Competitive gaming is hard. Players, gamers, and eSports aspirants worldwide have logged hundreds (or even thousands) of hours into their chosen game(s) — trying to find every edge, nail down every match-up, and commit to muscle memory things many people have a hard time even understanding the language of.
The competitive ladder of most games is difficult in the extreme, and a tireless trek up through the ranks that can consume anything from hours to years. There ain’t no rest for the wicked, but there’s even less for grinders.
I get that. I’ve done that.
But what if there was more you could do to improve your game? What if there were edges you could get even in your downtime? If the coaches, managers, and habits of major eSports squads like Dignitas tell you anything, it’s that there is a surprising secret to better competitive play: fitness.
I know, I know. Bigger biceps aren’t going to do anything for your KDA, and how much you can bench probably doesn’t have much to do with how hard you can carry (strangely enough). From the beginning of gaming we’ve been fed the line that it’s brains over brawn, and that’s mostly true – but your brain is still a part of your body, and functions at its best when you function at your best.
With that in mind, I’m here with PowerUP: every tip, trick, news piece, edge, and expert I can find to give you a spotter in your grind to the top — starting with a few quick workouts to level those Strength and Stamina stats while you’re waiting in queue between matches.
The breakdown on powering up
Before we get started, I’d like to lay down some ground rules and core concepts. A lot of this is known to many of you that have already had experience in fitness work, but in case this is the first time you’re making a grab for that extra Heart Piece…
Always, always, always prioritize your health.
If you’ve been relatively inactive, start slow and take it easy — there’s no time limit on this level, and trying to speed boost past where you are and what you’re currently capable of is a great way to hurt yourself.
If you have any medical issues, or potential medical issues, it’s wise to consult your physician before making any major changes in physical exertion, diet, etc… Advising you on these matters is literally their job. If at any point PowerUP conflicts with medical directives given to you by your doctor, listen to them. The tips and routines outlined in these articles are meant for general use, but may or may not be right for you given your medical situation.
Maintain proper form when exercising.
If you can do twenty sloppy pushups or ten neat ones, go for ten neat. Bad form can not only cheat you out of getting better, but also can drastically increase the chance of personal injury. If you ever can’t do an exercise with proper form, reduce the weight. If you can’t reduce the weight, do an easier version of the exercise and work your way up to the more difficult variant while maintaining form. In all exercises, try to control the exercise (slowly descend in a pushup rather than just dropping to the floor) but perform it as explosively as is safe (explode up on the “pushup” part).
If at any point it hurts, stop.
“No pain no gain” is an outdated concept, and the only thing you gain from pain is injury. If an exercise is hard, keep going. If you’re covered in sweat, keep going. If your muscles burn, keep going. But if something causes physical pain, shortness of breath, or dizziness stop immediately. It’s okay if you didn’t finish your set. It’s okay if you did more reps last time you went through that exercise. It’s okay if you think you “should” be able to do more, but can’t. It’s okay.
What’s not okay is damaging your body for any reason – especially not arbitrary numbers like “reps” that will fluctuate daily anyway.
Unlike the ladder, the only person you’re competing with here is yourself.
I know, it’s ingrained in our thinking as competitors — we compete. It’s what we do. We measure up to the next guy or girl above us and find a way to beat them, repeat ad nauseum. That’s not what we’re doing here, though. PowerUP is about making us better than we were before, and the only reference necessary for that is ourselves. It doesn’t matter if you can only do ten of an exercise, but your roommate can do twelve — Hafthor Julius Bjornsson could probably eat twelve of your roommate for his first breakfast and still be hungry, and Game of Thrones fans have seen what happens to those that challenge The Mountain.
Go on, tell him you two are competing. I’ll be over here. Where it’s safe.
So try to keep it self-focused, and understand that progress isn’t as linear as the games can be — some days are worse than others, some weeks might be a little soft. It happens. Maybe you were tired, maybe you were hungry, maybe you just had an off day. What’s important is that we are generally trending upwards and onwards, and generally better than we were before. There’s always a variation, but sticking with it is the most important part — just like the ranked grind.
So what’s the power up?
“What’s any of this got to do with my gaming?”, you ask — and that’s a fair question. Exercise in healthy amounts is good for two huge things when it comes to gaming. It promotes alertness (without the jitters and awful aim that come with energy drinks, caffeine, or other stimulants), and helps the body release endorphins, which are a rock solid way to help with the massive amounts of stress competitive gaming can leave us with.
