Esports isn’t a competition to see who the healthiest gamers are, it’s a competition to see which players are the best at the game they’re competing in.
Whenever I search “exercises for gamers” or something along those lines I get inundated with patronizing articles that have generic fitness advice being applied to “video gamers”.
If you’re a competitive gamer looking to boost performance then preventing injuries should be a priority for you. Injuries stall progress and reduce performance and athletes are wise to make efforts in reducing their likelihood of getting injured.
Competitive gamers, or anyone using a computer for long hours, experiencing Lower Crossed Syndrome can expect pain, discomfort and potential injuries. In competitive gaming and esports, players are prone to developing Lower Crossed Syndrome (LCS).
This is due to the nature of the sport and the amount of time spent being sedentary in chairs. Competitive gamers can take certain preventative steps to reduce their likelihood of developing LCS in order to maximize performance.
What Is Lower Crossed Syndrome
Around the 1970’s/80’s Dr. Vladimir Janda recognized a predictable pattern of muscles with abnormal function in the lower body. Dr. Janda recognized that these dysfunctional muscles were causing specific postural changes in the individual experiencing them resulting in joint pain and dysfunction in the mechanics and movement of the body experiencing it.
Most people haven’t heard about LCS despite its prevalence among the general population. More and more people are developing LCS and it continues to affect younger and younger age groups.
In LCS, there is a crossing pattern right around the pelvis area where underactive weak muscles cross with overactive tight muscles. Think of one line representing tightness, and one line representing weakness. The overactive tight muscles in LCS are a tight lower back (lumbar erector spinae muscles) with tight hip flexors.
This combination causes the pelvic bowl to anteriorly tilt meaning the pelvis tilts forward. Think of how Donald Duck walks with his upper body way out in front of him, that’s an anterior pelvic tilt.
The weak muscles in LCS are the abdominals and gluteals. There is so much more to the abdominals than the six-pack people often focus on. There are deep abdominal wall muscles responsible for core stabilization which need more than sit-ups to be developed and activated.
Side note, don’t do sit-ups if you’re a competitive gamer, and you can read this post to find out why.
The gluteal muscles are the butt, which is the largest muscle in the body and helps support proper posture. So next time you read an article on posture and it neglects to mention the glutes, move on.
What Causes Lower Crossed Syndrome?
You may be thinking, why are these certain muscles becoming so tight resulting in the weakening of opposing muscles? Similar to the upper crossed syndrome, LCS is caused by sitting too much.
Most of the general population live sedentary lives. Sitting for prolonged periods puts our body in a static position where the legs are raised up and we’re sitting on our glutes (our butt).
The hip flexor muscles bring your legs forward, or “flex” your legs forward (hence the name). When you bring your knee up to your chest, that’s your hip flexor working.
While sitting, the hip flexors are statically holding the legs up to a degree, causing them to get tight. This tightness starts pulling the pelvis and the lower back forward as the hip flexors attach around this area.
Opposite of the hip flexors are the glutes and as the hip flexors get tighter, the glutes become lengthened to accommodate the tight hip flexors and weakened as they are activated less and thus work less.
The glutes also have a job of doing the opposite of the hip flexor, they bring the leg backwards and extend them behind you.
When the hip flexors are up due to sitting and becoming tight, causing the pelvis to tilt forward, the lower back is forced forward (think of Donald Duck again).
The lower back muscles (lumbar erector spinae muscles) are used to extend the spine backwards like when you’re standing straight up but lean far back. When these become tight they can start to compress the lower spine and it will become more and more difficult to use the lower back muscles to their full potential.
Now, as the pelvis and lower back are tilted forward, the abdominals become lengthened and weakened. This weakening is due to the abdominals being unable to contract, as part of contracting the abdominals requires the pelvis to tilt backwards.
With how much time the typical person spends in a seated position, it is easy to see the cause of LCS. You have tight hip flexors and a tight lower back causing the pelvis to round forward which results in the lengthening and weakening of the abdominals and glutes due them no longer activating from postural changes.
Why Lower Crossed Syndrome Should Be Addressed
I advocate that competitive gamers and esports athletes need to consider themselves “real” athletes and train accordingly. this phrase bothers you, check out my post Should Professional Gaming be Considered a Sport?
In that post, I discuss Professor Ingo Froböse who has been studying esports at the German Sports University of Cologne for over five years now.
