Recovery is essential to every sport and athletic training regimen. I’m often surprised when I ask people I’m training “how do you build muscle” and they respond “by lifting weights”. Nope, you break down muscle by lifting weights, you build muscle when it repairs during recovery.
A big problem I see in esports is the focus on “more is better”; it seems to be stuck in some early time period of sports training.
What are the top 3 recovery tips for competitive gamers and esports?
- Blood flow
- Float tanks
Probably not what you were expecting. But incorporating these three tips can give you a major boost in performance and reduce your likelihood for an injury.
WHY COMPETITIVE GAMERS NEED RECOVERY
Like I said at the beginning, recovery is essential to athletes. In case you missed it, I did a post on “are pro gamers are real athletes“. Here’s a tl;dr:
Professor Ingo Froböse 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.
Here are some interesting points found by Professor Ingo Froböse’s research:
- esports athletes can achieve up to 400 movements on the keyboard and mouse per minute
- various parts of the brain are being used simultaneously
- esports athletes are exposed to physical strains similar to those of in other sports
- the needed hand-eye-coordination goes far beyond table tennis as both hands work asymmetrically
- The amount of cortisol produced is about the same level as that of a race-car driver
- esports athletes have a pulse as high as 160-180 beats per minute (akin to fast running)
- esports are just as demanding as traditional sports
Competitive gaming has large physical demands similar to many other sports. Large physical demands drain the body of resources, making recovery integral to the health and longevity of the player.
Tip #1 – BLOOD FLOW
Increasing blood flow is critical for athletes and recovery. Our heart and our blood cells that run through our bodies (the cardiovascular system) deliver nutrients and oxygen to every cell in our bodies.
The cardiovascular system (also called the blood circulatory system) consists of all the blood vessels throughout the body and heart.
Arteries, a sort of tubed wall sci-fi subway system (I’m not a doctor), carry blood away from the heart. Our veins carry our blood towards the heart.
Just to make things a little more complicated, there are an additional two circulatory systems that comprise the cardiovascular system, the systemic and pulmonary systems.
The systemic circulation system is responsible for transporting oxygen and nutrient-rich blood through the arteries, to our organs, our tissues, our muscles and our cells.
After releasing the oxygen and nutrients, it then takes on carbon dioxide and other waste substances, like lactic acid. At this point, our blood is low on oxygen and the veins take it back to the heart.
The pulmonary circulation system is responsible for getting oxygen into our blood when we breathe air (my post on the importance of breathing) and getting carbon dioxide released from the blood.
Arteries get oxygenated blood from the heart and deliver oxygen and nutrients to the body’s cells. Our veins return the deoxygenated blood back to the heart.
IMPORTANCE OF BLOOD FLOW
If you have poor circulation, and most competitive gamers probably do if they don’t incorporate physical training, then you are at risk for a whole host of issues:
- muscle cramps
- high blood pressure
- leg ulcers
- blood clots
- carpal tunnel
- cardiovascular disease
- organ damage
The problem with competitive gaming and blood flow is the sedentary nature of the sport. With training and competing, competitive gamers could be sitting for 10+ hours a day. Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting that gamers need to “get up and move more and eat salads and be more healthy”. Competitive gaming is about being the best in your esport, it’s not a competition on who is the healthiest. Do you want to be healthy? Don’t compete, period. And this goes for any competitive sport.
As I previously discussed, competitive gaming has physical demands that damage the body. Having optimal blood would help deliver oxygen and nutrients to the muscles and tendons that are being damaged through wear and tear.
Have you ever done a killer workout at the gym and wake up the next day sore from head to toe? What’s the best way to improve this soreness, stay lying in bed all day? Or is it better to get your body moving?
I’ve personally found that even short walks have reduced muscle soreness after the gym. This is because I’m promoting more blood flow throughout my body, and this increase in blood to the muscles and tissues is assisting with repair and recovery. Active recovery always trumps passive recovery.
With competitive gaming, you end up with restricted blood flow all over your body, and especially 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.
HOW TO IMPROVE BLOOD FLOW & CIRCULATION
Increasing your blood flow is relatively simple. Move.
