How to prevent body pain from disturbing your chess game

By | 1 février 2018

As Bobby Fischer once said: “Your body has to be in top condition. Your Chess deteriorates as your body does. You can’t separate body from mind.”

No matter how focused you are while playing, a sudden and unforeseen pain can easily ruin this positive energy. Sitting for many hours can effectively become uncomfortable as it can put a lot of pressure on your spinal cord, your shoulders or your neck for instance.

I don’t know about you, but personally, I regularly suffer from body tensions probably because of my bad posture over the board.

If you are in the same boat, I hope my research on the subject and the 4 suggestions I came up with will help you prevent constraints stemming from body pain next time you play.

Do we sit well during our chess game?

Is it better to sit with a straight back? Or lay back comfortably in your chair? What to do with my arms?

When talking about a good sitting posture, it’s hard not to think about these kind of well-known suggested positions.

But when you look at professional chess players over the board, you rather have something like you see in the image below.

Does this mean we are badly positioned and put too much pressure on our body when we play chess? I don’t think so. I thus turned to science to see what is really said on the sitting subject.

First, I found this study which analyzed and pointed out what the exact sources of discomfort while sitting were:

  • Great changes of posture
  • Lordotic posture with forward leaning pelvis
  • Low mobility

From that conclusion, I thought it would be easy to give practical tips on how to sit properly.

But a more recent piece of research showed that even physiotherapists cannot agree on the best way to sit. Every one of the practitioners selected their perceived best sitting posture from a sample of nine options and the 2 most frequently chosen postures are actually very different from each other.

Secondly, and as I didn’t find a perfect answer to all my questions above, I decided to push my investigation further. I started looking at the full games of the world chess championship in 2013 between Anand and Carlsen to analyze the details of their posture while playing.

I voluntary choose a world championship match as it involved a lot of long games during a prolonged period. And considering the stakes, I supposed they would have paid more attention to details such as sitting comfortably.

Finally, I made the comparison with videos of other chess matches and regrouped all the information from articles here and there to come up with these suggestions.

4 tips to prevent body pain from disturbing your chess game

1) Find your own sitting position and don’t change it

As you have certainly understood from my research above, the perfect sitting posture probably doesn’t exist. But from my analysis of the World Cup and other games, I realized many professionals tend to adopt the same posture– what I ended up calling the “focus position” – during 80% to 90% of the game. This exact type of posture is quite well represented by Peter Leko on the picture above and here are the recommendations which I came up with:

  • Keep your neck aligned with the back: avoid leaning your head forward and rather use your body’s slightly forward-leaning position to look over the board from a vantage point.
  • Bend the upper part of your body in a way that makes you feel comfortable. If leaning forward bothers you, notably your lower back area, don’t hesitate to recalibrate.
  • Don’t cross your legs: it will reduce blood flow and create muscle strain.
  • Put your feet on the floor: you should let your feet on the floor and find an angle for your legs which is both comfortable and natural with your posture alignment.

In a few words, try different poses and find your own sitting position based on these recommendations. Once comfortably installed, try not to change your position especially when it is your turn to think.

2) Use your arms

Some of you will probably do it unconsciously, but for the others, don’t hesitate to use your arms to support the weight of your body. They can be either crossed or with the elbow on the table to maintain your head for example.

3) Stand up regularly

I have already mentioned the benefits of breaks for your brain. The thing is your body needs frequent breaks as well. Sitting for long periods of time can cause muscle fatigue while standing and walking regularly (ideally maximum 30 minutes being sit) will make enhance blood flow and release your body tensions.

4) Reinforce your muscles

The best way to avoid pain in any area is to strengthen the core muscles in it. Here is a video that should be really helpful as it focuses mainly on improving your overall posture, relieving back tensions and fixing hunched shoulders.


Basically, if you don’t adopt a good posture over the board, body pain will rise inevitably and affect your concentration. Chances are your thoughts will often swing between ways to prevent suffering and the combinations you desperately try to calculate.

If like me you experience physical discomfort from time to time, I hope these recommendations will be a good start towards finding a solution.

As a bonus, I give you this last 90-second trick to relieve a stiff neck. Maybe it could help too!