii remote (plus, it’s easy to get tangled up in the nunchuk cable), so they’re designing their games to accomodate two remotes. But since most of these games (such as Gold’s Gym Cardio) will allow you to switch between two Wii remotes and a Wii remote and a nunchuk, it’s not the end of the world.
Overall, the Riiflex gets a 5 out of 5 stars from me. It’s a bargain when you consider that it will breathe new life into a bunch of games you have sitting on the shelf, not just traditional fitness games, but even games like Wii Sports (if you’re a grown-up finding yourself easily outplaying the kids in your life with some games, using a Riiflex weight is a great way to equalize the playing field while giving yourself more of a challenge).
Riiflex 2lb. Dumbbells for Wii are available at at Amazon for a pretty reasonable price. It’s not a bad investment to breathe new life into old Wii games.