You’ve made up your mind. You’re motivated. You’re going to start taking your competitive gaming seriously. You’ve decided to get in shape and start exercising. What’s the first thing you did after you made that decision? If you’re like most gamers, you googled something along the lines of “exercises for esports” or “how should gamers exercise”. And if you’re like most people, you found some generic article with “esport” thrown in a few times in an attempt to relate to gamers. Or, if you got lucky, you found a hand and wrist stretch.
When it comes to sport specific training, there are often exercises that athletes should not be performing, depending on their sport. When it comes to esport specific training, there are definitely exercises that gamers should not be performing, or at least not until they sort their weaknesses out.
What are the top 3 worst exercises for gamers? Sit-ups; Push-ups; Hand squeezes
Don’t get me wrong. I am glad that there are people out there trying to raise awareness around health and fitness in the esports and gaming community. But when you’re serious about starting to train and improve in your esport, generic fitness advice like “do 10 push-ups every time you die” or “eat healthy foods” isn’t going to cut it
GAMER FITNESS PHILOSOPHY
Physical training in esports should be just as much about exercises you shouldn’t be doing as it is about the ones you should be. You won’t find many people talking however about the types of things gamers should avoid when starting their health and fitness program.
Just like a football player who shouldn’t be running marathons, or a marathon runner who shouldn’t be doing leg extensions (hamstrings should be the focus), a competitive gamer or esport athlete should avoid certain exercises and instead focus on their inherent weaknesses.
And in case you think esports athletes don’t require any physical training, check out my post on whether professional gaming should be considered a sport and whether pro gamers are real athletes. In it, I discuss some of the research by Professor Ingo Froböse, a scientist at the German Sports University who has studied esports athletes and found some surprising insights around the physical demands for competitive gaming.
Finding yourself already bored of reading? I got you covered. Just make sure to subscribe for more Cyber Athletiks content.
THE CRUNCH & THE SIT UP FOR COMPETITIVE GAMERS
Let’s now turn our attention to the crunch/sit up. You’ve all heard of it. Lay on the floor with legs straight or bent and use your abs to bring your torso up. At least, the abs are the intended muscle to be worked.
Crunches are what the general public believes to be the requirement for a flat and 6-pack stomach. Most generic workout routines and even workouts geared towards gamers not only include the crunch/sit-up, but a video demonstrating how to do it poorly.
You may have even found yourself doing crunches in the morning or before bed or before those 17 games of PUBG. You may have also found yourself thinking that you were doing something good to counterbalance the toll gaming can take on your body.
But what if I told you that you had it all wrong? What if I told you to never do a crunch again for the rest of your life. Would you even listen?
THE PROBLEM WITH CRUNCHES & SIT UPS
Crunches and sit-ups can’t be that bad…can they? We all did them in gym class and at home (for a week) when we wanted a six-pack. Well, I have some news for you. Dr. Stuart McGill, one of the World’s Leading Spinal Research Experts has stated that the number one way to herniate a disc is repeated lumbar flexion. What is flexion? Flexion is the anatomical name for forward bending. The lumbar means your lower back.
Lumbar flexion occurs every time you do a sit-up/crunch. Dr. Stuart McGillIt warns that repeated lumbar flexion is the same thing as bending a credit card back and forth. Go ahead, find an expired card and bend it repeatedly (spoiler: it will break). Not only are crunches and sit-ups detrimental to your lower back, they actually do very little to improve core stability and protect the lower back from injury.
IT GETS WORSE
Some of you may only need the previous section to stop doing sit-ups and crunches, and if that’s you, stick around, I like you. Some of you may be a little more stubborn or skeptical (you should stick around too). Never do a crunch again? How else am I supposed to build abs? (check out the Athletiks page for esport specific training)
There’s more to the problem, however. Being sedentary and sitting all day affects your lower back. Although sitting is relaxing, it puts stress on the muscles and discs of both your back and neck.
