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A Professional Weighs In: You Don't Have to Give up Gaming to Reach Your Fitness Goals

When many people hear the word “gamer,” they usually picture a person—often either very scrawny or overweight, depending—parked in front of their TV or computer with a case of Mountain Dew and a family sized bag of Doritos. And who could blame them? The way media portrays gamers does us no favors.

You know what I’m talking about...

Not a representative sample!

But, of course, anyone involved with a real community of gamers knows that there is no one type of person who loves to play. As a semi-recent convert to the world of weight lifting and working out and a lifelong gamer myself, I was interested in exploring one particular segment of the diverse and numerous “types” of gamer there are: the fit gamer. We exist! And to discuss the relationship gamers in particular can have with fitness, I spoke with Felix Schmieder, a personal trainer and fitness manager by trade and gamer since childhood. We talked about the specific strengths as well as challenges that gamers face when it comes to getting (or staying) in shape, as well as how working out and gaming can coexist to lead to a more balanced life.

Games make us feel like we can do anything while we play. From defeating monsters to rescuing princesses to saving the world, games give us that wonderful sensation of being capable, of seeing marked progress, and of growing and succeeding. I've written before about the mental health benefits of gaming, but no matter how hard we agree with each other that gaming has value and positive contributions to make to our lives, I think we can also agree that gaming shouldn't be the only source of those pick-me-ups. People are multi-faceted beings, and so too should our interests and activities be. That's why fitness, perhaps surprisingly to some, is an excellent complement to our time spent in the gaming world. In the same way that downing that raid boss makes you feel like you're on cloud nine, that you've done something amazing and now can take on the world, so too can hitting your next PR at the gym make you feel like you can achieve anything you set your mind to. “People don’t realize just how strong and powerful they are,” Felix says. "A lot of people have this mental image of themselves that they’re just a loser, a nobody, but when you start lifting weights, it’s just incredible [how that changes].” And the benefits extend beyond losing weight or bulking up. "It’s literally impossible to get physically stronger without getting mentally stronger too,” according to Felix, and in this article, we'll explore exactly how that's so.

It's no so far fetched. You know that way that you feel revisiting early zones in a video game after leveling up? Like a total badass, right? Amazed at how you ever thought this zone was challenging? Similarly, lifting weights starts out feeling difficult— like your stats are low and you don't know all the controls and combos yet—but soon becomes so natural to you that you look back at those “early zones,” i.e. the weights you struggled to pick up that first day, and realize you warm up with things bigger than those now. It's the same larger-than-life feeling. And, similar to how benefits from gaming can complement the non-gaming areas of your life, so too can that increased physical strength and new knowledge of your body's capabilities from the gym extend beyond simply building bigger muscles; it can do things like increase your mental fortitude and bolster your confidence too! Gaming has been said to have benefits for our emotional and social health, and the physical health aspect of working out is obvious to all. So together, could they make a fit gamer unstoppable?

Well, wait, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Don't we have a professional here to tell us all about it?

Felix's "Confessions of a Reformed Accountant and Gaming Addict"

I think of me and Felix as being very different people, but I was surprised about how much we had in common. We both started our gaming journies with the NES, playing Super Mario Bros and Duck Hunt obsessively, and we both spent huge swath of our childhoods in the karate dojo and on the baseball diamond (well, softball for me). But, as I’ve written about before, my gaming habits moved from the NES straight to the Playstation and the computer. Felix, however, has a much broader gaming experience, having traversed his way through many of the consoles, from Sega, to Playstation, to Xbox, and of course the computer, starting with that old combat flight simulator, Red Barron. Felix said the height of his nerdiness had to be when he saved up his money for a dedicated video card so he could play Rainbow Six back in high school. Meanwhile, I wasn’t investing in specific computer parts for gaming until college (World of Warcraft is a hell of a drug).

Our paths diverge again when we look at our social preferences. I’ve written before about my extroverted childhood. Even gaming was a group affair for me as much as I could make it. Felix, on the other hand, says he has always been introverted and even a bit of a loner. “I hate working in groups. I had lots of friends in school, but I never really hung out with them outside of school.” His parents encouraged him to play sports and be active, and, though it might be surprising given his fitness-focused career today, sports weren’t really his passion. “I played sports but I wasn’t that good at [them] […] so gaming was just my down time and was just where I spent most of my free time.”