In fact, Professor Ingo Froböse was one of the first scientists to study individuals who compete in esports. Instead of simply balking at pro gamers and thinking that it’s the furthest thing from a sport, Professor Ingo Froböse actually studied the demands placed on players who compete in esports and the results may surprise you.
I think it’s fairly obvious that esports athletes and competitive gamers are at pretty high risk for developing LCS. The nature of the sport places the individual in a very “LCS like” position as it forces them to sit for extended periods of time.
Now, I know gamers could take more proactive steps by ensuring they take frequent breaks to interrupt their sitting, and this really should be advocated as it can reduce a lot of potential pain, discomfort and thus reduced performance for players.
At the end of the day, competitive gaming isn’t about proper posture, health, or “being more active”, it’s about winning. I promote esport specific training not to make gamers healthier, but to make them more prepared for competition and to improve performance.
If you want to be healthy, don’t compete, end of the story. Cyclists who race in the Tour de France are not “healthy” and a four-hundred-pound strongman is not “healthy” when he competes in the world’s strongest man.
Athletes push their bodies to the limit and beyond, but if they can find something to include in their training that helps boost performance and reduce injury most are going to do it.
Am I saying competitive gamers should disregard LCS? No, certainly not. A lot of competitive gamers end up with injuries due to their bad posture over long periods of time.
All I’m saying is competitive gaming and esports put athletes at a greater risk for developing LCS, and there’s no guarantee that it can be completely prevented (it can certainly be reduced, however).
I remember watching a Youtube video on an esports gaming house and they showed the “workout” room where the gamers were doing a spin class. I thought to myself “really? out of all the exercises you could choose from, you go with the one that significantly exacerbates the crappy position gamers are already in?”.
It really opened my eyes to how poor sport-specific training was in the esports world.
Why was this a problem? Well, a bike places you in a seated and hunched over position with your arms in front of you and your shoulders rounded, more so than at the computer.
So when competitive gamers use what limited time they have to perform exercises that make problems worse, it’s just foolish and misuse of time and training. I cover more on this topic in my post Top 3 WORST Exercises for Gamers.
In fact, this is where I see a lot of competitive gamers mess themselves up to more when trying to “be healthy”. Eventually, some competitive gamers take it upon themselves to start training more like an athlete. The problem is, their bodies and posture have been messed up from prolonged gaming over many years.
They take these messed up bodies and posture into the gym and perform exercises that just exacerbate the problem, all in the name of “health”. They are misinformed and don’t understand how to train specifically for their sport.
Is LCS really that bad for competitive gamers? After all, it’s about winning not about health, right? Well, LCS causes more than just a deformation of the posture in the lower body.
When the body gets misaligned to the degree that it does in LCS, problems start to occur that can affect competitive performance and lead to injury.
Symptoms From Lower Crossed Syndrome
- low back pain
- hip pain
- knee pain
- neck pain
- increased forward head posture
- tight/overworked hamstrings
- degenerative joint disease
If you don’t think any of these pose a significant risk for you or that I’m exaggerating the potential for injury in competitive gaming, think again. Esports careers can be destroyed by preventable injuries.
Exercises To Fix Lower Crossed Syndrome
LCS is a little easier to tackle than UCS (upper crossed syndrome). In case it’s not obvious, you need to start stretching and relaxing what is tight while strengthening what is weak. I’ve made these stretches and exercises relatively simple.
I find most people don’t do well when prescribing two dozen different movements. And to be honest, if you’re a competitive gamer, LCS is going to be an ongoing battle that you’ll never fully win with due to sitting being the biggest cause.
By utilizing the below stretches and strengthening exercises you’ll be able to help prevent some of the havoc LCS can cause. It may help reduce some of the ongoing pain and tightness you feel and it will certainly help to correct your posture and imbalances when venturing into more physical training.
If you want to see more progress, you’re going to need to consistently break up your periods of prolonged sitting while consistently utilizing these exercises over long periods of time.
If you need any of the equipment for the below exercises, check out the Recommended Gear section. In my esport specific training approach, I use the recommended gear for a bunch of different exercises and training.
Stretch and Relax
I always recommend stretching and relaxing the tight muscles first. This will help facilitate the activation of the weak muscles.
If you try and strengthen these muscles while the opposing muscles are still overactive and tight, you may not have the mobility to properly activate the weak muscles and can end up making things worse.
