Gaming Posture: A Complete Guide
Welcome to Part Deux of the complete eSports guide to ergonomics and Posture. In this article, I will explain the MOST important details about posture we as gamers need to know.
In part 1 I provided a simple definition of posture: the arrangement of our body parts in relation to each other in the various positions and movements that we assume during the day So if we think about that a little more, posture can be split into two categories:
Static Posture – The position of your body when you are not moving (static): think when we sit in front of the PC or TV.
Dynamic Posture – The position of your body when you are moving (dynamic): think when we are walking, getting in/out of our chairs, exercising, and any other sort of movement we perform throughout the day. In the gym, dynamic posture is essentially form! I discuss in detail about what this is in “what gamer’s need to know about exercise”
This distinction is crucial for us to understand in eSports as Static Posture is the position we are maintaining through the scrims, matches, competitions, raids, etc. It is one of the foundations of gaming health.
Why Gaming Posture is Important
Okay so we know what it is, let’s talk about why it is important. Posture has an important role in muscle efficiency, breathing, mobility and injury prevention. When we have poor posture, our muscles have to work harder to hold our bodies up, we have more labored breathing, our overall mobility is affected and we increase our risk for several musculoskeletal injuries. Let’s talk in the context of gaming.
As I have defined before, eSports is a static, endurance sport which tests our executive functions through a virtual environment. While endurance can mean the small repeated movements of the hands, wrists and shoulders…what about the muscles the hold us in the sitting postures for our extended periods of play? Ah-ha….
So, one reason why posture is important is because it allows us gamers to minimize the work these postural muscles need to exert throughout our gaming session to reduce the risk for injury. We as gamers don’t do our muscles any favors…
What do you imagine when you think about gaming posture?
Definitely the one on the left right? Nope, The image on the right is the classic presentation of a gamer: hunched back, rounded shoulders, forward head….it hurts my eyes.
With this position, muscles on the front side of the body are shortened while the muscles on the back side of the body are lengthened (and weakened). Our muscles then have an even harder time holding our bodies up. In this position our chest is not able to expand as fully, affecting our ability to breathe. The poor trunk posture positions our limbs poorly which in turn affects our mobility. Excessive movement on this inefficient position creates a risk of injury. Just a trainwreck of bad things happen.
Good Posture, Better Performance
Really now… it can help us perform better? Yes and in two big ways that are related.
- Optimal Physical Capacity
- Increased Confidence
First, having good posture – sitting up tall with an open chest and neutral spine positioning – allows us to perform at optimal physical capacity. Our muscles work most effectively and efficiently with good “gaming posture” which basically means that the wrist, forearm and hand muscles have to work the least to accomplish the typing, button pressing and mouse movements we need during competitive or prolonged gaming.
More efficient also means increased time-to-fatigue. To understand this, think of our muscles as having stamina bars. When we have good posture, it takes longer for the stamina bar to deplete (dictated by our muscular endurance). But when we have poor posture… the it takes more stamina per mouse click, which means that the stamina bar depletes more quickly. Once it depletes, it begins to strain the muscle and cause some discomfort. We are unable to perform optimally if our focus is detracted from the game. This is quite common in higher levels of competitive play and often times it can unconsciously affect our motor coordination – So maybe if you have been inconsistent after extended periods of play… it may not just be that you are out of stamina… but your coordination may be slightly impaired as well.
Endurance of Muscles we use to Move the Mouse Left/Right
Endurance of Muscles we use to Click the Mouse
Secondly, better posture has been shown to improve cognitive function through improved physiological function. As I had mentioned above, posture is directly related to breathing. In the same way, better posture maximizes the efficiency of our cardiopulmonary system (heart, lungs, circulation) which has been shown to improve confidence, makes us less risk-averse and facilitates positive thinking.  This was all something that Amy Cuddy had provided her insight on in her famous Ted-Talk about power poses along with subsequent studies performed Harvard and Columbia demonstrating that opened postures (which allowed for full rib expansion and better breathing) led to decreased cortisol levels and increased testosterone.
Just a random fact – The neuroendocrine profile of higher testosterone and lower cortisol (the stress hormone) has been consistently linked to increased cognitive function and confidence.
So with better posture we play with more confidence which as many CS:GO players can attest to – is a huge component of the game and winning in general.