So how did this gamer who wasn’t into sports end up as a super fit guy, to the point that he made a career out of it? It didn’t come easy. In fact, Felix would describe himself as “pudgy” throughout most of his life. I mention this because I wonder if many of you, like me, have that same thought when they see a really fit person: I bet it’s always been easy for them. Maybe you’re not like that, but I will admit, I’m guilty. When I see buff folks and hear they’ve been interested in sports throughout their childhood, I think “yeah, and I’ve bet you’ve looked this good the whole time too!” This is ignoring the fact that I was into sports throughout my childhood. Dance, karate, softball, cheer… and getting fit was still a struggle for me. So, just in case you’re also a jerk (haha), I’m here to dispel the idea that Felix was hand delivered perfect fitness on a silver platter way back in primary school or something. He says that I’m not the only one who thinks this way. “A lot of people think, you know, that that I’m a coach, that I’ve always been fit my entire life In fact, and that’s not true at all.” Though he kept in relative shape through sports and at-home workout programs starting around late high school (Power 90 and P90X FTW), on-your-feet jobs (waiting tables is a killer), and the military, he says he was never in “crazy good shape.” Fitness has always been intertwined in Felix’s life, but he says it hasn’t always been something he took super seriously. “I was about average, really,” he says, until he got a job as an accountant, and his “not in crazy-good shape” became not in shape at all. At that point, he looked at himself and realized something had to change. “I think I was 200 pounds,” he says.

That’s when the fitness goals got serious. Felix started working out at the gym, doing a variation of HIIT, Crossfit, etc., and while he lost weight, he says he was still “pudgy,” but what progress he was making was threatened when he got injured. He hurt his shoulder so badly that he couldn’t lift his arm over his head “and that actually started my journey into becoming a coach,” Felix explained. He said he wanted to learn how to make his shoulder better, and that opened the door to better understanding fitness. Paired with the fact that he hated his job at the time, the beginning of a new career was born.

Felix during his accountant days and recently while working at a fitness manager

And throughout it all, Felix remained a gamer. A lot of times, I expect fitness-focused people to frown on gaming as a pastime, because it’s almost always a sedentary endeavor. However, Felix has a more rounded view of things. Fitness, he says in a post on his page, “is not about upending your entire life, throwing away everything bad in the house, trading your Playstation for an exercise bike and only eating boiled chicken and broccoli for the rest of eternity.” Gaming and fitness can still co-exist. “I don’t think they’re at odds with each other," he says. “Gaming’s just another pastime, another hobby.” Felix continues, “Some people watch Netflix, some people go work on their car” and, of course, some people go play video games.

“I do feel like there is, in some people’s minds, like an odds,” though, Felix adds. A person who is part of neither the gaming nor the gym scene might see the two worlds as being incongruent. It goes back to those stereotypes discussed before. There’s this idea, Felix says, of the “typical bro at the gym versus the typical nerdy gamer at home” for some people. And to many, that dichotomy feels very fixed, but if we look around (and even if I look at myself), I can see that that’s not the case. It's becoming more and more clear that gamers, whether they call themselves by that moniker or not, are getting more and more diverse in every way. Perhaps for this reason, or maybe simply because he's lived it, Felix doesn’t see the two—the time you spend in your favorite gaming universe and the time you spend being active at the gym—as getting into each other’s way at all. The only thing he has to keep an eye on, Felix says, is what he eats. We were both told to clean our plates as children “because there are starving kids in the world,” and it’s easy to overindulge or feel good about eating anything, even if it’s not necessarily good for you, if you were continuously praised for the simple act of eating as a kid. “I could very easily over eat, and over eat bad food,” Felix says, “so maintaining my fitness is very important. I personally struggle with eating badly too, so I'm with him there, but I honestly feel less bad about it now that I work out. In fact, there's this meme I often see going around that says “working out is not a punishment for what you ate but rather a celebration of what you can do,” and I really love that. I love bringing my body to new limits in the same way I like perfecting those combos in tricky boss encounters to (literally) get to the next level, and I think of fitness as the thing that allows me to game guilt free. I know I’m putting physical work in outside of my gaming sessions (and let’s be honest, I’ll be gaming either way), so I let myself enjoy the time I sit still now, rather than feeling guilty about it, and through that, I have found a new, happy balance that works well for me. So in my case, working out has become a boon to my gaming life, rather than something that takes away from it, and the fact that I can squat more than I weigh now certainly hasn't made me any less of a gamer, it's just made me a gamer who is hella strong.

