Hand Care and Proper Controller Technique
Shifting gears from last week which ended up causing way more discussion than I ever expected, I feel like discussing something which I can’t imagine causing any controversy, but I feel is very important nonetheless. The issue is injury prevention through proper technique, as well as maintaining the health of your hands/wrists both directly and indirectly.
The good folks at Melee It On Me have already posted a great article on the subject which can be found here, but I felt like I should still make this post regardless. Drawing on my experience in biochemistry/biomedical sciences, sport/fitness, playing musical instruments, and of course, lots of videogames, I hope the advice I bring forward will help players of all levels to maintain their health and longevity as competitors.
We all love Smash, but it’s impossible to justify sacrificing our long term health (never mind ability to compete), especially when you really don’t need to. Despite the whole 20XX graphic for the article, the concepts here apply to ALL games and characters, although obviously more crucial for very technical ones.
Before even mentioning hand care and stretching, I feel it’s most important to discuss how to play in a way that puts as little strain your hands in the first place. To do this, one has to eliminate as much tension from the body as possible in general, and, most crucially, from the shoulders and arms. Of course, tension is created from the flexion of a muscle, so any action or input creates a necessary level of tension on the relevant muscle group to achieve a motion, the idea of eliminating tension is for there to be no unnecessary tension.
Step 1: Relax you shoulders completely, and keep them relaxed at all times. The first sign of unnecessary tension is always raising of the shoulders, with some people it gets to the point where you can’t even see their neck anymore. This has absolutely zero benefit to any sort of execution and only adds to the physical strain of playing. If anything, it makes your inputs less controlled. Every time you feel your shoulders rising during gameplay, immediately relax them back. Make sure to be mindful of this until it becomes second nature (it’s best to practise this in friendlies so you aren’t distracted in tournament).
Step 2: Cradle your controller, don’t squeeze it. The GC controller has great ergonomics that allow it to stay stable in your hands with an absolutely minimal level of active grip. The natural, relaxed state of the hand actually leaves the fingers curled towards the palm, so the GC controller, with its sexy curved handles, only needs to slot in to stay supported. Do not squeeze at all, and allow your index and thumbs to be at complete ease. This even applies to claw grip, although there is an inherent small level of tension in clawing, you shouldn’t feel any strain in your wrist in the resting position.
Step 3: Only move what you need to move. When you’re pressing a button or moving the joystick, only your thumbs or relevant fingers need to move. That sounds like an obvious statement, but seeing players jerk half their body for a single button press is a testament to the fact that the most obvious things are the ones often overlooked. When pressing a button, neither your shoulder, arm, nor forearm need to move, that’s just additional effort that adds unnecessary strain and tension. While it might actually seem like a form of effort in itself to prevent this from happening, in the long run doing this will massively decrease the amount of strain and fatigue you accumulate while playing. Considering I know for a fact a lot of us are the types to play for many hours straight given the opportunity, learning to exert such little energy when playing really adds up in a positive way in the long run.
Step 4: Separate mental tension from physical tension. To maintain the constant state of physical relaxation during play, this is what you will ultimately have to achieve. When we get nervous, we start to vicegrip the controller, pound the buttons like we’re trying to tenderise a cheap steak, and violently jerk around with our shoulders up to our eyeballs. (Wow, reading that back really conjures up some vivid imagery, I like it) What you have to remember is that while your mind may be racing, the nervousness you feel does not need to manifest itself physically. Your mind is tense, but your body is always relaxed. The more you practise keeping your physical relaxation, the easier this concept becomes to grasp, until soon you look as cool as a cucumber on the outside, even when you’re being 5-0’d by Leffen in a Salty Suite match. (God I’m sorry)
Step 5: Play Jigglypuff
Hand Care and Stretches
Let’s get a good stretch!
Of course no matter how perfect your technique is, you are going to exert effort in actual gameplay. Now add many hours weekly and huge marathons during smashfests and tournaments, and you’re obviously going to feel some tiredness/soreness in your hands. This, of course, is relieved by taking breaks (at least try!), but you can also perform stretches for the wrists and fingers between sessions.
The same concept applies here as it does in sport, continued strain on muscle groups leaves residual tension in the groups affected. Stretching loosens these muscles back up as well as promoting blood flow to the area, aiding the recovery. Here’s a great YouTube video highlighting a list of very effective stretches for any sort of mechanically intensive activity.
A little tender loving care every day definitely goes a long way.
Lifestyle and Diet
You three have been living a low tier life for long enough
Before you run for the hills, I will say this is something society in general should be considering, not just Smashers, but since general wellbeing equates to better performance in everything, it only feels right to mention it here too. This isn’t going to be anything particularly strict, it’s just some general guidelines that you can choose to integrate how you see fit.
Feel the burn in your thighs and abs
Some form of regular exercise will do wonders for your general energy levels and wellbeing. It increases blood circulation first and foremost, meaning your body recovers faster from intense activity. The way you set up your exercise is entirely down to your preference, but bear in mind that if it ends up being bodybuilding/weight training, frequent stretching between sets is absolutely paramount in maintaining your dexterity. I would recommend it anyway, but in the case of a smasher, it really is vital so as not to conflict with your ability to play with precision.
Probably not the best idea for lunch
Make sure your body is getting everything it needs. I’m not going to tell you to totally restructure your diet into something super healthy, but making sure your body gets enough of everything will definitely be of great help. If you’re too apathetic to even make sure that you’re getting all the vitamins and micronutrients you need, at least make sure to drink enough water (at least 2L/64oz of fluids daily) and invest in some good joint care and omega oil supplementation. The latter doesn’t just come from fish oil, so for all you vegetarians and vegans out there, no johns, get some flax oil. Keeping your hinges and brain in good condition are pretty much a given for playing your best.
I think this one is pretty obvious. How much sleep a person actually needs is very much an individual thing, but a person can usually gauge how much sleep works best for them. Try to limit the all nighters to stuff like getting drunk on the weekends (wow this is great life advice isn’t it), rather than staying up until 5am watching an entire season of a show when you have class the next day. Yeah, don’t try to deny it.
In conclusion, if you’re still here, I hope that you’ve gained at least a small amount of useful information that you can apply to your daily life. There is nothing more important than your health and wellbeing, Smash is meant to add to your quality of life not detract from it. Never forget that, and I hope to see you all having taken such good care of yourselves that you’ll still be multishining in your 60s.