Extended periods of sitting will tighten your muscles and tendons, mess up your posture and increase your risk of injury. Most competitive gamers sit over 6 hours a day, and that’s being conservative. To make matters worse, some of them decide to hit the gym and “get in shape”, but they usually end up making matters worse due to the compromised positions their bodies are in.
Stretching can help competitive gamers undo some of the damage their sport is causing, which will help reduce injury and increase performance.
What are the top 5 best stretches for gamers & esports?
- Brachial hang / dead hang
- Thoracic mobility stretch
- Neck traction
- Anti-rounded shoulder stretch
- Hip Flexor stretch
There are plenty of beneficial stretches for competitive gamers. The thing is, most people aren’t going to be consistent with a couple dozen different stretches and exercises until they’ve developed consistency with their training.
This list is meant to give you the most bang for your buck. I’ve ranked them in order for a reason. If you were to only incorporate one stretch, start with number one. Don’t forget to check out the Athletiks section when you’re ready to get more serious with your esport specific training.
If you need any of the required equipment, head on over to the Recommended Gear page to order some. You’ve probably spent thousands on your gaming set up, so now it’s time to invest a small amount into your body.
#1 BRACHIAL HANG – a.k.a. DEAD HANG
So simple yet so powerful. Dead hangs are executed by simply hanging from a bar. I started doing this stretch regularly after I read up on its benefits for shoulder health and now can’t imagine having a day go by where I don’t at least hang for a minute.
The reason why it has the scientific name of ‘Brachial Hang’ is due to the fact that it stretches the brachial artery. The brachial artery supplies blood and nutrients to the arms. For a more in-depth look at the importance of increasing blood flow for competitive gamers, check out my post on the Top Recovery Tips for Competitive Gamers‘.
I will discuss more below, but this stretch offers a lot more than just improving your shoulder health.
Hopefully, you can see the importance of making sure your arms are getting blood and nutrients. If gaming, and especially competitive gaming, is doing repetitive damage to your hands and arms, you better make sure your body can still deliver blood and nutrients to help it heal and recover.
HOW TO EXECUTE THE DEAD HANG
Simple. The easiest thing to use is a pull-up bar. I installed one in my doorway just to perform this stretch. I would stay away from the ones that go over the frame unless you want to get featured on Fail Army. The one I use can be found on my Recommended Gear page, or you can grab it here, and a less expensive one here.
Grab onto the bar with your palms facing forward and with your hands/arms in line with your shoulders. Use a full grip, meaning your four fingers go over and your thumb under.
A cue I recommend for this stretch is to focus on your pinky finger being wrapped over the bar as much as possible, as this is where you’re likely to start sliding first. This will ensure your knuckles are in line over the bar.
Now take your feet off the floor. If this is too difficult at first, utilize your feet to offer more support, but you’re still going to want to relax those shoulders.
Once you’ve gripped the bar and have lifted your feet or foot up, relax. Don’t force the relax, that is, don’t just let yourself drop. Slowly allow your body to go down. Your shoulders are going to end up somewhere near your ears. Don’t let your head slouch forward like when you’re holding an angle for an AWP shot, tuck your chin and keep it in line with your arms.
Now, just “hang” out. The longer the better. Trust me, this does more than just help your shoulders. You’re going to feel all sorts of things being stretched like your lats, biceps and triceps.
At first, you may struggle to even get 10 seconds, and I have a tip for that below. Over time though, when done consistently, this will become easier to do for longer periods of time. Hanging for up to two minutes feels amazing.
Another big benefit is it will traction your spine. While hanging, gravity will traction or decompress your vertebral discs. This is critical for competitive gamers as their backs are often in compromised positions while practicing and competing.
If you’re a gamer with a stiff back, dead hangs, when done consistently and for longer periods of time, will help get some kinks out.
TIPS FOR THE DEAD HANG
The only issue with dead hangs is the grip strength required and the muscles involved in the grip. Gaming relies heavily on your flexors (closing of the hand) and they get stimulated a lot with the use of computers and controllers.
In fact, the most common muscle imbalance is in the hand/forearm between the flexors and extensors. We rarely, if ever, need strength to open our hands.
So when training reinforces movement patterns we’re already doing and that are already causing problems, it can become problematic. In fact, my post on Top 3 Worst Exercises for Gamers discusses why competitive gamers should avoid certain exercises and instead opt for ones that balance the body to reduce injury and improve performance.
For competitive gamers, I recommend using straps for this exercise. Straps will take the pressure off of your flexors and allow you to hang longer. Until you’ve built up adequate extensor strength in your hands and forearms, straps will help keep your hands healthy and allow for a longer dead hang.
I recommend getting the cheaper Cobra Grips here straps if you’re just going to use them at home. If you’re going to take straps with you to the gym then get the Versa Gripps as they’re better quality and will last much longer. These aren’t like the typical straps that you have to wrap around a barbell or dumbell a few times. Instead, using the tips of the fingers, fold the thicker end of the grip over the top of the bar, between the bar and against the palm of your hand. Grasp the bar as you would normally. That’s it, you are locked on and ready to hold.