Felix's "Three Steps to Speeding up Your Metabolism"

When I asked Felix if he thought there were any challenges specific to gamers that might get in the way of us getting fit, it all really fell back on those prevailing stereotypes we all have a hard time shaking. Something Felix has heard more than once is that "more introverted, geeky kind of dudes” are often afraid of going to the gym and of being judged there. “I feel like it’s almost the perception that the gym is where the jocks are” and people have bad mental connotations of those sorts of people. Maybe they got teased or even beat up by people like that in the past, so they don’t want to go to the gym, he explains. “But there are plenty of people who watch hours upon hours of Netflix or go read books and ignore everything else,” so there aren’t specific challenges that would stop gamers from finding success at the gym any more than there’d be for those people. In short, it's just a matter of getting yourself to walk through the doors and do it. People who self-describe as gamers are, typically, says Felix, “a little bit inactive, generally, not very athletic, generally,” but that’s lots of people, and there’s nothing about loving games that holds a person back from getting fit, if that's what they want to do.

Be we also discussed the advantages a gamer might have over someone else when it comes to getting fit, and in some ways, we do have an upper hand. “Like, I’ll spend hours researching the perfect rotations for my dragoon in Final Fantasy XIV," Felix says, "or, you know, hours finding the perfect artefact for my characters in Genshin Impact, so researching just the most crazy details and making spreadsheets and stuff like that” is something many gamers are familiar with. He's not wrong. I remember in my WoW days doing all that math to min/max my character with each new big loot drop, and it was tedious and also weirdly addictive. “Eve Online” Felix jokes, “is like spreadsheets online,” so gamers and that personality type tend to “do lots of investigation to find what they need to do.” And, while that sounds like it’s getting us no closer to a life of fitness, Felix says that he thinks it's a good thing. In fact, that spreadsheet-loving, research-oriented mindset is actually how Felix really got into fitness himself, by “just researching and researching and trying to find out the best ways to do things.” Even CNN sees the correlation. In their article "Why Gamers Are a Great Fit at the Gym," they outline exactly the way gamers can excel at fitness:

They’ve been trained to focus for weeks at a time on a single goal. They know how to clearly identify obstacles and form step-by-step plans to overcome them. They’re obsessed with improving specific skills but judge success only by overall progress made in the world they’ve decided to conquer – as realistic or fantastical as it may be. It’s precisely these traits that make video-gamers great bodybuilders.

Felix says that those research types like him have to be careful, though. He cautions that it’s easy to get paralyzed by too much information and so many different options, leading to “paralysis analysis,” where you’re trying to figure out the best next step or end result but don't take any steps to move forward. If there are twelve ‘best things,’ Felix asks, “which one do you do?” So that expectation that gaming often creates—that there's generally one right way to do something—can “make it harder for us to implement imperfectly.” Gamers are very often into getting things just right and making the best choices, backed up by stats and figures, in order to perfect their gameplay, but Felix cautions that you can easily spend your time searching and searching and never getting to the implementation when it come to "leveling up" in the real world, because perfection doesn’t exist in fitness. There’s no one right way; there’s no one perfect workout. Our bodies aren’t computers, so they’re not going to respond the exact same way every time like our avatars within a game world, and that’s something we need to keep in mind so we don’t fall into the trap of never getting started.

Felix's "What Leveling up in Video Games Has Taught Me About Fitness"

But when you do get started, rewards abound. In a previous article, Lennon, a front-end web developer and former weightlifting coach, discussed how he felt gaming and fitness reward systems can overlap:

Lennon likens this process to getting a good workout in. He explains that since he’s not a competitive athlete, when he’s at the gym, the progress he makes doesn’t have some huge, over-arching significance. What he does each day is self-contained, and in the end, it only affects him. It “isn't part of some larger expectation," as he puts it, “so there's no pressure. But it's progress, so it feels good.” He surmises that this is comparable to the feeling of advancement and growth that video games can elicit in players. Whether it’s a great workout, an achievement in your favorite hobby, or downing the next raid boss, they all provide a feeling of accomplishment, a boost to morale, and a feeling of being capable of success, and that can mean all the difference in a person’s life.

