When gamers think of eSports training, they often think of pro teams with endless hours of practice gaming non-stop at their consoles for the majority of the day. But there’s an important element of training for gaming that has nothing to do with actually playing the game, and it’s one we like to highlight here at Ritual Motion in the spirit of “winning well”. It’s physical fitness and health.

You do of course need to practice and play lots and lots to be a top gamer, but to be in top form, you also need to pay attention to physical fitness. It will not only serve to help you sharpen your focus and reflexes but being fit will allow you to avoid injury and lengthen your gaming career. It’s not just us saying that, either. Trainers and pro eSports teams all over the world are building full exercise regimens into their training schedules in order to equip and support gamers’ bodies in all that’s required of them as true athletes.

But some of you may wonder why and how. So, we’re going to break down the answers to both of those questions—why fitness is important at a base level for gamers, and how you can improve your fitness as a gamer by focusing on 5 key areas and muscle groups.

How does fitness help your gaming?
Perhaps a more appropriate question would be “how does fitness not help your gaming?” Because really, the benefits are innumerable.

Injury prevention + better reflexes + greater endurance
Regular exercise is helpful in many ways; increased muscle tone, endurance, and favorable neurotransmitter patterns, to name a few. The neurotransmitter patterns are key to all of it. It’s like when you’re creating a new walking trail in the woods or new ski tracks in the snow: At first, those pathways aren’t intuitive and you have to work at building them and making them clear so you know where to go. But the more you go over them, the more ingrained they become and the easier it is to move down those pathways and keep them clear.

So when you exercise and build up muscle patterns helpful to gaming and helpful to your overall fitness, you’re essentially training those muscle fibers and neurotransmitters to keep doing the patterns and pathways that are beneficial. Instead of firing haphazardly or reverting to inefficient, potentially harmful patterns, you’re making them smarter.

This means that your muscles get trained to do the right moves and work in ways that prevent injury because they’re used to being used properly. It means your muscles will become used to firing for longer periods of time, thereby improving your endurance for both exercise and gaming. It also means your reflexes will fire in ways that are healthy, consistent and stable, making your in-game reactions faster and more dependable all the time.

Memory boost + enhanced focus
As we talked about in our earlier post about improving your in-game focus, exercise has been proven to help in that arena as well. Numerous studies have shown that exercise increases our ability to concentrate, but it also helps to improve and keep our memories sharp. It turns out that cardio workouts—those that get your heart rate up—increase the size of the hippocampus in our brains. The hippocampus is the area in charge of learning and memory, including spatial memory (important for gaming!). So when that area gets a boost, our memory and ability to pick up and retain new information get a boost, too. All good things for mastering games.

Pain prevention + more energy
Converse to what some might think, exercise doesn’t drain you—it gives you energy. You get the blood and oxygen pumping through your system and good hormones flowing, and so you come away more energized than you were before working out. The more habitual exercise is, then the more energized you feel all the time.

And there’s another bonus. The endorphins released in your body during and after exercise, which are often called the “feel-good” chemicals, help to reduce pain, keep your spirits happy and your mental health on track.

How’s that for great benefits?

5 areas of focus
Exercise in all varieties will be good for you, so keep doing the activities that you enjoy. However, there are some specific muscle groups and types of exercise that will be of particular importance for improving your gaming.

– Hands, wrists, forearms: Most gamers experience fatigue in their hands, wrists and/or forearms during long gaming sessions, and for some, that turns into bigger problems or even chronic pain. Doing exercises that both strengthen and stretch these areas will keep them flexible, minimize fatigue and keep pain at bay.

We like some of the exercises promoted by Dr. Levi Harrison, an orthopedic surgeon, and specialist who works with a lot of eSports athletes. We also recommend doing some yoga.

Yoga is a superb way to build wrist and forearm strength (and of course full-body strength) while also getting in some solid stretching. In fact, we’ve just teamed up with yoga instructor Corey Thibodeau (200 E-YRT, YACEP) on a yoga video series specially made for gamers and gamers’ fitness needs.

– Core strength and posture: It’s pretty typical for gamers to struggle with having good posture. We’re sitting for so long at computers or on unsupported couches, and it’s all too easy to hunch over, which both inhibits blood flow and increases the likelihood of injury. The best way to combat this is to strengthen all your core muscles—your abs, obliques, upper back and chest muscles. They keep you supported and upright in proper positioning. There are many different exercises for core-strengthening, but some we recommend are Pilates, boxing, dancing and interval training workouts (HIIT, PIIT, etc.). It can even be as simple as some plank exercises. Whatever you choose, try to build core workouts into your routine every day.

– Shoulder endurance: Like the muscle groups above, gamers use their shoulders a lot. It tends to be an area where we hold tension and also where some of the most-used extremities (ahem, arms, wrists, and hands) fire from first. On top of that, your shoulders are integral to posture—or correcting it—so it’s important to make sure they’re strong and engaged. Planks, push-ups, Pilates, yoga, and boxing are all going to get your shoulders going, but so will some regular dumbbell action and weight training.

– Lower back: Perhaps the area most affected by sitting for hours is our lower backs. This is an area that really needs some attention if we want to be in top gaming form and keep it that way. One quick fix is to spend some time sitting on a fitness balance ball for part of your gaming time. A balance ball almost automatically makes you sit up straight and engage your trunk muscles to keep your lower back supported. Key exercises to further ramp up for this area are going to be more plank variations, glute bridges, supermans, leg lifts while lying down or in plank, and some good lower back twists (look to yoga again for those). Check out these lists from SELF and Healthline for some examples and how-tos.

– Cardio: Last, but not least, and to really improve your fitness and gaming strength, you’ll need to do some aerobic exercise a few times a week. Cardio is, of course, good for your overall heart and lung health. And because we spend much of our day-to-day lives seated at computers these days, it’s important for everyone to move and get their heart rate up on a regular basis. For gamers, who tend to spend so much more time seated in front of screens, it’s extra important to schedule time to get in some cardio. Cardio workouts also engage other muscle groups that don’t get so much attention while gaming (e.g. legs, glutes, calves, total body), so it’ll further help balance out your full body strength.

In addition, aerobic exercise helps our bodies manage stress—which we tend to experience while playing competitive games. When you get into a stressful situation, your body circulates a hormone called cortisol. Increased cortisol levels have been associated with many types of unhealthy disorders including high blood pressure, and depression. Cortisol levels can remain high for hours after you experience a stressful situation such as intense gaming. But aerobic exercise helps decrease cortisol, and that’s amplified the more you work out. So it’s immensely beneficial for gamers to get ample cardio time to balance out those high cortisol levels and actually train our bodies to produce less cortisol in those stressful situations.

Two birds, one stone
We’re definitely proponents of getting out and doing all various sorts of exercise away from your screens and gaming consoles. BUT there are also a number of options these days that combine the two and give you quite a good workout while you game if that’s more your speed. Check out this list from The Gamer of 15 games (think: DDR, Beat Saber, Knockout League) that will get your muscles moving.

Stay healthy gamers. Work out, and Win Well.