The objective here isn’t gripping strength, it’s stretching using the dead hang.
WHY DEAD HANGS?
I’m not just making this stuff up. John M. Kirsch, MD, who is a certified orthopedic surgeon, wrote an entire book on why he recommends most of his patients with shoulder issues to utilize dead hangs. He believes and has shown that many invasive shoulder injuries can be avoided by utilizing the dead hang.
I have reason to take his advice as he’s not helping his business by having people avoid costly surgery.
Part of his research explains that we evolved from primates with a shoulder structure that allowed them to hang and swing from branches all day. As kids, we did this all the time while playing, but as adults, and especially as adults in front of computers, we don’t exercise this critical function of the shoulder…ever.
#2 – THE THORACIC MOBILITY STRETCH
It’s a sad reality, but people are getting kyphotic posture before they even turn 30. Competitive gaming with poor ergonomics will increase the speed at which you become kyphotic, and as it starts to happen, expect more aches, pains and injuries.
WHAT IS KYPHOSIS?
Go to a mirror, turn sideways, turn your head to look at the reflection: that’s kyphosis. All jokes aside, a lot of competitive gamers either have or are in the early stages of kyphosis.
Kyphosis is the excessive outward curvature of the spine, causing hunching of the back. Do you know when you’re sitting with your head poking forward way in front of your body so you can see your screen better? That’s sort of what Kyphosis looks like.
The problem with competitive gaming is that it can promote a kyphotic posture. To make matters worse, most of what is done outside of gaming is still exacerbating kyphotic posture:
- staring down at your phone texting
- sitting with poor posture at school
- using a laptop while hunched on the couch
- driving long distances
Competitive gaming requires you to sit and use a keyboard/mouse or controller in front of you while staring at a screen. Don’t feel bad, esports isn’t the only sport that puts athletes at risk for kyphosis, even hockey players are often hunched forward with the heads sticking out in front of them. The difference, however, is that most hockey athletes don’t play hockey for over 12 hours a day.
PROBLEMS FROM KYPHOSIS FOR GAMERS
Kyphosis will cause your head to be in front of your body. The average adult head weighs around 10 pounds. When your head isn’t properly aligned, that’s 10 pounds in front of your body with poor leverage, causing your upper back and other surrounding muscles to become overworked and overtaxed.
All of this dysfunction causes a lot of pain. The rest of your body will start to follow as your shoulders will round forward and your slouch will get deeper. Your pec and upper trap muscles will become tight, and your front neck muscles and lower traps will become very weak.
This doesn’t happen overnight, but as it progresses, pain symptoms will become worse, and other problems like breathing and digestion will show up.
As a person becomes kyphotic, their body mechanics and range of motion become limited. Someone with kyphotic posture in the gym using weights is basically playing roulette for a shoulder injury, or worse.
THE THORACIC MOBILITY STRETCH FOR GAMERS
Having proper thoracic mobility is integral for athletes, competitive gamers included. The thoracic spine, the area around where your upper back is, plays a major role in keeping your lumbar spine and shoulder working properly and for remaining pain-free. Having optimal thoracic mobility will also help keep kyphotic posture and its associated problems from developing.
Part of thoracic mobility is the ability to raise your arms overhead, in line with your shoulders, and even passed your shoulders. A lot of people who struggle with overhead pressing movements often have limited thoracic mobility.
You’re going to need a longer foam roller for this one which you can get by clicking here. As shown in the picture, you want the foam roller to be placed on the upper back, just below the shoulders/armpits. This is a good place to start if your posture is less than ideal. Make sure your legs are up in the air, feet planted firmly on the ground, just past shoulder width.
From here, begin raising your arms up and behind you, trying to place them on the ground, with the back of your palm touching the ground.
If this is difficult or slightly uncomfortable, remain at this stage for a few weeks. Do this stretch regularly, 2-3 times a day for 2 minutes.
When you’re ready to progress, use a weight that will help force the back of your hands to touch the ground. Hold this for 2 minutes. Remember, feet planted firm with legs in the air.
Continue at this stage for at least a month or so. You didn’t mess up your posture overnight, so take things slow. Once you’re starting to regain some thoracic mobility, you’re ready to start trying more advanced versions, like the one pictured above. These more advanced stretches will place your arms further back behind your head and body, creating a very deep stretch for the pecs and arms allowing for more thoracic mobility.
Using your arms to grab onto a surface exaggerates this stretch. It’s going to force your upper back into a deep stretch while simultaneously stretching the hell out of your pecs and arms.
#3 – NECK TRACTION
Are your neck and surrounding area in constant pain or always feeling tight? I myself have a fairly long neck and, on top of being tall, and at the end of some days, it’s just killing me.
Neck pain is a common complaint among competitive gamers. Proper ergonomics help, but let’s be honest, most of that goes out the window when you’re playing highly competitive matches.
