Good Posture Will Improve Your Game - Poker Ergonomics

Whether you play poker for a living or just for recreation, it is easy to accumulate many hours in front of your screen(s). You should therefore think about the impact your playing posture has on your health and concentration and, therefore, your success at the tables.

bad posture

If you use a computer at work, you probably already know about the health and safety regulations or recommendations that apply in your country. It is no coincidence that good employers pay attention to them. These guidelines have arisen from years of research and experience demonstrating an array of musculo-skeletal problems that arise through prolonged computer use. Issues such as carpal tunnel syndrome, repetitive strain injuries, back, neck and shoulder pains arise frequently amongst computer users.

These Ten Top Tips will help you to feel better, concentrate better and keep you on top of your game.


1. Think about your posture

This may sound obvious but the reality is that most of us don’t do this until we start to feel pain. If you drive a car and ever share it with someone else, I assume you carry out some basic checks before you drive away. If you can’t reach the pedals or your knees are scraping the steering wheel, I hope you would adjust the seat before setting off! Good drivers check the mirrors and other controls as well.

Think about your poker posture the same way. Good posture will help you win at poker. Before you ‘set off’ on your first game, give some thought to how and where you are sitting. Is it comfortable? Is it supportive? Is it sustainable?

For example, if you slump on your couch with a notebook computer in your lap, you will get neck pain in due course. It may not be in this session. It may not even be for months or years. However, musculo-skeletal injuries are cumulative so what you do today will impact your health and resilience in the future.


2. Make sure you have a supportive chair

From the foregoing explanation, you now realise that you need to be sitting at a table. You also need a comfortable and supportive chair. Chairs, like people, come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Chair salesmen, like computer salesmen, sometimes seem to make things much more complicated than necessary so here are the basic considerations:

* Make sure the chair is the right size for you. To check this, sit right back in the seat and you should have about 2-3 fingers’ width between the front of the seat and the back of your knees. If you haven’t and it’s an office chair, see if the seat depth is adjustable. If not, try another chair!

* Make sure there is support for the small of your back (lumbar support). A suitable chair will have a curved backrest and you should be able to feel its shape follow the curve of your back. If it’s an office chair, you should be able to move the chair backrest up and down to find the best fit. If not, try using a rolled up towel to fit your lumbar curve. (To find the middle of your lumbar curve, place your hands on your hips with the thumbs pointing backwards. Then move your hands back until your thumbs meet). If the rolled-up towel works, you may want to find something more permanent once you know how it is supposed to feel. If you don’t want to buy a chair, search for ‘Lumbar D Cushion’ on the web. If you do want to buy a chair, you can find a step-by-step guide for choosing the right model on my blog.


* Think about whether you also need armrests. If you do, their width spacing should be such that they are close enough to your body to be comfortable without impeding your arm movements. They should also be at about elbow height when your upper arms are vertical. This will ensure they take the load off your shoulders without causing you to hunch.

* Finally, if you prefer an office-style setting, you will need to be sitting quite upright. However, for online poker, you could adopt a more reclining posture. If you prefer to do this, the rules about good support still apply but you will probably also need to consider a chair with a head- or neckrest to ensure your head is also supported.


3. Set your screen(s) to the right height

The traditional opinion for office computer users is to position your screen(s) in front of you with the top of the viewable area just below eye height. Your display area should certainly be directly in front of you (to avoid neck twisting) but the best height is dependent on a few considerations.

* Is there an area of the screen you look at much more than any other? If so, apply these ‘rules’ to this area rather than the whole viewable area.

* Do you wear spectacles, especially varifocal lenses? If so, the display area will probably need to be below eye height so that your principal area of focus aligns with the appropriate area of each lens.

screen height

* Aim to create an imaginary straight line from your eyes through the correct part of your spectacles (if worn) to the most used area of the screen. This can be quite difficult to imagine so ask a friend or family member to help you.

* If you are using a laptop, you will need to raise the screen, either by placing the laptop on top of books or buying a proprietary laptop stand.

* Whatever computer you use, if your neck aches after a while, ask someone to observe whether you are adopting a ‘vulture neck’ posture. If so, the screen(s) are too high.

You will also, probably, need to tilt the vertical screen(s) angle to ensure you have the best view. This is particularly important if you are viewing from a reclining posture (see #2) or standing (see 10).


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4. Are you using a standard mouse?

The computer mouse is probably the most crucial consideration in your setup. To understand the significance of this, consider that you are clicking with the same digit on the same button every time and again. To think about just how often this is, consider how many times you click per hand and how many hands you play in a typical session. Then multiply that by how many sessions you have already played. It is a big number.

If you are using the touchpad on a laptop, you definitely need a separate mouse because, aside from the health issues, research proves that a touchpad provides the slowest response time of any popular input device.


If you are using the mouse that came with your computer, keep in mind that it costs less than £1/$1 to manufacture. It was designed to be ‘roughly right’ for as many people as possible. If you are serious about your physical wellbeing or serious about poker playing, you should be considering a better mouse. There are many different concepts and many manufacturers but these are the key issues:

* Aim for your hand to be in roughly a handshake position (rather than horizontal).