Posture in our Gaming Chairs: How to sit
Just like smash, it’s all about the neutral. Ayeee
Ok but in all seriousness. It really is about being neutral. In the context of biomechanics, the neutral position is the position for the joints in which there is the least amount of load placed on the supporting tissues (ligaments, muscles, tendons). The positive consequence of this is our muscles will take longer to fatigue and we are at a lower risk of injury.
This is why I discuss in part 1 that while ergonomics modifies our environment to place us in these neutral postures, it’s up to us to assume these positions ourselves. The first step to doing that is knowing the positions themselves. So let’s talk about which joints we have to position when sitting in our gaming chairs.
While there are many subtle factors we can consider when optimizing our sitting biomechanics, it is important to focus and prioritize the larger contributing factors that I will be listing for you below. I will look to explore these intricacies and complexities in future articles that may represent a subset of injuries that may develop as a result.
The Big 3 Regions we must consider when sitting are…
Mid back and Neck
The mid-back is often the most neglected component of our posture – with a majority of the emphasis on forward head and rounded shoulders. But it is the mid-back (thoracic spine) that acts as the foundation for the position of both the neck and shoulders. The position of the neck and shoulder blades/arms cannot be optimized without first properly setting the mid-back
Ok so how do we do this? For the spine, we aim to achieve the natural curvatures of the spine (how the joints are naturally oriented). See Below
|Your Neck has a natural inward curvature (lordosis)
|Your Mid-back has a natural outward curvature (kyphosis)
|Your Lower-Back has a natural inward curvature (lordosis)
So for the mid-back just remember “chest-up” and imagine that someone is pulling a string attached at your sternum up and out. Most people who try to do this tend to compensate with their lower back (increased arch) or retract their shoulder blades. This is a subtle but very important motion to develop. An easy way to limit your lower back from aching is to brace your stomach (imaging how you would brace your stomach if someone was going to punch you in the gut)
Posture Code: Think Chest-up and make sure the movement is only coming from your mid-back
Nice, got it? Okay moving onto the neck. If forward head is considered bad posture then…. Moving your head back is how we achieve better posture. The idea is to tuck your chin instead of moving your head backwards so your chin elevates. Think of how you would create a double chin.
Posture Code: Tuck your chin and think that you are making a slight double-chin
Lower back and Pelvis
Just as the thoracic spine is the foundation for the neck and shoulders, the pelvis is the foundation for the lower back and hips. What’s convenient is that we can utilize the pelvis to achieve neutral positioning for both structures.
Think of the pelvis as a bucket of water. If you tilt it forward, the water will spill out forward. This also consequently arches your lower back excessively. If you tilt it backwards, the water will spill out behind you. This also consequently rounds your back excessively. The idea is for us to keep the water from spilling at all, right in the center. This keeps our back in the neutral position of a slight arch.
Posture Code: Rock all the way back, then rock all the way forward to feel the extremes. Find the center position – that is neutral.
If you guys learn a little better from video, I describe these strategies and details in my video
- Rounded Shoulders – This is when the shoulder blades are too far from the spine and is usually associated with poor mid-back positioning. This lengthens the muscles attached to the spine-side of the shoulder blade and causes them to function poorly with shoulder movement – leading to increased risk of injury with overhead activities and repeated shoulder rotation activities (Mouse movers)
- Sad Shoulders – This is when the shoulder blades are lower than they should be on the rib-cage and is also associated with poor mid-back positioning. This is one of the common causes of neck discomfort (trapezius area) along with headaches/upper neck discomfort as certain muscles have to work harder when the shoulder blade is in this position.
What about our hips? Fortunately, positioning of our hips is straight forward once we adopt the neutral positioning for our pelvis (as mentioned above) Again the law of the neutral comes into play and we want our hips/thighs to be parallel with the floor. The second component of appropriate hip posture is keeping our thighs hip-distance apart so that are knees do not come into contact with each other.
Posture and our PeripheralsAs I promised in part 1, I would like to discuss the least physically demanding positions for our hands, wrists, forearms when using our peripherals. If you HAVE NOT read part 1 and my discussion about the performance tradeoff, please take a look. The performance tradeoff is we can have optimal ergonomics and better wrist positioning however it may affect our performance (slow-response keyboards, smaller mice). My recommendation was to choose your mice/keyboard first then do your best to optimize your forearm, wrist and hand positioning. So let’s talk about the optimal positions!
