It’s time to add video games to your workout routine

We’re not talking about games that get you moving. We’re digging into the stats for gains.

Even with gyms reopening at limited capacity, it’s still safer to exercise at home or outdoors. So, we’re dubbing this September Muscle Month to help you keep up your fitness, power, and health in socially distant times.

Caught clumsily sneaking into the Temple of Athena in Sparta, the protagonist of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey dodges a devastating strike from a well-muscled soldier, parries a blow from a courageous civilian armed only with a broom, effortlessly scales the building, and makes a daring 135-foot dive into a shallow pond to escape.

No matter how much you train, you’re never going to be able to do all of that. The final plunge would kill you, if you even made it that far. But that doesn’t mean you can’t channel the time and energy you spend playing video games into something good for your fleshy, real-life body.

Presenting Gamer Gains: a fitness approach that uses your in-game successes and failures to help you build a workout. (You can call whatever you want—we just needed a pithy way to introduce it and reference it throughout this story.)

How it works

Most, if not all, video games track statistics in some way. These stats and achievements are the seeds from which you will generate your workouts.

It doesn’t matter how many different statistical categories a game shows you, but with more numbers on the screen you’ll naturally have more variety and room for customization. Tetris, for example, displays only score, level, and lines. Odyssey does a bit more, with 18 tracked stats to play with. Then there are games like Age of Empires II that have a ton of end-game stat columns to peruse (30 to be exact).

Once you have the numbers, it’s time to convert them into exercises, a duration of time, or both. If you just made it through 10 levels of Tetris, do 10 pushups. Maybe chase a 33-minute Battlefield V game with a 33-minute workout. It doesn’t have to be exact, either—we don’t expect you to stand up after a marathon Odyssey session where Kassandra (or Alexios) traveled 50 kilometers and go run that exact distance. Instead, take a percentage and do a 5K.

For added immersion, consider doing exercises that somehow relate to the game and statistic you’re drawing from. For example, take the number under AOE II’s “wood collected” column and translate it into an action that kind of looks like you’re chopping splitting logs, like medicine ball slams (for an extra challenge, try this after a game of Forest Nothing).

What exercises to do

Your goals, physical abilities, and creativity will determine how you proceed, as will the space and equipment available to you. We’ve previously covered the importance of variety in your workout regimen, and Gamer Gains is an excellent way to change things up from day to day.

You should still strive for some consistency, though, as it may be a little too hard on your body to run 1 mile one day and 10 the next, before focusing the next three days entirely on bicycle crunches. So once you’ve got a basic framework, feel free to tweak it as necessary.

Exercise options are essentially unlimited, but there are a few that may be particularly beneficial to gamers or anyone else who sits for a prolonged period of time. According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine looking at a screen with your head jutting forward can lead to upper crossed syndrome and increased stress on the head, neck, and shoulders, while sitting can negatively affect the lower body.

To counteract these effects, target the backside of your body (that includes dat butt). Ashtain Rothchild, a New York City-based trainer who also works with fitness startup Mirror, recommends activities including glute bridges, bent-over rows, and banded superman pulls. The first one on that list will strengthen your core while specifically targeting your glutes, and the other two will help your underactive posterior muscles, she explains.

Other solid choices are bodyweight squats and lunges, single-leg deadlifts, pushups, forearm planks, and hollow holds. But ultimately, it comes down to your goals and what you want to do.

“Set up a realistic program that you enjoy—that will keep you coming back,” she says.

Some ideas to get you started

To give you an idea of what some of these workouts might look like, check out the guidelines below. As we’ve said, these will vary depending on your abilities, space, equipment, and preferences, so think of these as inspiration, not plans you absolutely need to follow.

Simple arcade workout

This one’s for the arcade game lovers or those who only track that one big score. After running out of space on the Tetris screen, try this:

  • Score: 65,012 — 6.5 minutes of exercise (score divided by 1,000)
  • Level: 10 — include 10 pushups
  • Lines: 93 — include 9 bodyweight squats (lines divided by 10)
  • Next piece: Do something that looks like the next piece in the queue. If it’s the long line, do a plank.
First-person shooter workout

Shooters like those in the Call of Duty and Battlefield franchise are some of the most popular online multiplayer games. We took the following guidelines from one round of Battlefield 1.

  • Round time: 33:47 — 34 minutes of exercise
  • Score: 107,657 — 1-mile run (one mile for every 100,000 score)
  • Kills: 25 — include 25 burpees
  • Deaths: 6 — do six reps of something that really works you hard
  • Kill/Death ratio: 3.83 — include 3 minutes, 50 seconds of planks (3.83 minutes)
Real-time strategy game workout

When you finish a game of AOE II, you’ll see six tabs worth of statistics. We’re not going to list them all here—just a few.

  • Total score: 14,978 — run for 15 minutes (score divided by 1,000)
  • Buildings razed: 18 — 18 bodyweight squats
  • Wood collected: 26,946 — 27 medicine ball slams (wood divided by 1,000)
  • Research count: 35 — 35 seconds of a wall sit
  • Villager high: 82 — 82 seconds of glute bridges
Role-playing game workout

RPGs may offer you the opportunity to really reenact the game when you work out. Maybe a bit of… swole-play. You probably won’t turn out as godlike as your high-level character, but you can try. Consider these Odyssey stats, for example.

  • Assassinations: 50 — 50 squat jumps
  • Distance traveled: 10 kilometers — do a 1-kilometer run (distance divided by 10)
  • Cultists killed: 3 — 3 sets of deadlifts (because they’re dead)
  • Legendary items collected: 3 — 3 sets of overhead presses (because you’re excited)
  • Ships defeated: 10 — swim for 10 minutes (how else will you survive a sinking ship?)
John Kennedy

John Kennedyis PopSci's DIY editor. He previously covered legal news for Law360 and, before that, local news at the Journal Inquirer in Connecticut. He has also built and remodeled houses, worked as a fencing coach, and shelved books at a library. When he's not taking things apart or putting them back together, he's playing sports, cooking, baking, or immersed in a video game. Contact the author here.