Smash’s Corner: Posture (The Body & The Game eSports Series)

There are lots of secrets that pro analog athletes and coaches have learned during their years of experience. One of those secrets is all about the advantages that good posture can bring to the mind and body during any repetitive physical/mental activity. Posture can improve reaction time, stamina, oxygen levels, explosiveness and much more.

But before we dig into this fascinating topic, please note this important detail:

Posture is very unique and varies from body to body. Because of the unique nature of different body types and sizes, be sure to consult your physician if you are planning to optimize your gameplay training environment for long periods of play time.

What is “good” posture?

Good posture itself revolves around two fundamentals. One is gravity, which is omnipresent. Gravity itself creates the need for the second fundamental, which is the structural integrity of your body’s position in relation to gravity. What’s interesting is the latter only exists to adapt to the former. So basically, “good” posture is a way to fight the effects gravity has on our bodies in real time.

I think that’s pretty cool.

Anyway, determining good posture depends first on your choice of stance. There are different buckets for different types of stances, such as standing, the “ready” position, sitting, prone (laying on your belly), supine (laying on your back) and even kneeling variations.

For this article, we’re only going to cover standing, sitting and supine stances. Unfortunately, prone positions, kneeling positions, and “ready” stances are all poor choices for mobile gaming!

“Good” Standing Posture

Proper standing posture is common in our world. We see it when we view soldiers at attention. We see it when a proud Olympian listens to their national anthem on the medal stand. We even see it when choirs sing.

We’re going to cover this stance from the ground up!

  1. A “good” standing posture distributes your body weight between your heels and the balls of each of your feet but slightly more towards your heels. The key is to ensure your lower leg bones are carrying the majority of the weight, while the weight distribution towards the balls of your feet prevents you from falling forward.
  2. Next, your knees are straight, but never hyper extended. (It’s important to use your leg muscles along with the bones in your legs to support your trunk and protect your lower body joint tissues, instead of “locking out” your knees. You want your legs to be a make-shift shock absorber whenever your body moves while standing.)
  3. Next comes your hips. Your butt muscles should be engaged slightly, and should push your pelvis forward and upwards with a slight rotation towards the sky, aligning the weight in a straight vertical line up your body from your heels (if looking at your body from the side).
  4. Next is your midsection, which should have somewhat fully engaged abs and external obliques, and should contract slightly inward in a way that literally pushes your rib cage upwards, and along the same line you used from your heels to your hips. It’s crucial to understand that your lower back should NOT be arched, and should instead be used along with your abs and obliques to contract inwards. This is why trainers call this your “trunk.” When you contract correctly (front, back and sides) this part of your body becomes firm enough to support the entire weight of your upper body.
  5. Next is your chest, which should (due to your hip and midsection positions) be slightly pushed forward and upwards, to align your shoulders in line with your heels or slightly behind your heels depending on your body.
  6. Your shoulders should be used to “open up” your chest by engaging your rhomboid muscles to bring your shoulder blades closer together, again to align your shoulder joints in line with your heels and hips.
  7. Next come your arms.
    1. For tablet eAthletes, a standing stance, in the case of mobile eSports, would theoretically require additional equipment to actually reap its benefits. We’d need a device stand that is like a hybrid between a music/mic stand and 2 axis adjustable mount for the device. With such a thing, eAthletes would be free to train and compete standing, which has vast advantages over sitting which restricts blood flow.
    2. For phone eAthletes, you would want to learn to use your rib cage to support your elbows and allow your device to be held in front of your face so you minimize how much you need to tilt your head downward, again restricting blood flow… but this time is blood for your brain!
  8. Lastly, your head (and neck) should be pushed slightly backward and significantly upwards, as if a string were attached to the back protrusion of your skull, and someone is trying to pull you upwards with that string.

In the end, all of these alignments work together to elongate your body upwards, quite literally fighting gravity the whole way, but never to such an extreme that you end up relying mainly on your connective tissues and joints for bearing any weight loads.

An easy way to determine your own standing posture, is to do what personal trainers call a “wall test.” To do a wall test, you simply stand with your back to a wall, and try to make your heels, hips, shoulders and skull all touch the wall. Once all of them are touching, you engage your trunk and elongate your upper body vertically, and boom… you’re now in a good standing posture. (Note: in the case of overweight or obese eAthletes, the wall test may not work for you.)

A “Good” Sitting Position

A proper sitting posture, involves half of the standing posture. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to the hips, knees or feet. That said, it is a best practice to try to keep your heels on the ground, to provide some further support to your trunk.

The sitting position becomes problematic and surprisingly complex in the case of a mobile touch interface game. If you are holding a device in your hands while sitting, the exact height of the chair seat from the floor in relation to the eAthlete’s lower leg length becomes crucial. Conversely, if you have your device on a table surface, now the same things apply but with the additional measurements of the eAthlete’s torso length and the distance from the table surface to the ground in relation to arm lengths are crucial, too.