ForearmsOur forearms should be parallel with the floor to ensure that there is not an excessive amount of pressure/weight at a certain part of the forearm. We often see the area closer to the elbow against the table, which can actually affect muscular performance if there is too much pressure there. Posture Code: Keep your forearms flat (parallel to the ground) to make sure there is equal pressure distribution
Wrist and HandAs with every other joint or body region, our goal is to achieve neutral positioning. This means the wrist should be flat/parallel to the table as well, instead of extended (up towards the ceiling) as I had mentioned in part 1. What people often overlook is how the wrist should also be in neutral when viewed from above. This is often the primary movement we use when moving our mice (moving it left and right at the wrist).
Radial Deviation of the Mouse (Moving to the thumb-side)
Ulnar Deviation of the Mouse (Moving to the Pinky-side)
It is important for us to realize that while we may be moving left and right at the wrist to move the mouse cursor, many of us start our mouse movements at a non-neutral position and perform most of our mouse-related tasks in this position.
This view is also important to keep in mind for the keyboard and is the initial reason why players turned their keyboards for FPS games. After it became popularized many individuals often still have non-neutral positions when angling their keyboards. Neutral positioning (from the aerial view) may be limited with a keyboard relating to the alignment of the keys.
Posture Code: Keep your wrists in neutral when looking from the side and above for both the keyboard and mouse. Ensure this is your starting position when using the mouse.
What about the types of grip?
Again, in part 1 I described the ranking of the grip-types and how much physical stress they create on
the muscles of the hand/forearms. Here is the ranking again as a reminder with the picture!
Posture Code: Per the performance tradeoff, use what you feel is most beneficial for you in-game – The difference in physical stress at your hands/wrists/forearms is minimal and it is how you utilize the mouse that is the major risk for injury (500 APMs vs. 100 APMs).
Frequency of clicking and the amount of time we utilize our peripherals or even just sit in front of our computers without changing posture is equally if not MORE important than posture itself, which leads me to the next discussion.
More than just Posture – the bigger picture
While understanding the proper position of various joints we utilize when gaming is a great foundation for understanding posture, there is one crucial component missing that is almost ALWAYS missing when people discuss posture:
What do I mean?
When we think of posture, we typically only consider the physical aspect – do I have a hunch back? are my shoulders to rounded? is my head too far forward? Yes these are important to realize, but what about the length of time we are sitting? Any position that we hold long enough will cause some pain – Our bodies adapt to any prolonged positioning by shortening some muscles and allowing others to lengthen, creating imbalances and loading our joints excessively. Posture is then much more than just how we are positioned when we are still or moving.
The bottom line is that we must consider our lifestyle (how long we’re playing) in addition to assuming proper posture. The ideal way to ensure proper health is a combination of proper posture, postural exercises and establishing behavioral habits to get up and move through functional movements up because our tissues adapt to the stress that is applied to them.
INCORPORATING POSTURE: A Plan for Success
Now that you know how to optimize the position of your body for better health and performance, how do you make sure you actually remember do it?
- Posture Check: Alarm – It’s as easy as typing timer 50 minutes in the address bar on your web browser. Chrome automatically starts the timer whereas others you have to click start. You can do this on your phone as well. Basically after you hear it beep, check your posture. If you forget…see #3
- Posture Check: Creating Rules – set some posture check rules for yourself. For example, after every 2-3 solo Q games i’m going to take 30 seconds to check my posture.
- Use the 1HP Gaming Posture Cheat Sheet
- Check out this complete 7 Minute Posture & Focus Routine along with our other gaming health videos on youtube!
Posture to gaming as Athletic Form is to sports. Our ability to understand and assume proper posture is directly related to our risk for injury after the long hours of scrims, matches or competitions. While we avoid injury with proper posture, it can also help with performance with optimizing our physical capacity and increasing our confidence
Keep your joints in neutral when you are sitting in your gaming chair or couch. But what is more important to consider is our gaming schedule. Plan to take breaks. 5 minutes now is worth the 3-4 months of potential chronic tendinopathy.
And that’s all. Hope this guide was helpful to you. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to hit me up on twitter, send me an email, whatever is convenient for you 😀
Until next time,