We three aren't the only ones to see the connection, of course, and I think it's no surprise that the gamification of fitness has been on the rise for a while now. While he’s not into that concept as much personally, Felix understands why it works so well, likening the milestones of increasing weight to leveling up, and he thinks that gamification can help a lot of gamers. “You get that kind of dopamine level when you level up. We all get it,” he says. “Whether it’s an aura that jumps up or big numbers that flash across the screen,” Felix continues, there’s a lot of dopamine there, and it can be useful to use that to your advantage. When it comes to trying to emulate that gamified dopamine rush in the real world, “I can definitely see the appeal," he says. And it does appeal to a lot of people. Games like Pokemon Go, Wii Fitness, Ring Fit Adventure, and the new Alter Titan, currently in beta, are dong their best to make the gamification of movement and fitness a real thing. Shoot, somebody even made it so they can play Overwatch by jogging and doing squats! I think gamers will always be tuned into keeping an eye out for progress markers, both in their games and outside of them, and Felix says “there are always milestones when it comes to lifting weights, so I think there are similar [...] leveling up experiences when it comes to that.”

Felix's "The Number One Thing I Learned about Fitness from Dungeons and Dragons"

Felix says of gaming and fitness, “at this point they’re just a part of who I am.” Since probably four or five years old, he says, “they’ve always been my identity,” but as far as gaming in general, “it just goes back to the escapism, right? Fantasy worlds, you’re a hero, you’re doing great things versus the normal world,” he says, laughing, where "you know, I’m on Reddit all day.” It’s also just fun, he admits. Felix's face lights up as he talks about pulling off perfect combos is Ghost of Tsushima, which he's recently started playing through again. “Hitting a perfect block and parrying and stuff like that, just pulling off some fun perfect combo, perfect block,” he says, “you know, it’s very rewarding when you reach different skill levels in the game and are doing things subconsciously and you get into that level, that state of flow, that a lot of people talk about, that athletes get into,” for example sinking basket after basket, because they’re just so zoned in, he says. Felix thinks that state of flow, just like in athletics, “is very easy to get with games,” and “you feel very rewarded.”

But even though that flow state can exist for gamers and athletes alike, it still feels like people generally think of themselves as one or the other, and there isn't much crossover in people's minds. “I think there is an ownership that people take upon their identity,” Felix says, like “well I’m a nerd, and only jocks lift weights and I’m definitely not a jock so I definitely don’t want to lift weights because I don’t want to be that person.” But as we discussed before, there are always myriad types of people comprising any hobby or interest. Not every gamer is that guy from South Park, and not every weight lifter is the person you see giving swirlies in every movie about high school bullies. (I know I'm certainly not that person. I'm the person who wears my Aperture Science shirt to lift weights. And believe it or not, I've made friends because of it! Gamers, we're lurking everywhere.) But the fact is, you don't have to give up that gamer identity to get results at the gym. There are tons of streamers who also focus on fitness (one of my favorites is @streetgrind_ on Twitter), and it's becoming more and more common to be a person who enjoys the benefits of both.

And those benefits are extremely high. I’ve written before about how I think in-game achievements can give you a sense of accomplishment that extends beyond your computer screen, and I’ve found my progress at the gym to be an even stronger connection to that radiating sense of accomplishment that spreads throughout the rest of your day. And if you’re interested in getting into better shape, Felix says people “absolutely need to be lifting weights, because the benefits are crazy.” But in the end, “just being active,” whether it’s hiking or biking around, “is literally better than nothing.” I can attest to the sense of pride that comes with “leveling up” at the gym and how it extends into the rest of my life. Felix says I'm not alone and discussed many clients' out-of-gym success stories, from promotions to social successes, which he (and his clients) believe stemmed from the added confidence that comes from those gym-based accomplishments. “It’s crazy the correlation between people hitting PRs at the gym, lifting heavy weights at the gym, and then going and getting a promotion, meeting their significant others, or just feeling better about themselves and about life in general,” Felix explains. “I think strength training is literally life changing if you let it be."

I know that if you're reading this, you're likely already aware of how much value gaming can bring to your life beyond being just a way to pass the time, and the mental and emotional benefits are getting harder to overlook. Pair that with something like lifting weights or working out in general, and it's amazing the way your confidence can soar when your mind and body feel challenged, supported, and rewarded. It's not "jock or nerd" anymore: it's be who you want to be and own it, no matter what mix of hobbies and pastimes you love, because what's important is that you're in a place where you feel good and are getting what you want to out of life. And when it comes to working out, Felix believes that it absolutely leads to being “happier, healthier, demanding more for yourself, and holding yourself and people around you accountable.” And the best part? You don’t have to leave gaming behind to do it.


For fitness advice as well as intermittent gaming, nerd, and Star Wars talk, follow Felix on Facebook.

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