In theory, we could someday see a forward thinking furniture manufacturer developing adjustable tables and chairs designed specifically for mobile eSport gaming. The chairs that streamers use today are for desktop and console machine users, and are designed to show a logo on the head rest when kids stream in addition to classical lumbar (lower back) support. In our case as mobile eAthletes, we would need a custom table height, too. (Although this would likely benefit desktop eAthlete’s as well…).

Moving on, let’s cover sitting posture from the ground up now for a sitting stance:

  1. From a weight bearing POV, having your feet (heels) on the floor is the best option to give you the most endurance. However sitting with crossed legs (“Native American Style”), is also acceptable, but does put a slightly more weight bearing load on your trunk. Sitting in a “Pike” position is an option, as well as sitting in a “pancake” position, but these are potentially dangerous if you are either lacking flexibility or if you are locking out your knees for extended periods of time. So I’d recommend either heels on the floor or sitting cross legged.

  2. The trunk is by far the most important body section for posture in a sitting position. The ideal position is exactly the same as the trunk midsection position in a standing posture. When sitting, the tendency to relax your trunk is almost second nature… Especially after several hours of training and scrims.

    1. So it is strongly advised to really work on your abs, obliques, and lower back muscles if you want to be a career eSport athlete. These muscles must be MORE than strong enough and have MORE than enough endurance to last beyond your longest training sessions.
    2. In fact from a trainer’s POV, the length of time playing in training sessions for an eAthlete should be determined by their body’s trunk strength and endurance. So eAthletes can play longer based on their gains in trunk stability.
    3. Otherwise from a muscular POV, you are “over-training” which is the direct pathway to chronic and acute injuries. Injuries end careers. Quality coaches don’t let that happen to ANY professional analog athletes, and eAthletes should be no different.
  3. Next comes the chest. When sitting the chest should pushed forward slightly. But since you cannot distribute some of the isometric force needed to physically do this to your leg bones and muscles like you can when in a standing position, you shouldn’t be pushing your chest out super far, because you will fatigue your middle back muscles and potentially arch your lower back to do so. Remember the trunk squeezes in and pushes up your upper body like the foundation of a house. No arching!

  4. Your ideal shoulder position is very tricky to optimize in a sitting position. The maths with this aspect are literally crazy. In a nutshell, your shoulder position should be exactly the same as when you are standing, in order to properly support your neck for the weight of your head.

    1. When playing on a phone, this is borderline trivial. But when playing with a tablet, the exact distance of the device from the front of your rib cage, needs to be determined by your ability to contract your rhomboids AND reach forward to your device.
    2. It’s incredibly difficult to do this correctly, and there’s more maths involved related to the angle of the device surface and hand positions… but that’s for a later article, too.
    3. For now, just know that ideally you should strive to learn how to pull your shoulders back while you stretch your arms forward, simply to allow your body to use your bigger muscles in your back, chest and trunk to instigate (isometrically) any movements done with your arms. This maximizes your musculature for sake of endurance, because bigger muscles take longer to reach fatigue plateaus.
  5. Next are your arms

    1. For a tablet eSport athlete in a sitting stance, I’ve personally found that a stand putting the device at a bit more than a 45 degree from being flat, is decent for your arms. However, if you are holding your head down, then you should elevate you stand to reduce the tilt of your head as much as you can.
    2. For a phone eAthlete in a sitting stance, the technique of using your rib cage and elbows to keep the device elevated closer to your eye level apples here as well.
  6. Lastly, your neck and head position are also rather tricky in a sitting position.

    1. For the tablet eAthlete the table height, the device distance from the chest, your ability to deal with the shoulders dilemma, and the angle of the device screen in relation to your eyes are all paramount. Tablet eAthletes will definitely need industry to help design and manufacture highly adjustable and counter weighted stands, well beyond anything on the market today.
    2. For the phone eAthlete, the ability to hold your arms to hold the device high enough to allow you to have good neck and head posture is rather quickly fatigued. So in the case of a phone, you need to consider playing with your elbows anchored to your rib cage - similar to how a breakdancer uses their elbows to do a hand spin.
    3. Interestingly, a phone eAthlete could theoretically play in a reclined sitting position (ONLY with a straight chair back that you could rest your head upon… no pillows!) as long as you still squeeze your trunk to support the pressure you elbows would put on your rib cage. However this brings the legs/feet into the equation again, where they could and should serve as some sort of isometric support to prevent you from sliding down and relaxing your trunk as you train.

As you can see, this stuff get pretty complex!