Neck traction is when you stretch tight, contracted, soft tissue on the anterior aspect of the spine in order to allow the spine to return to a more normal, lordotic, posture.
In more sensible words, neck (or cervical) traction pulls your head away from your neck to allow for expansion and eliminate compression. Sitting all day gaming causes a lot of compression, especially when it’s done with bad posture.
NECK TRACTION FOR GAMERS
All I can say is that after hours and hours of gaming, it feels amazing to put my neck and head in the complete opposite position. Here’s what it looks like.
I often do this before bed along with a few other stretches. The longer the better, I aim for 10-20 minutes. That may seem like a lot, but so is having poor posture and/or sitting for hours while gaming. What you will notice right away is pressure taken off of your upper back, shoulders and neck. Your arms might start to go a little numb, and if that happens, stop. This is a good indication that your posture needs some more work.
Although the product I’m using seems to be out of stock, I can still recommend this Wedge Pillow. Here’s a video on how to use that one. It’s a little less intense, but I think that will be better for beginners. Just make sure when you’re done, you roll off to your side.
I got my device from a local chiropractor. So if you’re finding you want something a little more intense after a few months, that may be the route you have to go. But I’ll keep a lookout online and add a link to my recommended gear section once I find the device I’m using.
#4 – ANTI-ROUNDED SHOULDER STRETCH
This list has been hard to make as part of me feels they should all be #1, especially this one.
Competitive gaming will cause your shoulders to round forward, especially if you don’t incorporate esport specific training. I don’t care how good your posture is, working with your arms out in front of you for extended periods of times will pull your shoulders forward.
Once your shoulders start rounding forward, doing exercises to correct them become a sort of Catch 22. You’re trying to do an exercise that brings your shoulders back, but your shoulders are forward thus not allowing you to execute the exercises optimally.
Well gamers, our problems have been solved. Say hello to Donnie Thompson’s Bow Tie (opens Amazon link). This product is amazing. And although it’s primarily marketed to the powerlifting scene (people who bench press too much) it can absolutely benefit gamers.
What this device does is bring and hold your shoulders back to the position they’re intended to be in. Since that’s probably not their natural position for most people, it’s gonna feel like a stretch. You’ll feel it especially in the pecs and the front of the shoulders, the two areas extremely tight on gamers.
What I’ve found particularly beneficial with this product is when I wear it before doing corrective exercises. When doing esport specific training exercises like banded rear delt flies or overhead face pulls, wearing the bow tie before doing them will remind your shoulders and overall posture to be in their correct position. It’s a great tool for building mental cues on where the shoulders are supposed to be, especially when competitive gamers first start getting into esport specific training.
I wear this device for as long as I can when at the computer or just doing things around the house. It can be uncomfortable at times, especially the longer you wear it. But remember, poor posture didn’t develop overnight.
Once you take this device off after wearing it for a while (I’ve gone as long as four hours), my neck, shoulders and back feel like new again. If you’re going to start esport specific training, or if you just want to work on correcting your posture, Donnie Thompson’s Bow Tie is a must have for competitive gamers.
#5 – HIP FLEXOR STRETCH
Geez, I could have done a whole top 5 just for lower body stretches. But If I have to choose just one, it’s this hip flexor stretch. This stretch can also hit your psoas, another muscle that gets really tight from sitting too long.
This one is short and sweet. Get in the pose like the one shown below. One knee on the ground, one foot on the ground. I find it helpful to have something comfortable under the knee.
Now, this is where most people go wrong with this stretch. They hyperextend their back or try to put their front foot further in front of them to deepen the stretch.
The only cue you need is to slightly crunch forward while squeezing your glute (your butt). Essentially, you’re trying to “tuck” your butt underneath you. Think of it as a mini ab crunch. Or better, if you are standing, it’s the movement of squeezing your glutes and pushing your pelvis in front of you while slightly hunching forward.
This slight movement is small, but you will feel it stretching your hip flexor right away. Just hold this for 2 minutes several times a day (or at least once).
WHAT ABOUT HAND STRETCHES FOR GAMERS?
If you’re looking for specific hand stretches, I’ll leave that to the esports doctor, Dr. Levi Harrison, and you can check out one of his hand stretches for gamers videos here.
Something I personally do for hand stretching is to just bring my arms out to the side and try to stretch them behind my body. From there, I actively open my hands, constantly trying to open them as wide as I can, and I hold this for 2-3 minutes (usually while watching gaming clips). Focus on separating each finger as far as way from the other while also bringing your thumb out as far it can go. Try moving the wrist in different positions to deepen the stretch.
I’ve found that simply trying to keep my hands open as wide as they can really help bring blood to the area and counter-act the constant motion that’s similar to closing your hands while gaming.
OTHER BENEFITS FROM STRETCHING
Stretching helps bring blood to the area. Gamers are susceptible to having poor blood flow and will benefit from increasing it.
My favourite benefit is the relaxation I experience. If you struggle to make stretching a consistent part of your day, try doing it before bed. Before you know it, you won’t be able to sleep without your stretching routine.