Adapt your workout to your chess needs

By | 27 juillet 2017

Depending on how often you play, the amount of workout needed will definitely vary.

I will focus here on the physical activity you need to enhance your chess development, whether you play one game a month or engage in 9-round tournaments regularly.

Targeted sport for your brain

This study confirms that aerobic fitness is your brain’s best ally. By aerobic exercise, I mean cardio or any exercise that stimulates and strengthens the heart and lungs, thereby improving the body’s use of oxygen.

Basically, most sports fall in this category if they last more than 60 seconds. Actually, it would be easier to list the non-aerobic ones, which are sprint and most strength workouts.

So, the best advice I can give you is to pick the one you like.

But if you really want to take things a step further, I suggest you go for ping-pong or badminton. These 2 represent the best mix of aerobics, strategy, quickness and coordination. The small playing area tends to accelerate action, encouraging players to think, move quickly and alternate strategies.

Weekly amount of sport

Health recommendations

According to the American Heart Association, 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise should be a minimum to improve your overall cardiovascular health.

The good news is that you can break these amounts into 10, 15 or 30 minutes blocks without losing the benefits.

The other good news is that as we have seen in my previous article, even walking counts in the equation.

Chess needs

The above recommendations are just the basis to be healthy, which doesn’t necessarily mean they are adapted to chess requirements.

Endurance in chess competitions is a key element, especially when you engage in long tournaments. You can boost your endurance by increasing gradually the length of every workout session you do.

As a general rule, every cardio workout should begin with a five minute warm up of low intensity and finish with a five minute cool-down period. And here are other traditional but still valuable recommendations:

  • You need a good meal to recover after you workout, ideally within the hour.
  • Drink water before, during and after your workout.
  • Avoid strengthening if some pain appears.
  • Include rest days into your program, and respect them of course.

As a beginner (or if you restart), start softly with 10 to 20 minutes 3 to 4 times a week. I personally started like that and I now add 5 minutes every week to my 4 sport sessions. I also stretch for roughly 10 minutes afterwards[i]. My aim will be to do 60 to 90 minute sessions. Since everyone is different, I suggest you test it yourself progressively and adjust according to the time you have and how you feel, as well as the impact it has on your game of course.

A recent study suggests that you can get equal results in less time thanks to high intensity interval training (HIIT): you alternate between a slow to moderate speed, common tempo being 30 seconds of sprinting, followed by 2 minutes of rest with four being pretty standard.

If you attempt this kind of specific exercise, be sure first to ask medical advice. Try swapping at first your daily jog with a 10-minute HIIT session three times per week and see how your body responds.


As many kinds of sports will help you feel more energetic, the only thing to worry about is the time you’ll invest. Start softly and see how you feel after each game, while progressively developing your physical endurance.

That’s how you will find out how long your weekly workouts need to be and be able to sync them with your chess schedule.

Once you’ve found the right formula, don’t forget it will be important that you maintain the rhythm if you want to see your ELO rise.


[i] I carried out extensive research on the topic but many studies contradict each other about the effects of stretching. As a result, I wouldn’t recommend it; but I personally do it because it makes me feel better. I would also add that pre-workout stretching is generally not advised because of injury risk.