A “Good” Supine Position

A supine position is the most dangerous of our three stance options. Which is ironic because you are laying down lol. But seriously, the vast majority of humans that read, play games, watch tv etc. while laying down on their backs are actually endangering their bodies… typically in their cervical spine regions (your neck.) This is due to the tendency of using pillows underneath your skull, to prop up your head enough to see over your chest.

Now, in this supine stance situation, I’m unusually experienced and knowledgeable due to being an internationally competitive Luge athlete… which is the only Olympic sport that is done in the supine position. So I know a thing or two about how to see over your chest in such a position, as well as what the risks are even in the most extreme situations lol.

All you need to know, is if you decide to train in a supine position for ANY length of time, it is highly advised that you ensure you have arranged your pillows to support the protrusion on your upper shoulder blade bones AND your neck AND your skull, all while providing a solid trunk to support the extra weight caused by your pillows.

Bonus points if you can figure out a way to place your heels on a solid surface perpendicular to your trunk, to support you trunks job in the equation.

Putting It All Together

There are some very clear and consistent patterns that we can see when we break down the standing, sitting and supine stances. Ultimately, the key takeaway, is to think of your body as a series of links in a chain, where from the feet up, you are using each link to reinforce the weight load.

The main muscular constant in all of these stances is your trunk. From a trainer’s POV, all aspiring and existing eAthletes should be doing daily routines and exercises that strengthen your core. Typically, this is done with a combination of floor exorcises and through the use of “destabilizing” equipment like Swiss balls.

For working pro eAthletes training in a sitting stance, team owners should supply their talent with either large Swiss balls or a hybrid Swiss ball chair. This way they can start using them immediately and incrementally each day (start with 5 min, then each day add another minute or keep it the same… but never reduce the time). Pros should also be doing daily floor exorcises for the trunk/core. For example:

A Sample Trunk/Core Circuit

Do circuit 3 times with no rest between exorcises and a maximum of 2 minutes rest between circuits

  • 15-30 V-ups
  • 30 Bent Leg V-ups
  • 5 Superman’s (hold off ground for 10 seconds, rest for 5 seconds)
  • 30 Right Side Oblique Crunches
  • 30 Left Side Oblique Crunches
  • 5 more Superman’s (hold off ground for 10 seconds, rest for 5 seconds)
  • 30 Double Leg raises
  • 15 Twisting Sit-ups (1 rep is 2 sit-ups, one twisting left and the other twisting right)
  • 30 Single Leg raises (30 for each leg)
  • 30 Crunches

Please note: this is a somewhat standard core circuit, but you may have to work up to this. Also, any circuit like this MUST be proceeded and followed by ample stretching especially your abs, hamstrings, obliques and all parts of your back.

Physical Performance

From a pro competitor POV, the main reason posture matters is to ensure you prevent injuries at all costs while also putting your skeletal, muscular, vascular and nervous systems all into optimal positions for performance. An optimal position essentially allows your body to have full access to its functionality, which gives you more stamina and faster muscular contraction times as you compete.

When the body’s vascular system is not impinged (think of an impingement as something like a water hose folded so water cannot pass through the hose) your bloodstream is able to keep a abundance of blood flowing through your muscles. This pushes both white and red cells along with numerous other matter and chemicals through your muscle tissues, and reduces the rate of lactic acid production. Lactic acid is produced in the body to protect your muscle fibers, and is the chemical your body produces that makes your muscles sore after intense workouts. Soreness makes it harder to move, and thus your body is effectively trying to force you to restrict your physical movement so the muscle fibers can be repaired and/or so more muscle fiber strands can be grown.

This body process is by far more efficient when you are in perfect posture. Perfect posture allows as much blood flow as possible to every muscle and organ in your body.

Additionally, a quality posture held with the right amount of strength for your body size, allows you to move both faster and with more accuracy. There’s a lot of complex factors involved with muscular “fast twitch” movements, but in relation to posture it’s mainly the isometric factor that serves as a sort of static wall to “push” against, that actually makes your movement faster. By pre-contracting our muscles and learning to hold those muscles in a ready state, we have already done half the work of any given movement.

Think of a rubber band gun versus just using your hand to shoot a rubber band. The gun has pre-stretched the rubber band, so pulling the trigger simply releases the it. But if you are using your hand with no rubber band gun, you have to pull the rubber band back before you can release it. And that takes 2-3 times longer.

In many ways, you can think of your muscles as a type of inverse rubber band. They contract. They release. That’s it. What’s cool is that the more you contract and release, the more your body tries to build/reinforce those muscles to handle all of those contractions. This is why workouts revolve around reps. And also why good posture often allows you to do more reps before fatigue sets in.

And finally, the communication between your body and your brain (via your nervous system) is what allows you to see something in the game, process it, decide on an action, and then do that action physically. That entire process happens in under a couple of tenths of a second. So posture must be optimized to minimize the physical distance you are having to move without jeopardizing the maximum amount of blood to be delivered the parts of your body that are moving.