Our bodies were designed to move. Taking frequent yet short walks is a great way to start. Rather than plan for a big hour-long walk or run, instead try incorporating short ten minute walks several times throughout the day.
I live in Canada and as I write this post it’s -35 degrees celsius outside. I’ll often just walk tiny laps in my apartment for ten minutes, especially after a big meal to help with digestion.
Here are some other simple tips you can incorporate that can help improve your blood circulation:
- drink lots of water
- cut back on alcohol
- avoid tobacco
- eat iron-rich foods
But let’s be honest. If you’re a competitive gamer, you’re sitting too much and moving too little.
HOW TO IMPROVE BLOOD FLOW FOR COMPETITIVE GAMERS & ESPORTS
When it comes to esport specific training, why not get the benefit of improving your blood circulation while also performing exercises that help reduce injury?
This is why I incorporate super high rep sets utilizing resistance bands. This is often referred to as “repetition training”. Ditch the dogma of “8-12 reps per set”, there are many, many ways to train using resistance.
Ultra high rep band exercises help strengthen your tendons and connective tissue. Muscle grows a lot faster than your tendons, and this is why a lot of bodybuilders acquire injuries, their muscles outgrew their tendons (of course, steroids play a role here).
A great injury prevention exercise for long distance runners is ultra high rep banded leg curls. This helps stimulate not only the hamstrings but the tendons and connective tissue around the knee and thus helping to prevent running injuries in the knee.
For esports, the hands are the first to come to mind (but why stop there?). As I discussed above, poor blood circulation can be a culprit in acquiring Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Bringing more blood into the hands and wrists will help give these areas the oxygen and nutrients they may be lacking and will aid in their recovery.
So, we want to bring blood to the hands, help strengthen the tendons and connective tissues and we know ultra high rep banded exercises can accomplish this. How do we do it? Check out this video:
But like I said, why stop there? Being sedentary is wreaking havoc on your body and you’re going to end up with wear and tear that results in aches and pains.
Utilizing high rep resistance band exercises for various parts of the body will keep your blood flowing and repairing some of the damage competitive gaming is doing to your body. This will help you remain pain-free for longer and boost in game performance.
TIP #2 – SLEEP
Surely the latest brain supplement or improved energy drink is more important than sleep, right? Wrong. Quality sleep will help protect and improve your mental and physical health.
Have you ever had a loss of attention, like a blank stare or forgetting why you entered a room? It happened to me a lot when commuting for grad school. I remember catching myself putting milk in the cupboard and cereal boxes in the fridge. Well, this is referred to as “microsleep”. Micro-sleeps can occur when you lose as little as 1-2 hours of sleep for a few days. Imagine if “Fleta” from Seoul Dynasty had a microsleep during a clutch in overtime? Oh, I forgot to mention, you don’t get to control when micro-sleep happens, so let’s hope it’s not during a B rush on dust2.
When you sleep, your brain prepares for the next day. It does this by forming new pathways for learning and remembering information. Ever wonder why your team’s creative new play fails during a competitive match after practicing it for an entire day? If your team is creating and practicing new tactics for several hours a day but going to bed at 3:00 am and getting up at 9:00 am,, your team has not only wasted some of its time, it has wasted a critical opportunity to boost its performance.
Esports are unique in that constant learning needs to occur. The game of football (soccer) never changes, at least not on a level that would require you to change how you play it as an athlete. Esports, on the other hand, can have almost weekly updates requiring professional players to constantly learn and master a new aspect of the game. I’m a CS:GO player and a change as small as the price of a pistol can result in new meta (well, not for me, but let’s pretend I’m pro).
What’s the perfect compliment to learning something new? I hope you know the answer by now, and if you don’t, I need to reevaluate my writing and communication skills.
Quick tip: is your team bickering a lot? Is your team on the verge of parting ways? Maybe the 16 hours of practice and lack of sleep is making everyone irritable and on edge. Well rested athletes are happy athletes, and a successful team needs both.
Sleep also plays a critical role in hormone balance. The less sleep you get, the more your ghrelin goes up (hungry feeling) and the more your leptin goes down (full feeling). If you’re trying to lose weight but waking up at 4:00 am to workout…good luck to ya, because you’re walking over $100 bills to pick up nickles.
