BACKGROUND: Virtual reality (VR) has been used as a tool in many professions to teach, train, and simulate different environments with the goal of improving performance. Exercise autonomy, or choice, has resulted in improved performance in exercise sessions and skill development. It is unknown if exercise autonomy benefits carry over with the use of a VR exercise simulation in which an avatar controlled by the exerciser moves through and engages with a unique animated environment. The aims of this study were to determine if including participant autonomy of a VR environment would impact (a) exercise time trial performance and (b) physiological and perceptual responses to the time trial. METHODS: Healthy participants (N=20; 9 men/11 women; age=22.91±7.18 years) completed two 1500m time trials on a Concept 2 rowing ergometer in a randomized counterbalanced order under the following conditions: choosing the VR environment that was displayed (VRchoice) and having the VR environment selected at random (VR). Time, heart rate (HR), rating of perceived exertion (RPE), attentional focus, and affective valence were collected every 300m. Remembered pleasure and total completion time were collected after each time trial. Using SPSS version 29, paired-samples t-tests and repeated-measures ANOVAs were performed to analyze the effects of condition and distance on completion time, HR, RPE, affective valence, attentional focus, and remembered pleasure as appropriate. Bonferroni adjusted post hoc tests were used to maintain an alpha level of .05. RESULTS: The main findings were that there was no difference in finishing time between VR (468.63±94.75 s) and VRchoice (473.57±98.91 s), p=.339, d=0.13. There was no significant main effect of condition or interaction effect between condition and distance for the remaining variables. There was a large, non-significant effect of condition on affective valence which was higher in VRchoice (1.95±1.69) than in VR (1.53±2.21), p=.052, η2 =.204. CONCLUSIONS: During a 1500m time trial using a VR program, the option to choose the specific virtual environment did not impact performance or physiological and perceptual variables. Affective valence was higher for some subjects when they were able to choose their environment, though this was not the case for the sample as a whole. Future studies should examine the factors which contribute to individual responses to VR enhanced exercise.

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