Mental Performance

Remember when I mentioned that perfect posture increases blood flow to both your muscles and your organs? Also, do you remember that each stance has a full chain of steps leading up to your head?

When you’re in a stance with perfect posture, all that unrestricted blood gets to pass through your brain, too. Luckily, it carries this essential and magical stuff known as oxygen to your brain. If your brain is cut off from oxygen, you eventually lose consciousness. But when your brain has ample oxygen, it operates at peak speeds. Since eAthletes are 95% mental athletes, delivering consistent and efficient oxygen levels to the brain should be your top priority.

When the brain has the chemicals it needs, you are able to think more clearly, process input faster, trigger your somatic nervous system quicker, and finally contract your muscles substantially faster than you can when your brain doesn’t have what it needs.

Additionally, a chemically well fed brain handles stress tremendously better than a chemically deprived brain. Stress is actually magnified by the latter, and that leads to irrationality, reduced circulation, increased heart rates, and a ton more tiny things that will degrade your reaction times and your overall endurance.

Your mental stamina is also going to last longer when your brain is well fed with blood. In the case of our new 5v5 mode (or long 3v3 matches), this becomes quite a competitive advantage. A healthy and well trained team with good posture, can actually get better/faster as the late game begins. The early game functions as a warm up. Then the standard intensity of the mid game happens. But if well trained in advance, the mid game doesn’t have to be a 210% effort, because you’ve trained beyond that time frame a bunch of times. So by the late game, you are actually at full intensity. If there’s not going to be a late game, it’s easy enough to crank it to 11 in the mid game. The point is you have strategic options that enable you to challenge and manipulate both the mental and physical capabilities of your opponents to your team’s advantage. :wink:

Conclusion (OMG… Finally!!)

And that’s why posture matters so much in eSports. Even though no one talks about it, it’s this detail (and the many more details to come in future Smash’s Corner articles) that convinces me… as former World Class athlete, a world record holder and a former coach / personal trainer for other world class athletes… that mobile touch interface eSports are in fact very much a sport.

If we as a community were to foster this sort of physical thinking into our training regimens, and allow ourselves the time to experiment and optimize how we play, we stand to reap gains that should far exceed our expectations of our own performance.

But perhaps more importantly, the world of mobile gaming is still in a stage of infancy, and it currently reeks of the same stigmas that video gamers have suffered under for years. Yet bringing this sort of methodology into our space and culture, is the first step to fully realize what mobile eSports could be.

Consider this: eSports played on desktops, consoles, arcade cabinets, and mobile devices with either physical or virtual d-pads/joysticks force your body into specific positions, and force you to stay there for long periods of time. This is where the negative stigma of video gaming begins.

Smash’s Corner articles are not just focused on improving our own gameplay. They are also working to establish and legitimize mobile eSports BEYOND any other eSport that isn’t using a direct touch interface. IMO, that is and continues to be the sole reason I play this game. A touch interface that allows the competitor to choose their stance, opens up a physical side to gaming that simply wasn’t possible before. Instead of being tethered to a screen, we could theoretically tether these tiny device screens to a position perfect for each of our bodies, and thus allow our bodies to help maximize our brain power while simultaneously speeding up our physical ability to move.

And that my VG fam, is exactly what everyone I spoke to in the recent Olympics agreed, would re-frame eSports in a way that makes it possible (with a lot of tenacity) to move eSports out of the video game bucket, and into a bucket more like Curling, Archery, Biathlon, etc.

Thank you so very much for your time, and from the bottom of my heart… I hope these words, perspectives, and techniques enrich your lives and your performance on the Rift and the Fold.

Links on Posture

BONUS: The Master Plan :slight_smile:

You might be wondering why I’m doing this. Or not lol. Either way, I believe in transparency and hive minds. So here’s the master plan:

I want to help end this judgmental bs against gamers, and help demonstrate to any nay-sayers that eSports, especially touch interface mobile eSports, captures the pure essence of competition in a way that is accessible and equal regardless of your gender, race, age and possibly even some people’s physical limitations (no need for any Paralympic events with the exception of quadriplegic eSport athletes).

Why shouldn’t we take a sport seriously that allows men and women (young and old) to compete directly with and against each other?

Why not give a new and better future to kids that are 3 or 6 years old today, by teaching video game haters that analog sports and their mentalities (that start in the sandbox and migrate to the field and beyond), is exactly where gender biases are truly instilled?

Well… this and more are in my humble opinion, something well worth working towards and fighting for. And it is amazingly beyond what SEMC ever imagined or envisioned for their game, yet their little game is the ONLY game on the market with this potential, so far.

Until next time!!!