There’s a hell of a lot of action in poker, but not much of it is physical. When someone decides to take up poker, they don’t usually go running out to buy a gym membership or pick up a copy of Schwarzenegger’s The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding. Poker – while demanding incredible perseverance and determination – is not often thought of as a physical pursuit. Here’s the truth though: it is. You are alive when you’re playing it, right? Well then poker’s physical, and as such, there is a certain amount of physical fitness that’s highly beneficial - especially if you’re playing to win.
Let’s begin by taking a look at what poker demands of us physically. The main and most important requirement is that we be able to sit for prolonged periods of time.
Sounds easy enough, right? Well, relatively speaking, yes. Exercising for poker does not require the same time or physical commitment as training for the Iron Man, but not being able to fulfill poker’s unique physical requirements could cost you more dearly than the entrance fee into any triathlon. Sure, sitting itself is easy enough, but you need to be able to sit tight and sit comfortably without aches, pains and tension driving you to distraction. Moreover, not training your body could waste all the time you've spent training your mind.
There are two main factors we want to account for when thinking about exercise and poker:
Exercises for Poker
First we want to think about strengthening our muscles, primarily the muscles that comprise and support our cardiovascular system and our trunk.
Generally speaking, your cardiovascular system is a network that allows blood to circulate throughout your body while transporting vital nutrients, hormones and gases to and from cells. A properly functioning cardiovascular system = a healthy body. Your heart is the powerhouse here, and to increase your heart health through exercise (which is one of the very best ways!) experts agree that you are going to want to do at least 20 minutes of continuous cardiovascular exercise 3 times a week. We’re talking running, walking, swimming, cycling – all that good stuff. Just don’t stop until 20 minutes is up!
Sitting for prolonged periods of time requires a good deal of trunk strength and stability – or at least sitting properly does. Slouching and rounded shoulders abound at poker tables around the world, and they can lead to a variety of acute and chronic problems, most notably weaknesses and imbalances that can lead to injury. Slouching and rounding in general are signs of fatigue, which is not something you want to worry about fighting off when you are already trying to fight for a win.
Here are some of the best trunk strengthening exercises for poker players. You can do ALL of these at home and the whole routine takes less than 15 minutes, so no excuses! For best results, do each exercise for 30-50 seconds, and then move on to the next exercise. Complete the entire circuit 3 times!
- Full Plank: Strengthens your arms, core (muscles of the abs, spine, hips and pelvis) and promotes stability.
Notes on form: Keep your head aligned with your spine, your hips parallel with the floor and your abs pulled up (i.e. DON’T let your lower back sag down toward the floor – not only will this take the work out of your core, but it can stress out your lower back.) Your hands should be directly under your shoulders.
- Classic Push Ups: Strengthens your core (muscles of the abs, spine, hips and pelvis) and promotes stability. Also perks up your pecs and triceps and strengthens your back and shoulders, which will help you sit tall (and stay sitting tall) at the tables.
Notes on form: You’ll want to maintain the same form as plank, but move your arms out to the side about a foot so they are not directly under your shoulders. This will spread out the workout load so it is distributed more evenly among all your muscles. Keep your core engaged to stabilize the movement and get the best core workout. If the full push up is too challenging, drop to your knees – just keep your form tight!
Up the Ante: At the top of each push up, twist out to the side into an oblique plank before coming back to center; this will give you the added bonus of really targeting your obliques (aka. ‘the love handles’) which also help stabilize your trunk.
- Squats: Strengthens muscles of your legs and most notably in this case, hips and pelvis.
Notes on form: Keep your shoulders rolled back and spine flat at all times. Your feet should be placed hip-width apart and your knees should never go over your toes. Keep your weight in your heels and push up through your heels as you come up to standing. Also be sure to squeeze your glutes (butt) as you stand. Keep your core engaged to stabilize the movement and get the best core workout.
Up the Ante: Use some extra resistance (dumbbells, barbells, etc) for an extra challenge.
- Dive Bombers: Strengthens your back, arms and shoulders.
Notes on form: Make sure to bring the top of your head directly toward the floor, albeit without smashing your skull into the ground. Keep your core engaged to stabilize the movement and get the best core workout.
- Step Ups: Strengthens lower body (legs, hips, pelvis) and helps stabilize hip and knee joints as well as the core.
Notes on form: Perform the exercise alternating legs for the specified time. Keep your core engaged the entire time for the best core workout and to promote a strong, fluid movement.
Up the Ante: Use some extra resistance (dumbbells, barbells, etc) for an added challenge.
Sitting for hours on end is going to lead to some pretty tight muscles, most notably the muscles in your back, shoulders, hips and pelvis. Here are some of the best stretching exercises for poker players.
Hold each pose (on each side if applicable) for 10 deep breathes and do the circuit 2-3 times for best results. Your breathing should be calm and comfortable at all times and while you should feel a stretch, you should not feel pain. If you experience sharp, jagged breathing or if you feel any pain, stop immediately!
- Pigeon Pose: Stretches muscles of hips and pelvis.
Notes on form: Put a towel under your butt cheek if you can’t quite get your butt to the floor.
- Wide Leg Front Bend: Stretches back, hamstrings, glutes, posterior shoulders.
Notes on form: Keep your feet planted firmly on the floor and only go as far as comfortable. Pull your shoulder blades apart at the base of this movement to really release the tension in your shoulders and upper back.
- Seated Side Bend: Stretches lower back, obliques, triceps.
Notes on form: Keep your butt planted firmly on the ground – don’t let it lift up as you reach up and over.
- Cobra: Stretches hips, anterior shoulders, chest.
Notes on form: Keep your pelvis on the floor. Come down to your elbows if you need to do this. Roll your shoulders back and down to maximize your shoulder stretch and release tension; this will also help you focus on opening your chest, which will help stretch your pecs.