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Playing Lanebreak on the Peloton Tread turned me into an immersive fitness believer


I understand their usefulness and why a person might want one. But for me, they’re a last resort, only to be used when weather conditions make outdoor exercise unsafe. I’ve tried so many times over the years, but treadmill running is so boring. It doesn’t matter if it’s a high-tech treadmill with scenic runs, incredible engineering, or a selection of streaming apps — I can’t help but feel like a hamster on a wheel. So I’m as shocked as anyone that I enjoyed playing a demo level of Lanebreak on the Peloton Tread.

Lanebreak starts rolling out to Peloton treadmills today, but the game itself isn’t new. It’s an in-app video game that Peloton launched for its bikes last year. It’s essentially what you’d get if you mashed together spin classes, rhythm game mechanics, Top 40 hits, and Tron light cycle vibes.

Purple sections are “Pacer Moments” where you’re incentivized to run within a pace range. Something about visualizing hills like this also makes them less intimidating.
Image: Peloton

The Tread version has a similar feel, though the mechanics have been adapted for walking and running instead of cycling. For example, the original Lanebreak game encouraged users to switch between virtual lanes by turning the resistance knob left and right. During a level, players got visual cues to rack up points by switching lanes, pedaling faster, or staying within a cadence range during certain sections of the track. In lieu of the resistance knob, the Tread version has users shift between lanes by scrolling the incline wheel.

“We tested switching lanes both using incline and speed, and incline felt a lot better,” says Benoit Dion, Peloton’s principal engineer on Lanebreak.

According to Dion, the company did initially bring Lanebreak from the Bike without changing anything. However, it became apparent that it didn’t make sense to leave it that way. For example, breakers, a game mechanic from the cycling version where you “charge” up by pedaling faster to “break” a visual obstacle, didn’t really translate well to running. He also noted that cadence-based “streams” from Bike workouts were another mechanic that was adapted to better fit walking and running. Instead, the Tread version focuses on hills and speed intervals.

Lanebreak simulates hills via the aptly named “Hill Moments” — when the Tread automatically adjusts the incline to match the virtual hills you see on the screen. Speed intervals are called Pacer Moments, which tell you to run/walk at a heightened pace for a set period of time and are represented by a purple track.

You switch lanes by using the Tread’s scroll wheels for incline. The speed wheel is used to control your pace. It takes a second to learn the controls, but it’s fun once you get the hang of it.
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

You can choose between five intensity levels — Light (15-min mile average pace), Moderate (12-min pace), Hard (10-min pace), Challenging (8:30-min pace), and Extreme (7:30-min pace). Levels also last anywhere between five and 30 minutes, and encompass different musical genres.

The mechanics were easy enough to understand, but it does take a hot second to master the controls. The Bike’s resistance knob is a bit more intuitive because your game avatar moves in the same direction as the knob. The Tread’s incline wheel scrolls up and down, not left or right. If you’re not careful you can switch lanes in the wrong direction — or completely overshoot how many lanes you’re crossing over. You figure it out eventually, but I would recommend learning the controls at slower speeds before taking on more challenging levels. Switching up speed is much more intuitive, and recommended ranges are clearly displayed with plenty of time to adjust before intervals.

All that aside, there’s something about how Lanebreak visualizes intervals and gamifies workouts that makes treadmill running easier. And I say that as someone who can run outside for three hours straight, but can normally last barely 20 minutes on a treadmill.

A 20-minute Lanebreak level, however, barely felt like 10 minutes. (I did, however, sweat like it was a 30-minute workout.) At one point, I was genuinely surprised to realize I was running up a virtual hill with an incline of 5 percent at 6 miles per hour. I’d never do that of my own volition on a treadmill. I know, because I took plenty of Peloton Tread classes when I reviewed the treadmill last year.

And while I found classes more motivating than simply running on the Tread, no instructor ever made me forget that I was trudging through a hill interval. My eyes were always fixated on the interval countdown, waiting until I could blessedly lower the incline. (This is a surefire way to make 30 seconds feel like five minutes.) But in Lanebreak, I was less focused on the numbers because I could see the hill I was on and how much was left before I could enjoy a downhill. I could see myself progressing through it irrespective of time. It’s a deft, psychological sleight of hand — but it works! It truly works!

Running in the blue lanes will earn you points, while adjusting your incline.
Image: Peloton

“You’re incentivized because you see what’s coming up, and you’re willing to push to get there,” agrees Gwen Riley, Peloton’s senior vice president of music and head of content. Riley notes that unlike classes, where an instructor can give you a speed and incline range that you’re free to ignore, gamified workouts come with an immediate payoff.

“It’s incentivizing getting to that higher incline and then being able to have that reward. You’ve got your points, and now you’re moving back to another part of the course.”

The experience reminded me of an immersive Les Mills cycling class I took recently. Unlike regular spin classes, Les Mills’ The Trip puts you in front of a giant screen where you pedal through futuristic landscapes that look like a mix between Lanebreak and Supernatural.

Generally, I’m not a fan of group spin classes. There’s something demoralizing about instructors barking at you like drill sergeants while the Instagram model two seats in front of you is outpedaling you with nary a sweat stain in sight. But putting a group workout in an immersive format, where it’s like you’re biking together on a gamified landscape, made the whole experience — dare I say it — enjoyable. I chalked it up to a one-off fluke, but having tried Lanebreak on the Tread, I’m starting to think differently.

To me, “immersive fitness” conjures images of sweaty Oculus headsets and awkwardly flailing my arms to Beat Saber or Supernatural. The few times I’ve tried VR fitness have been fun but it’s always felt more like a game than a workout. (Which can be positive!) Sticking a rhythm-based game on “regular” gym equipment? Well, that eliminates the need for a headset, which in many ways limits your movement. Incorporating fun mechanics and visuals that naturally lend themselves to a familiar sport? That feels like a more organic way of blending tech, gaming, and fitness.

For the first time, I can wrap my head around where immersive fitness might fit into the real world

The only bummer is that Peloton’s Lanebreak and Les Mills’ The Trip require expensive equipment and/or memberships. I will not be dropping over $3,000 for the Tread just so I can play this game, and I’m not about to join my local Les Mills gym. And while I enjoyed Lanebreak and The Trip, immersive fitness experiences like these won’t appeal to everyone. I know tons of people who prefer group classes where you can interact with people. Others may find instructors more motivating than a game. Regardless, it’s not hard to see how parts of Lanebreak might work in a group setting — or even within a regular class.

For now, Peloton is sticking to building out Lanebreak’s Tread catalog. Dion didn’t say how often new levels would be released but noted that it would be similar to releases on the Bikes. As in, there’s no set cadence but you can expect reliably regular updates. Riley also noted that Peloton will be looking for member feedback while also building out extensions of Peloton’s Artist Series. Both demurred when I asked if there might be one day when a Peloton instructor tells me to up the incline and I can opt to see a virtual hill to better visualize the interval.

Even so, for the first time, I can wrap my head around where immersive fitness might fit into the real world — and I like what I see.


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