15 Minutes of Fame: Lean and mean with WoW

15 Minutes of Fame is our look at World of Warcraft players of all shapes and sizes – from the renowned to the relatively anonymous, the remarkable to the player next door. Tip us off to players you'd like to hear more about.

Just a few weeks ago, we published a post about two guys who connected their treadmills to their computers to find out just what it would be like to really take a little jog down the road from Shadowglen to Darnassus. (Hilarity ensued.) But that got us thinking ... What if these guys had actually kept playing that way, turning their WoW-time into a potent weight-loss strategy?

It turns out that quite a few players have done exactly that. Back in 2006, The Weight Lifter lost more than 40 pounds with two-hour "WarBiking" sessions on an exercise bike while playing WoW. ("If things got crazy -- as in, I ended up running for my life in the game -- I would end up peddling really fast on the bike. LOL, I know, kinda weird. You try it and see what you do!")

Then we talked to Althaea of Terror Nova-H on Eitrigg. Althaea has lost almost 100 pounds playing WoW from a treadmill, shrugging off a diagnosis of sleep apnea and creating an exercise routine that has definitely stuck. Find out how he put it all together, after the break.

So how did you come up with the idea of playing while you walked on the treadmill?
I started playing WoW in October of 2005 as part of a doctoral program in educational technology, and I got hooked pretty quickly. I've been a gamer all my life (2KCommodore PET green screen FTW), but WoW was my first MMO. While the initial justification for WoW was to "research" virtual worlds for ways to make education more effective, I think we all know I was really there because I'm a gamer.

No overweight person wants to call themselves fat, but I've never been slender. Add into that the fact that my preferred playstyle of choice included a jar of Hot Tamales close at hand, and pretty quickly there were some excess calories that had to go somewhere. I think it's safe to say that I gained 60-70 pounds over the next year or so. My wife also began to complain more frequently about the volume of my snoring at night and that I stopped breathing as well.

I was resistant to the idea that I might have a problem but finally agreed to see a sleep specialist for a diagnosis. In December of 2006, they confirmed that I had severe sleep apnea and prescribed a CPAP machine. The lab tech also said with some dubiousness, "Well, you could try to lose some weight ..." Her tone was unconscious, I'm sure, but it was pretty clear that she'd seen so many patients in the sleep lab with apnea and weight issues to be pretty doubtful that anyone would make much of an attempt.

By that time, I'd been thinking about the treadmill for several months. I don't know whether it was before or after the apnea diagnosis, but I did come across some of the "everyday exercise" research that's going on at the Mayo Clinic. Basically, though, I'd been thinking that I only use a few left-hand key bindings for most of my WoW play, and I use the arrow keys for movement (I know, I know, L2P, blah blah blah) -- so why couldn't I rig up some sort of way to put a computer on a treadmill and play?

Actually, the biggest barrier to doing it was my fear of the reaction my wife would have. She's pretty anti-WoW anyhow, but the idea of something crazy like buying a treadmill to play WoW on -- yeah, I could imagine that conversation. After the apnea diagnosis, however, and trying to sleep with the CPAP (I never could successfully learn to sleep with the mask), I figured that whatever critique my wife was gonna dish out was going to be less painful than an early death due to heart attack. So I snuck out one afternoon and purchased a treadmill. If it sounds furtive, it was. Looking back, it seems stupidly silly, but these are the sort of things that factor into obesity -- it's a social as well as genetic condition.

Pre-diet, how much time did you spend playing WoW on a daily basis?
Two to three hours a day, mostly in the evenings.

Tell us about your physical treadmill setup. What did you use to put the whole rig together?
The treadmill setup has gone through several iterations. The photos I've sent are of the current setup, and I haven't changed it much for the last nine months or so.

The setup consists of the following components:

  • Proform Treadmil

  • Dell 22-inch LCD Monitor

  • Logitech wireless mouse and keyboard

  • 2 super-cheapo speakers

  • Dell Latitude D810 laptop

  • Dell docking station

  • Particleboard shelf -- about 4' x 9" x 1"

  • Approximately 4 yards of 1-inch nylon webbing, and 2 plastic quick-release buckles

  • Some industrial strength Velcro strips with adhesive backing

  • A 3-foot bungee cord

The basic concept I initially visualized was a treadmill with some sort of platform that I could set my laptop on, and that was my first iteration. I bought the treadmill, went to a local department store and purchased the shelf, then went to a fabric store and purchased the webbing and buckles. I knew I needed to attach the shelf to the treadmill and that it needed to be flat, so when I was looking at treadmills I was concerned with two things: its weight rating and that the handles were large enough and flat enough to support the shelf. There are lots of treadmills with handles, but not nearly as many that are flat or deep enough to put a shelf on. The Proform had both, was rated to handle 300 pounds and had the added bonus of being relatively cheap -- about $500.

My first setup didn't include the external monitor, speakers or keyboard. Instead, I just attached the shelf by drilling through it, feeding the webbing through the holes and then looping it around the treadmill handles. The quick-release buckles allow me to remove the shelf if I want to and to tighten the straps. Then I set my laptop on the shelf, attached a wireless mouse and started playing.

We take it things didn't exactly go smoothly from the very start.
As a first go, it worked pretty well, but gradually I began to see the significant flaw in this design: sweat. Yeah, excessive sweat and laptops = bad idea. First, there's issue of the liquid splashing around, and then there's the dried residue to deal with. I think I can leave it there -- I almost destroyed the laptop before moving to the next iteration of the design, but by then I'd proven the basic concept.