I would always recommend spending several weeks performing these stretches regularly before even starting the strengthening routine.
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 and bring your pelvis up towards you, like a “scooping” motion.
This slight movement is small, but you will feel it stretching your hip flexor right away. Just hold this for two minutes several times a day.
The other stretch is the frog stretch. I really like utilizing the frog stretch to deepen the stretch on the hip flexors and to improve the overall mobility of my hips. This stretch is relatively simple with a few points to keep in mind.
- start with body forward
- have padding underneath knees (feel free to perform this on your bed)
- push your knees out as far as comfortable
- keep feet OUTSIDE of the knees (this is where most go wrong)
- slowly, with your hands in front of you, start pushing backwards
- hold for two or more minutes, moving more backward when comfortable
Things can get messy whenever the lower back is targeted. I like to keep it as simple as possible with regard to the lower back. For this stretch:
- get in kneeling position while sitting on feet
- lean forward with hands out in front
- the further you reach out with hands, deeper the stretch
- hold for two or more minutes
It’s common with LCS to develop a tight psoas. The psoas is the strongest flexor of the hip joint in the body (an important muscle in walking) and is a deep-seated core muscle connecting the lower back (lumbar vertebrae) to the femur.
The above hip flexor stretches won’t necessarily target the psoas due to the length of the psoas is and where it attaches to in the body.
Just place a foam roller underneath your glutes while in a lying position. Hang out in this position for a few minutes. The stretch is subtle and this is always a good way to start increasing mobility. If you want to deepen it on each side, bring one leg up to your chest and hold it there with your hands.
After spending some time with stretching and relaxing the muscles that have become tight around the pelvis, it’s time to start strengthening the muscles that are weak to start helping the pelvis remain in its natural position.
There’s plenty of ways to strengthen the glutes, but as I side, If you start giving people dozens of different exercises, they’ll often end up doing none of them. This is called a “hip thrust” done with one leg at a time.
With your upper body supported, allow your butt to drop close to the ground. With one leg off the ground, use the other (that’s on the ground) to push your pelvis up. Think about pushing from your heel and squeezing your butt.
You can pause at the top to increase the time under tension.
This exercise seems easy at first, but once you start getting close to twenty reps, even experienced lifters will feel a burn. Tinker with your foot placement (more forward/back) to see how it affects your glute activation.
This is pretty straight forward. Planks are my favourite abdominal exercises because they train the abs in the way they’re meant to function—as a stabilizer.
Just perform these three variations (one on each side and one for the front) of the plank while trying to improve on the time you can hold each one.
Injury Prevention For Gamers
Injuries are one of the worst things that can happen to an athlete no matter what the sport is. Not only does it mean performance suffers, but it often means time away from competition and training.
If you’re an athlete that makes a living with their sport, injuries should be avoided as if your life depends on it (or at least “livelihood”).
Competition does, however, carry the inherent risk for injury. Athletes compete to see how far they can push themselves and their body, esports included. Can injuries be completely avoided in esports?
No, of course not. But efforts can be made to reduce the likelihood of injuries occurring for athletes and the severity of the symptoms experienced.
Reversing and/or preventing LCS will help increase the likelihood that competitive gamers and esports athletes stay injury free. In my post How to be a Pro Gamer – Ultimate Guide, I discuss the often neglected aspects of becoming a pro gamer.
Becoming a professional gamer requires effort outside of the game itself. Preventing injuries is part of that effort. So start training as a real athlete and work towards staying injury-free.
How To Be A Healthy Gamer
It drives me crazy reading fitness articles geared towards gamers. They’re often stereotyping gamers as being unhealthy slobs that eat junk food and sit around all day.
And then the article goes on to prescribe some generic workout with silly exercises that have nothing to do with competitive gaming.
I promote esport specific training at Cyber Athletiks for two reasons, boosting performance and reducing injury. If you want to be healthy, don’t compete.
Competitive gaming is not healthy, but the same is true for competition in any other sport. If you consider yourself as more of a recreational gamer, Cyber Athletiks is still a good place to start trying to become healthier as it is geared towards undoing and reducing a lot of the damage gaming can cause while boosting performance.
If you’re a competitive gamer or esports athlete, you’re trying to be the best in your esport. In competition, it takes more than just skill at your sport.
Esport specific training is about enhancing what gamers do outside of their esport with the sole intention of improving their performance inside of their esport.