Chess training or Chess and exercise (why do you think Magnus makes sure to stay fit?)

Staying fit is important

Today we are going to look at why not only training your actual playing skills over the chess board is important, but also why it’s so important to stay fit. Be the best version of yourself!

The world champion Magnus Carlsen has always made sure to emphasize the importance of physical exercise to him. Pretty much whenever he has the chance to do so, he will go and play some soccer, shoot some hoops, swim, or anything he sees fit.

“Why? You’re only sitting quietly at that table while playing a chess game, right…?”

Well, that’s not exactly right…

Let’s have a look at why chess training isn’t the only form of training you should be doing, shall we?

Healthy brain

Let’s start with this:Hiking is a nice activity for you and your family and friends!

We want a healthy brain generally in life, and of course while we sit at the chess table as well. Essentially, the brain is what coordinates all our thoughts and put them into action. We all know this, right?

What you might not be aware of, or at least not to this extent, is that “research shows that being physically active may help to promote brain plasticity, maintain cognitive function, and reduce the risk of developing dementia.” This study, carried out in 2009, shows many different benefits through a healthy lifestyle, with keeping a healthy mind being one of them.

Whether Magnus actually knows of this study, is not known (I was going to say “unlikely”, but you never know with MC…), but that he knows the principles that this article underlines, I’m sure of! As well as physical exercise resulting in his brain working better, it also makes him feel well. It can’t really be emphasized enough how important this is while you’re playing a game!

Hiking with his family is one of Magnus’ favorite activities (or at least one he’s seen doing a lot), and in addition to it being so good for your body and brain, it’s also a social activity. This is a very nice way to hang out with friends and family, catching up, and staying connected.


StaminaA chess game is not a sprint

We set the bar high, so I’ll continue with the Magnus-comparison (none of us will come close to his level, but it’s always fun to see what the best players are doing, and try to do somewhat the same!).

Magnus has made it his “thing” to win long games. Without any proof of what I’m about to say, I’m fairly sure no other player (at least world-class player) has more 50+ moves wins than him.

“Why do you think that is, Joachim?”

I’m glad you asked!

The thing with Magnus is, that due to his desire to go for long hikes and strenous workouts, he is used to a lengthy “combat” (I know a hike with family isn’t a combat, but you get the jist). He won’t just leave in the middle of a soccer match, or stop walking when the top of the mountain is 1 km away.

No, he keeps on going! And if he’s losing a tennis match, you can be pretty damn sure he’s going to give it his best to try and turn it around!

That’s also why he wins so many endgames in chess.

When two world-class players reach the endgame, it’s always going to be a close game. Us mortals, we can reach the endgame with a huge imbalance piecewise, being a knight or a rook up. That doesn’t happen to the big boys. Hence…

If they want to win, they will have to grind! And that’s exactly what Magnus does so much better than all the rest! He stays sharp, and is willing to push for that full point, when others might just go “ahh, let’s call it a night. I’m happy with a draw here. Besides, I’ve got some friends coming over tonight…”

Apart from the last bit, I think this is the essence of what differs Magnus from a lot of players. Obviously he is better than many opponents when they reach the endgame, but for sure he scores a lot of bonus-goals by share dedication to the game!

In this game Magnus is playing black against another very strong player. Without going into too many details, for most of us it would be quite hard to calculate who’s better and possibly winning.

Actually, I’ll take this even one step further and say: A lot of us would assess this position as boring, no potential, and a dead draw…

Well, luckily it wasn’t “us” who played this one. With surgical precision, Magnus went on to win this game true to his style: No winning tactics, no mumbo-jumbo, no opponent blundering (actually not even a clear mistake!). Just straight up precision, dedication and grinding!

(if you’d like to know the rest of the game, let me know below, and I’ll share the ending with you)


Nutrition leads the way

The title of this paragraph could have been “juice”…Orange juice is a fine option during a chess game

Magnus has always been a big fan of juice. If you google “magnus carlsen juice”, you will get a ton of pictures!

Whether it’s a fact or not, there has at least been carried out some studies suggesting the added fuel orange juice will give you, like this one, saying their participants enhanced their performance compared to the subjects who were given a placebo drink.

Now, obviously the term ‘nutrition’ would incorporate so much more than just orange juice. I’ll give you an example of my own, whenever I fancy being a “good boy” and eat healthy during an entire day:

  • Breakfast: A bowl of oatmeal, combined with several different grains and seeds, and a cut-up banana on top.
  • Lunch: Wholegrain slices of bread, with different types of spread, plus some fruit (apple, pear, grapes, you name it!).
  • Dinner: Vegetarian tacos, with lots of beans, carrots, salad, cheese, corn…and probably some more things I can’t think of right now!
  • Evening food: A couple of slices of bread and one piece of fruit.