Speaking of hormones, growth hormone is released when you sleep (well, when you have deep, quality sleep). Growth hormone is essential for tissue and muscle repair, muscle building and bone growth. Still, have a nagging repetitive strain injury? Try adding in better sleep to your rehab.
Worried about injuries in esports? I wrote a post about repetitive stress injuries in esports, you can check it out here. If you suspect you have or are getting an injury, sleep may be a remedy. A University of California study found that when youth athletes got less than 6 hours of sleep, their chances of injury increased.
Also, increasing the quantity of quality sleep can extend an athlete’s career. Considering most professional gamers retire before they are 30, a few extra years in esports can potentially yield a wealthier life after retirement.
Just as important as reducing the risk of injury is reducing the likelihood of illness. If you become ill with a cold, flu, or worse, you could be sitting out on a major tournament. A 2009 study exposed participants to a cold virus then split them into groups and found that people who slept less than 7 hours were three times more likely to develop a cold after being exposed.
For some tips on how to improve your sleep, check out my post dedicated to the importance of sleep for competitive gamers.
Tip #3 – FLOAT TANKS
Perhaps the most applicable to esports athletes is the need to “unplug”. What is unplugging? It’s getting away from all sources of technological stimulation. That’s right: no phone, no computer, no internet, no Netflix. If reading that last sentence made you uncomfortable, you need to unplug.
If you’re a competitive gamer, you spend your time “plugged in”, and the stimulation you receive is exponentially greater than reading a blog on your phone or scrolling through reddit. I remember when PUBG came out and having a lot of trouble sleeping after playing at night.
If you’re a competitive gamer that spends a lot of their free time outside of your game still plugged in, you may become susceptible to feelings of jealousy and envy. Researchers found that a third of people became more dissatisfied with their lives after visiting Facebook. As a competitive gamer, being inundated with information from social media about other gamers doing “better” than you can a take a toll on your confidence.
In the age of the internet, we either consume or we create. I would argue gaming is creative as you’re always learning and trying to improve. If, however, you continue to be staring at a screen in your free time, you’re most likely consuming, and this can take away from creative ideas to help your team or you improve and prepare for the next big match.
Float tanks. Nothing will help you unplug like an hour in a float tank.
What is a float tank? Float tanks are an enclosed tube filled, on average, with 10” of water. The water has around 800 pounds of Epson salts dissolved in it so that when you lay in the water, you effortlessly float. Additionally, the water is heated to your body temperature to eliminate your skin sensing it.
With the tank being completely devoid of light, sound and smell, you become deprived of all senses (hence why many refer to them as “deprivation tanks”). Gaming, especially competitive gaming, requires you to take in an inordinate amount of information and then process it to make split-second decisions—over and over for hours and hours.
Float tanks allow an extreme break from an extreme activity. Competitive gaming is a big psychological stressor. Taking the time to shut your brain off from all stimulus will give it a much-needed break. Here is a list of just some of the benefits associated with float tanks:
*effects may vary, do not expect a miracle after your first float, most users report benefits after several floats or when floating becomes a routine*
- Pain management
- Heightened senses
- Chronic stressor relief
- Brain synchronization
- Improvements with insomnia
The benefits for gamers are obvious. It astounds me that I have never seen a gaming house with a float tank. If I oversaw a gaming house, there would be a separate room with a float tank for each team member. Imagine an esports team all floating together after a day of practice? They’d be bordering on telekinesis afterwards. But hey, I’m sure the lounge room with more computers, TV’s and games are just as important.
HOW TO BE A HEALTHY GAMER
Recovery is essential to every sport and athletic training regimen. Esports is no exception.
It’s not like competitive gamers need to spend hours in the gym. The issue is that most competitive gamers are doing nothing. Short, effective training workouts done consistently over long periods of time will benefit you more than any 2-hour workout done here and there.
Competitive gaming is a physically and mentally demanding sport and the human body needs time to recover. Getting smart about your recovery will not only reduce your chances of injury, but it will also boost your performance and keep you competing for longer.