Happily, the Latitude laptops have an optional docking station, so I snagged one off eBay, as well as the monitor and speakers. As it turned out, when all of the equipment arrived and I leaned the monitor up on the treadmill, it was pretty much where I wanted to see it, mostly eye-level and near enough to the keyboard, too.

I mounted the speakers to the side of the treadmill using the sticky-backed Velcro and secured the monitor with a bungee cord so it wouldn't slip around. I set the docking station out of the "splash zone," did some primitive cable management to ensure nothing was hanging dangerously -- and that's pretty much where I am now.

Sweat is still an issue for my keyboard and mouse. I'd recommend anyone considering the idea to buy the cheapest set they can and figure they'll probably replace them every year or so.

What's your workout regimen like?
When I started, I was struggling to walk for more than 2 miles, and it was taking almost an hour to do it. As I've lost weight and become more practiced at the routine, it's become much easier. I now assume I'll walk 3 miles every session, and on weekends, I try for 5 miles. I walk at 5 a.m., before work, because I found that walking at night left me too alert to fall asleep easily.

Has playing while you walk changed your in-game activities? Are there things you can't do now based on more wiggling, less concentration, etc.?
Yeah, there are some limits to what I find I can do comfortably on the treadmill. When I started, I set the treadmill to about 2.5 mph, which is a little faster than a saunter. Now I set it at about 3.2 mph. I've gone as high as 3.7, but that's too fast to be safe. Basically, you have to remember that walking is your first task and WoW is your second priority, because if you don't, you can get thrown from the treadmill and really hurt yourself. The treadmill I bought came with a variety of custom programs that would alter speed and incline, but I don't use any of those.

I don't raid or run heroics on the treadmill, because they require reaction times to be quick, and you can pretty much guarantee that just as the tank takes a crushing blow, you'll be trying to wipe sweat from your eyes. I've healed five-mans on regular, though. The Skyguard/Ogri'la/SSO dailies are perfect for the treadmill, very repetitive and regular. AV and EoTS are pretty good for the treadmill, but AB and WSG aren't, because they're too reactive. And lately I've been powerleveling some 'toons through SM by using the Refer-a-Friend and dual-boxing -- that's pretty good for the treadmill, too.

If a pull goes wrong and I'm trying to be sure the group recovers from pulling too many groups in Shadow Lab. I'll stop walking for a moment, then restart once we've recovered. After a while of doing it, you get a sense for when you gotta go for the emergency stop!

Do you use voice comms while playing? Has the treadmill affected that?
When I raid in the evenings, yeah, of course. On the treadmill, no, too much sweat, and most headsets have cables that wouldn't be safe. That said, if I'm in a group while I'm walking and they want to use Vent, I just play the sound out through the speakers and type back in my comments as needed.

What's your current WoW playstyle -- heavy raiding, PvP, casual raider, altaholic ...?
Casual raider or altoholic. I ran MC and ZG pre-BC, and in TBC, my guild has allied with a couple others on Eitrigg to get into SSC and TK. Mostly we're farming Karazhan and ZA and waiting for WoLK to open up a bunch more 10-man instances.

What changes have you made to your lifestyle since you started losing weight?
I also went on a medically-supervised diet plan several months after I started on the treadmill, and I've been working under their guidance since then. Obviously, that's the other significant component of weight loss -- exercise and diet. I've completely had to change my eating habits and limit my caloric intake to about 1,800 calories a day.

Savvy readers will point out, "Well, yeah, 1,800 calories -- that's why he lost weight," and that'd be true. But if you tack on 300 to 500 calories burned on a daily basis, there's a little cushion to save me when I slip up and have a cookie (or 10) or go out to eat.

We hear you have friends who've been inspired to create similar setups. Can you tell us more about that?
People ask questions when you lose a lot of weight. Usually their reaction when I answer "I play video games on a treadmill" is "Yeah, right -- no, really..." After we get past that, some of them are intrigued. Three of my friends have constructed similar setups and use their treadmills to play WoW or do other things on a computer. One manages her eBay store postings on the treadmill.

We've all had somewhat different success and commitment to the idea, but I think we've all generally found that gaming or surfing on the treadmill is a little more intellectually stimulating than just walking or watching television. There's something about having to think actively that helps distract you from the monotony of straight exercise.

Will you be using your treadmill setup for the foreseeable future?
When I went in for my sleep apnea diagnosis in December 2006, I weighed in at 314 pounds. When I was asked by the diet doctor to set a goal for my weight lost, I arbitrarily said 225 and never thought it was likely that I'd get there. I met that about three months ago, and we reset my goal for 210. I've hit a plateau during the last couple months at about 220, so I'm still working to reach that goal.

Beyond that, though, yes, I intend to keep the setup for the long haul. Everyone has to figure out ways to stay active -- this one just happens to work really well for me.

15 Minutes of Fame: LFM
Are you that player we've been looking for?
Drop us a line.

  • Has your guild raced through PvE content at the speed of light? Share your turbo-progression secrets.

  • Are you a disabled WoW player?

  • Musicians inspired by WoW: where are you?

  • Parlez-vous WoW? Did you join a guild that primarily speaks a different language than you do, specifically to polish up your language skills?

  • Does your company have a WoW guild?

  • Are you REALLY an "older" WoW player – over age 60?

  • Special interest and alternative lifestyle guilds – let us hear from you! (Remember that exposure on 15 Minutes of Fame may set you up for "interesting" reader comments, both here on WI and in game.)

  • And finally, have we profiled you in the past? Drop us a line and let us know what you've been up to lately.