(The term “evening food” is a bit sketchy, but I’m not quite sure to call it, since I keep being told that this meal doesn’t really apply to the rest of the world…dinner is the last meal! :p Can you confirm or deny this in the comments?)

This is (one of) my recipe(s) for a good day. This way I feel better, and I know I will be able to perform better at the chess table. Unfortunately “perform better” doesn’t equal to “win every game”, so please don’t call me up just to shout at me if you lose just after you had an apple…


So, is Magnus not really any better?

Yes, he is! Just for pleasure...

He’s not better than all the others at every aspect of the chess game, but overall he is the best player. Some might even say by a mile (I’m one of them…).

And let’s be clear here: He is not better only because he drinks orange juice or goes hiking in the mountains, but what I’ve been trying to get across is how it all adds up! His nutrition and lifestyle adds to the whole.


Start drinking orange juice, win games!

This is a mild exaggeration, but I think you see where I’m getting at. A healthy lifestyle leads to a healthy life, and in chess terms it leads to a killer instinct and share determination to play the best you can, and stay sharp for a longer period of time.

And of course:

Combine it all with chess training!

If you start drinking orange juice after reading this, I would love to hear about it in the comments section! Anything else is obviously also fine to put there, along with any sorts of questions you might have.

It’s 2 am here now, so until next time:


Good knight,


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8 thoughts on “Chess training or Chess and exercise (why do you think Magnus makes sure to stay fit?)”

  1. Nice and different read for a change.

    I am an athlete myself so I can relate to the study which says exercise can be beneficial to your brain and much more.

    This is why I will not stop it as it has helped me a lot when I was at school and when I was working.

    I would also add that doing a bit of meditation is another beneficial way for your brain, I have been trying it and it works well.

    1. Thank you, Thabo!

      Yes, it can definitely be beneficial to so many things! And nice to hear that the same thing is working for you. The meditation-tip can also be very helpful, and I know many people say this. I have done some myself, and it made me feel ‘lighter’. Your body is just working better! I should without a doubt do more, though…

      Good luck with your sports! What kind do you do?


  2. Hi Joachim

    I would have to agree that focusing on all dimensions of our lives helps to increase cognitive abilities. When we take a holistic approach to ensure our over all wellness is consistently being worked on, our brain functions more fluently and we’re able to concentrate and focus more clearly.

    Great post on how important it is to stay active to maintain a healthy brain

    1. Thanks Tracy,

      Yes, staying healthy is something many people strive for in life. When doing many different things – like playing chess – you really want a sharp brain, and that goes for pretty much every top pro in the game.

      It is obviously so easy to spot when Magnus Carlsen – being the world champion – truly emphazises the importance of this aspect. It leads to more people wanting to do the same thing.

      To our health!


  3. Thank you. This was an engaging read.
    It provides an exceptional and unique way to emphasize the importance and the need for coexistence of a sharp brain with a well-trained body.
    It is important to emphasize that focus is something that most of us have quit practicing daily. It takes a lot of effort and discipline to focus effectively on all aspects of life, helping us to increase our cognitive abilities. By no means, mental health is directly related to physical health, and we need to exercise it daily in order to stay sharp and energetic.

    1. Thanks Alexios,

      “Coexistence” is a very fitting word here. I believe you’re right, and that many people forget this aspect when working out. It’s obviously good to keep to one thing healthy, but you have to make sure it goes for the other one as well.

      In Magnus’ case, I’m not sure he would have been the world nr 1 for so many years if he didn’t care about his health. It’s too important when you sit down for hours and hours.


  4. Such a wise and insightful approach towards not just chess but handling life itself. Having a sharp mind as well as the physical body are essential keys to a meaningful existence.

    I have been studying juicing and other things of the sort for quite some time now. Have you done any juicing yourself for long periods of time? Definitely seems like it helps the pros!

    1. Thanks for the comment and question, Rowan!

      I agree with you, in that I think it makes a lot of things easier, and it might just make you appreciate your existence more.

      I haven’t tried it for long periods of time, but rather sporadically. The silly thing is, that it makes me feel good and ready for a chessgame whenever I do, so I don’t really know why I wouldn’t do it more often…

      I’ll give it a go!


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