How training makes poker players smarter

Man Workout” by The Lazy Artist Gallery/ CC0 1.0

Training and moving is one of the easiest ways to improve a poker player’s performance. In this article you are going to learn how training makes poker players smarter. Did you ever experience a lack of energy throughout your poker session? Did you ever crave sugar or a snack in your 5 minute break of online grind? Those are the challenges that tend to be quite common among people who grind intensely.
What is your usual answer to this phenomenon? Another cup of coffee? An energy drink? A piece of chocolate? Well that can occasionally be the answer – but it shouldn’t bet your answer all of the time. 

The challenges for modern poker players

Here is the catch. Poker is an amazing game that is hard to master but it comes with a lot of challenges that our bodies and brains are not used to:

  • a lack of movement
  • emotional stress
  • sometimes disruption of our circadian rhythm (sleep)

As poker players we need to be aware of these. Contrary to playing the game of poker, our brains and bodies have evolved to move throughout the whole day, eat nutritious food sources and doing some fasting every other day. Poker is quite the opposite. Sitting for hours at the tables or at the computer while rarely taking active breaks.

In order to stay healthy and sharp, the easiest thing we can do is to take active breaks and make sure we workout on a regular basis.

Are active breaks actually useful?

From my experience as a coach: A clear yes! But research truly proves how powerful these breaks really are.
This study from 2018 looked at markers of metabolism, subjective fatigue and vigor among 2 different group of subjects who were reading for 3 hours. The control group did not move at all and was just sitting in a chair for the period of time. The intervention group instead took an active high intensity break for 6 minutes after the first hour: They ran in place, did lunges, squats and jumping jacks. No equipment needed. Looking at the data right directly after the break as well as one and two hours later, the impact clearly shows! The active break significantly improved vigor and fatigue for a prolonged period of time.

The authors claim that those active breaks help to fuel the high energy consumption of the brain which requires a great amount of blood flow in order to meet oxygen and glucose demands. There you have it. Not only do active breaks or movement in general burn calories but they actually support the performance of our brain. Is this helpful for poker players? Well…

More benefits of active breaks

While we move our muscles produce a protein that is called BDNF (Backdoor nut flush draw? – Nope). BDNF stands for brain derived neurotrophic factor, which essentially signals our brain to grow. Movement is one of the easiest ways to improve intelligence and the ability to concentrate. It can also elevate the activity of one part of our brain that is called the hippocampus. This part of the brain is involved in short term memory but its increased activity also reduces levels of anxiety and depression. Movement therefore can lower our stress response, our emotional reactions and generally elevate levels of happiness. Here is a study which proves that.

Active breaks for poker players

How can you get started?

During this years’ SCOOP, I teamed up with Preflop Academy and designed active breaks for poker players that can be found on Youtube. You can try these regularly and build them into your 5 minute break of online grind or to take a break from your study routine. If you do not follow any workout regimen or tend to not move at all throughout the day. Here are some basics to get started with:

  • Use the mornings to walk for 10-20 minutes
  • Interupt sitting with moving
  • Talk to a coach and get a specific workout routine going

Do something. Anything. Everyday.


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