All of this additional stress results in the tightness of your hip flexors such as the iliopsoas muscle and restricted blood flow to your gluteus maximus (your butt). Your gluteus maximus plays a large role in supporting your back and spine.
Trivia time: what’s the largest muscle in the human body? I’ll save some of you the embarrassment. It’s the gluteus maximus and it’s responsible for keeping the trunk of the body in an erect posture. So the next time you google “better posture for gamers” and the article doesn’t discuss your glutes, move on.
GAMERS & ESPORTS & SITTING
If you’re competitive in esports or trying to be, you’re likely spending the majority of your time outside of gaming doing the following:
- sitting at school
- sitting at work
- sitting to eat food
- sitting while driving
- sitting when you hang out with friends
- sitting during the drive to do something active
- sitting during your leisure screen time
Humans weren’t designed to sit in a chair all day. Keep this in mind and take the advice that most esport fitness advocates are thankfully promoting: short breaks as often as you can.
Yes, I know you spent a lot on that fancy gaming chair, but it’s better to get out of it at least once an hour for at least a few minutes. Do you really need to play the CS:GO warm up before a match? Or can you take a minute to stand up and move around?
STOP DOING SIT-UPS
Think about your position while gaming. If you console, you’re likely hunched forward with your head over your knees (especially during intense moments). Just watch a Super Smash Bros or Street Fighter tournament and you’ll see the players all hunched up (kind of similar to competitive rowing or cycling). And if you’re a PC gamer, you’re more than likely hunched over the desk with your head forward.
Take a moment to visualize the sit up or crunch. Think about that movement. You are crunching your body together in motion that ends with you in a position similar to the one you are already in for hours while gaming.
If we know this position compromises our lower back, why would we spend our limited time outside of that position attempting to get stronger in it? That is, why would you perform an exercise that reinforces and strengthens the crappy position you spend the majority of your time in and the exact position that is increasing your risk of injury?
There are much, much better ways to develop your core and abs than by doing sit ups or crunches. Check out the Athletiks page to find esport specific training designed to decrease your risk of injury while also making your stronger.
The quintessential exercise, especially for gamers. Almost every article I’ve read to do with fitness for gamers suggests something along the lines of “do 10 push ups every time you die!”. The push-up is one of those easy to do at home exercises, and it’s the one most gamers start with when trying to be healthier and improve their fitness.
Now I want to make it very clear, push-ups, and all their variations, are an excellent exercise. They have a lot more benefits than just building your chest and triceps. One of the most important benefits that come from push-ups is their effectiveness at building the serratus anterior. The serratus anterior is located just under the pecs and armpits, and just above and to the side of your ribs.
The benefits from developing the often neglected serratus anterior could be an entire article, but in a nutshell, they help you hold good posture and protect your shoulders. I’m all about developing the muscles that force us into proper posture rather than rely on just consciously trying to hold proper posture.
So you’re probably thinking, if push-ups have such great benefits, why should I avoid them?
THE PROBLEM WITH PUSH-UPS
Most gamers have or are in the midst of developing upper-crossed syndrome. For more about upper-crossed syndrome and how to fix it, check out the Athletiks page. Essentially, upper-crossed syndrome is the forward rounding of your upper body due to a tight upper back and tight pectorals, and a weakening in the front of the neck and the lower middle back.
Why do most gamers experience this? Because they spend so much time in crappy positions and neglect to strengthen their weak points and relax their tight points. Think about it, a gamer, especially a pc gamer, spends most of their time in a seated push-up position with their arms out in front of them.
Then when it comes time to exercise, they drop down and do push-ups, and often throw in some crunches (don’t get me started again). Just like with crunches and sit-ups, push-ups are reinforcing a crappy position and adding stress to muscles that are already stressed and tight. Doing push-ups while having upper-cross syndrome is a great way to develop even worse posture and possibly mess up your shoulders.