Being sleepy can leave us too slow to compete, being “stim-packed” with nine cups of coffee can leave us too shaky to play, and being stressed out is a great way to spend precious time wondering if your teammates know what a minimap is when we should be hard carrying our way to victory. Luckily, a little bit of exercise goes a long way towards fighting all of that, and performing our best — whether it’s in Dust II, the Summoner’s Rift, or whatever insane stadium is filled with explosive spheres and rocket-cars.
Of course, now that all of that is out of the way, let’s get to it — a few quick workouts to do while waiting in queue (so that you aren’t shaking your monitor in a confused rage).
PowerUP: STR and STAM
Useful as an “engine starter” or warm-up to get blood moving, jumping jacks are a fine way to fire up your heart rate and get yourself in the mindset of “yup, it’s time to do the thing”. While numbers will always vary person to person, try four sets of 16-20 to start off, and adjust from there.
You’re already in a chair anyway, right? Well, we might as well make the most of the equipment we have. Try for three sets of fifteen to start with, and don’t be afraid of running another set if you’re waiting on a particularly long respawn timer.
Hard mode: Ditch the chair, and jump at the top.
Old reliable, and the most misused exercise of Bicep Hunters, push ups are a great way to work your chest, abs, and deltoids (crucial parts of your shoulder). Long grinds of being locked at the keyboard and mouse can leave your upper body fairly static, but push ups are a good way to keep these areas functional and strong. Try for three sets, going for fifteen, or until you begin to really slow down from your regular speed (not until you fail).
Hard mode: Elevate your feet.
Sitting all day can be a nightmare for your hips and legs, so be sure to occasionally push the chair to the side and give a little healthy blood flow and movement to your lower half with some lunges (reverse or otherwise). Start with three sets of 12 per leg, and adjust up or down from there. If you hit 20 on each leg, add another set instead of upping the reps.
Hard mode: Do them weighted, if you can. Otherwise, upgrade to Bulgarian squats.
Developing core strength might not seem terribly important for gaming, but a stronger core means less back pain, and better overall posture — making these a no brainer for anyone in a seated position for long periods of time. Try three sets of 30-45 seconds and scale upwards from there.
Hard mode: Get a Swiss ball and stabilize your forearms there as you plank. Alternatively, remove an arm and/or a leg from the equation by holding it up, and resisting your body’s natural urge to rotate.
Stretching is one of the most important (and often most overlooked) part of fitness, but if there’s one thing you want to make sure you stretch out after those long nights carrying four or five other players all on your own, it’s your back.
I go for a few rounds of holding these about 30 seconds, but as always do what’s comfortable for you – just make sure to hold the stretch (and actually stretch) long enough to actually accomplish some release.
On the back end
While all of the above are equipment free, I have a little bad news: upper back workouts are a nightmare of potential injury without at least a little equipment. The good news is, door frame bars are fantastic for pull ups (assisted if necessary) and inverted rows, and at this point run on the pretty cheap side. As we went over above, your back is probably the single most tortured part of your body from those long hours grinding (and all the solo carrying you’ve had to do), so be sure to show it a little love with some back extensions and rows if you can – it’ll thank you by not spasming or hurting in the middle of a teamfight.
You must rest to level up
I know it seems like a quirky mechanic, having to take time away from the grind to spend your hard earned experience on leveling up, but it works the exact same way in real life as it does in some of your favorite RPGs. If you want to level up, you need to rest.
Try not to work the same muscle group on consecutive days, even if you’re feeling particularly strong with the added exercise thrown into your gaming routine — muscles, much like Pokemon, need to heal between uses or they’re going to faint pretty quickly.
As a starting routine, pick any three of the above (squats, push-ups, lunges, planks, pull ups, extensions, rows), trying to stagger upper and lower body, back and front. Hit your jumping jacks, do the selected exercises one day, and finish out with stretches (corkscrew and otherwise). The next day remember your warm-up (in this case jumping jacks), finish out the rest of your exercises, and stretch.
The day after that, rest. Breathe deep, take it easy. Put on some relaxing whale songs, or whatever it is you listen to to unwind — because we’re back on the grind the next day, and our brawn is going to have to keep up with our brain if we want every advantage – and as competitors, we do.
Pictured: Zangief sings the song of the whales on his rest day
After you’ve managed to Atomic Buster the ranked ladder into submission, though, be sure to come back here and flex your own tips and tricks for how to stay alert, focused, and fit while you’re waiting for those games to pop.
…Because honestly, what is with these queue times? Is this my life now? Is this forever?