* Look at models described as ‘vertical mouse’.

* Try different sizes or use size guides to see what model(s) will fit your hand best.

* If you are left-handed, consider a design made for left-handed people.

* A small number of products can be switched between left or right hand so you can use either (but bear in mind that, with most designs, you will be slower to respond with your non-dominant hand).

* For something very different, consider a roller bar mouse. These sit in front of the keyboard and offer a radical either-or-both-hands experience. However, most users adapt to them very quickly.

* Beware of hype. Sometimes a manufacturer’s online marketing skills far outweigh the quality and effectiveness of their products!

Whatever mouse you choose, always use it as close as possible to the centre of your body. If you are right-handed and use a mouse to the right of the keyboard, you should also consider a compact or mini keyboard. These designs have no number pad and therefore allow you to keep your right hand closer to your centreline, reducing the load on your right shoulder.



5. Don’t slouch

If you adopt the reclining posture described above, it is not possible to slouch.

If, however, you have opted for the more traditional ‘office’ sitting position, it is all too easy to slouch forward as your session progresses, especially as you get more involved and focussed on the screen. When you do this, you undo all the good postural work outlined above.

A slouched ‘C-shaped’ spine with your head forward is bad for your lower back, restricts blood flow and impedes your breathing.

bad posture

To stop this happening, check these factors:

* Think about your posture (see #1)

* Check the table is at the right height. If you are sitting as outlined above, your elbows should be about level with, or just above, the table (or keyboard tray if you are using one).

* If the table is too high, raise your chair up (and use a footrest or pile of books if your feet are not touching the ground).

* If it is too low, put some books under the table legs to get it to the right height (or buy some proper desk raisers).

* Pull your chair close to your desk/table.

* Armrests may prevent you from getting the chair close to the table (whilst still sitting back to get proper backrest support). If so, adjust the armrest height if they are adjustable or remove them – or change the chair!


6. Your eyes are important

Remember that your eye is a muscle and muscles do not like sustained positions. From time to time, look away from your screen(s) and refocus on something at a distance. Ideally, look out of the window and focus on something at the horizon.

Also, make yourself blink. When we concentrate, our blink rate reduces significantly. If you are in a room with lots of heat-generating equipment, potential eye irritation will be compounded by the fact that the air will be dry. Blinking provides the natural lubrication that your eyes need.



7. Stretch

Fixed postures are unhealthy so, even if you follow all the guidance above, you will still be susceptible to pain and discomfort. Movement is the key. Remember that ‘your next posture is the best posture’.

There are lots of stretching exercises available online. Many of them can be done whilst sitting. Hands, neck and lower back are the most important.


Frequency will be dependent on the intensity of your online activity. ‘Listen to your body’ is a simple and effective mantra that most of us ignore.


8. Drink lots of water

Drinking water circulates nutrients and flushes out waste and bacteria from the body. Your daily water consumption can impact your mood, physical fitness and mental agility. Again, there is plenty of information about this online.

Combine stretching exercises with the natural breaks prompted by your water consumption. This will encourage movement and regular changes in posture.



9. Exercise regularly

Recent research indicates that a sedentary lifestyle may increase the risk of cardiovascular problems such as heart disease, obesity, Type 2 diabetes and possibly even cancer. It is, therefore, very important to have a regular exercise regime.

Exercise stimulates the body and improves mental performance and alertness as well as physical condition. It is therefore an essential part of optimising your online poker performance.


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10. Think about standing more

As a result of the concerns outlined in 9, growing numbers of users are taking the opportunity to spend more time standing at their computer.

For poker players, there is also the possibility that standing can impact your game in a positive way. We all know the expression ‘thinking on your feet’ and we are more assertive when standing.

If you are a laptop user, you could move between different height tables or, perhaps, a table and a breakfast bar. Alternatively, you could use a standing-height set up but use a high chair to sit at it. You can buy office-type chairs with higher gas stems or you could use a bar stool some of the time.


An electrically height-adjustable desk will give you the perfect variable sit-stand setup and the price of these is coming down rapidly. Alternatively, several manufacturers offer adaptors which can be mounted to a sitting table to offer both sitting and standing options.

If you decide to try this, it is important not to stand for too long. See if you like it. Some people adapt to it much more easily than others. Mix sitting and standing postures throughout the day.


Remember: Movement is the key. Your next posture is the best posture.


Photo credits:

Bad posture image: Kevlangdo, CC-BY-SA-3.0

Other images provided by the author.


Guy OsmondGuy Osmond has been involved in workplace ergonomics since 1992 and has been responsible for the introduction of a number of key products to the UK. His business offers a wide portfolio of innovative products and services to improve workplace wellbeing and productivity. He blogs regularly and highlights worldwide research and best practice through Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+. He also speaks regularly in the UK and periodically in the US.


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