STOP DOING PUSH-UPS…for now
The push-up will only exacerbate the crappy position gamers are already putting themselves in.
Unlike crunches, I’m not suggesting that gamers should never do another push-up. I’m saying that there are much more important and often neglected muscles that need to be strengthened before push-ups can become part of a gamers training regimen. Your pecs are probably way too tight. Sitting and gaming causes the front of your body to get really tight, and the back of your body to get really weak. Don’t throw in exercises that exacerbate this problem; do exercises that help fix this problem.
The Athletiks page will help you sort out this mess, get back on track, and start utilizing and benefiting from push-ups again, rather than have them do more damage.
THE HAND SQUEEZE
Hopefully by now you see where I’m going with this one. I remember watching a Jordan “n0thing” Gilbert stream where he was demonstrating some of his prescribed hand and wrist exercises. He had one of those “squishy” balls and was performing hand flexing movements in an attempt to strengthen his hands and the associated tendons.
Most gamers trying to take care of their painful hands will often start with this exercise. They grab some sort of stress ball that can be squeezed (e.g., a tennis ball) and then squeeze it. This type of exercise is commonly refereed to as a “Crushing Grip Exercise” (there are 3 major types of grip training: Crush, Pinch and Support).
THE PROBLEM WITH HAND SQUEEZING
The use of a mouse/keyboard or console controller uses many of the muscles involved in crushing grip exercises, which are:
- Four flexors
- digitorum profundus
- digitorum superficialis
- digiti minimi brevis
- pollicis longus
- One Extensor
- Three intrinsic muscles
- adductor pollicis
All of these muscles are primarily associated with closing the hand. What are gamers doing when they use a keyboard/mouse or controller? Essentially, closing their hand. Think back to my sit-up/crunch discussion. Is an exercise that reinforces an already harmful position really the best choice?
Don’t just take my word for it. There is little evidence in the medical community to support many of the exercises prescribed for for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (such as stress ball squeezing), and some are known to make it worse.
STOP DOING HAND SQUEEZES…for now
If you’re a competitive gamer or esports athlete, your hand is clenched up (flexed) for anywhere between 3-12 hours, or more. Don’t make your exercise of choice flexing your hand more and with additional force.
Just like with sit-ups and push-ups, don’t choose exercises that will continue putting stress on parts of your body that are already stressed and tight.
Now many aspects of grip training are beneficial, and improving your grip strength in different areas can provide the body with a lot of benefits and lead to a healthier athlete. But for now, your hand flexing muscles are more than likely overworked and tired, and you probably have an imbalance between your flexors and extensors (one of the most common muscle imbalances). Flexor and extensor imbalances are not unique to esports athletes, in fact, the imbalance is often an underlying issue with “tennis elbow” injuries.
So while I commend you on your efforts to start taking physical training seriously as a competitive gamer, check out the Athletiks page for guides on esport specific training, so you can train with the intention of reducing (not increasing) your likelihood of injury.
Every athlete should want to avoid injury and an athlete in esports should too. Although there is no guarantee in removing all risk of injury, there are certainly things an athlete can both do and not do to reduce their likelihood of being injured, and if an athlete is ignoring these aspects of training, they aren’t taking their sport seriously.
You are mistaken if you think that being the best at your esport or game only requires you to master that particular esport or game. As the pool of competitors grows it will take more than just being good at the game or esport you play, and it will require smart physical training on your end to keep up with the competition and remain healthy enough to continue competing.
With esports, I think what you do outside of your esport and what you don’t do outside of your esport are equally important. You don’t need to be able to run a marathon as a competitive gamer and you certainly don’t need to bench 400 lbs. You also don’t need to be doing sit ups, push-ups and hand flexing, in fact, you will be better off never doing these again (at least for a while).
Be sure to check out the Athletiks page for more exercises to avoid and for more esport specific training. Are there any exercises you’ve avoided in your esports physical training?