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The Importance of Exercise Training for esports Athletes

Every time I work with new gamers, I always discuss the benefits of physical training. Specifically, how exercise can have a major impact on your gaming performance. Most people know that exercise is great for our overall health—there’s plenty of research to support this [1].

As esports athletes, a balanced lifestyle can improve overall health as well as gaming performance. Exercise produces countless physical adaptations that can help players play reach a higher level—both physically and mentally. The three major adaptations include: improved endurance, an increased ability to cope with stress, and improved cognitive function.

Improved mental and physical endurance develops from increased energy levels. The cells in our body contain mitochondria which produce energy. As we incorporate exercise into our daily routine, the number of mitochondria will increase due to increased demand on the body. We will feel this increase in not only our muscles but also our brains [2]. This gives you a major advantage during tournament play when you need to raise the bar both physically and mentally for an extended period of time.

An improved ability to combat stress isthe second major adaption [3]. Exercise is its own version of stress on the body. However, instead of thinking about this as a negative, think about it as a positive. In the right doses, this “stress” will improve your ability to handle the emotional stresses of gameplay. In the end, this preps you to become a stronger opponent mentally.

We all know that exercise is great for the body, but it's also very good for the brain. This brings us to our third adaptation. Extensive research shows that exercise can improve cognitive function—speed, attention, and flexibility, as well as pumpup your hippocampus (responsible for learning and processing new information). Exercise has also been proven to improve motor function,such as reaction time and hand-eye coordination [4] [5] [6]. There are also many mental health benefits such as a decrease in stress, anxiety, and depression [7]. These benefits allow you to game at a higher level, leading to become a stronger competitor.

The Hippocampus ———Research shows that exercise can improve cognitive function—speed, attention, and flexibility—by pumping up your hippocampus.

Additional research on exercise is beginning to shed some light on its effects for esports athletes. A study from the German Sports University examined the physical and mental demands of professional gamers during competitions [8]. The study found that esports competitors are exposed to physical strains just like conventional athletes.

Professor Ingo Froböse, GSU study lead, was impressed with these results. He had never seen this type of physical strain result in any other sport. The study showed the amount of stress hormone, cortisol, going through the players during competition matched those of race car drivers. In addition, esports players also had heart rates around 160-180 beats per minute (which is like running a mile nearly as fast as you can!) Unfortunately, many esports players don’t realize the massive demands being placed on them, and therefore don’t train for competition in a professional manner. This can lead to many problems that could be easily be prevented with adequate exercise in the esports world.

Another interesting research study titled “Do E-Athletes move? A Study on Training and Physical Exercise in Elite E-Sports” examined the training routines of 115 elite e-athletes, with a special focus on their physical exercise routines [9]. According to these 115 participants, e-athletes train approximately 5.28 hours every day year-round at the elite level. Approximately 1.08 hours of that daily training is physical exercise. More than half (55.6%) of these elite e-athletes believe that integrating physical exercise into their training programs have a positive effect on esports performance. This study is possibly the first peer reviewed research on the topic, illustrating that esports players find exercise an important ingredient to their success.

During my senior year at college, I completed a research project called, “The Effects of Exercise Programming on Competitive Video Game Performance”. I took a volunteer group of League of Legends players with varying skill levels and had them compete in a pre-trial tournament. After the tournament, I randomly assigned them to one of two groups –an exercise group and a “non-exercise” control group. The trial lasted four weeks. I had the exercise group perform three workouts a week, while the control group stayed stationary. After the trial period, participants then competed in a post-trial tournament. The post-trial results proved my hunch: the active group of gamers outperformed the group that did not exercise.

Whether you are new to exercise, need to get back into training, or interested in a new training plan, I recommend downloading my exercise plan – 12 weeks to High Performance which I designed specifically to help you improve your gaming performance while reaching your fitness goals.

Jake Middleton
@JakeAtESPL

My name is Jake Middleton and I’m the founder of esports Performance LabLLC. I have been working with gamers and doing research for the past few years in esports performance. I have a bachelor’s degree in exercise & movement science from Missouri State University and I’m a certified exercise physiologist and a certified personal trainer with the American College of Sports Medicine. I’m an avid gamer myself, ex-competitive Halo player, huge Game of Thrones fan, and I live in Kansas City, MO.

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