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HOBBY: 40K and Ergonomics – Part 1

6 Minute Read
Aug 29 2011

It all seems like fun and games till your back goes out mid game.

Hi everyone, this is Parcival, your fellow Swiss dude and Sanguinius addict from across the Big Pond. I also have a blog, but it seriously is not worth reading. If you want to be entertained, fire up the BoLS Lounge, pay TastyTaste a visit, or call Brent at 867-5309 (kidding). Since my 40K skills are strictly below average, but I do have lots of ergonomics training I am going to write two guest articles remotely connected to 40K in general to keep us all in shape for decades of happy wargaming.

The idea for this mini-series on 40K and ergonomics popped into my head when I was listening to an episode of the Independent Characters podcast where the guys complain about major back pain while painting and modeling. Just give me a quick show of hands; who among you has ever experienced bad back pain related to 40K? Especially after extensive painting binges? Ahh, I figured you know what I am talking about. Big Red’s closing remarks at the narrative track at the 2011 War Games Convention were another eye opener when he told us to bring comfortable shoes next year. Doing three Apocalypse games in a row doesn’t make you realize your feet hurt badly until the last game is over and the adrenaline rush is ebbing away. So yes, our 40K hobby can be a strain to our bodies, although one may think that throwing a couple dice and pushing around plastic dudesmen is one of the easiest tasks in the world. I have a couple sheets of paper attesting that my work in the field of ergonomics was somewhat useful, so I figured I want to share my thoughts with you as a fellow 40K player and an ergonomist. My first article here will deal with 40K and back pain, my second article will talk about the visual problems of the elderly (45+) and 40K. I would like to show that the very same things that help us cope with our aging problems also improve our 40K experience. Now these articles may not exactly be targeted at high school and college students, but once you are busy with family and your job, you will know what I am saying.

“Hello, I am Parcival and I used to have a paint station problem.”

I have to say that the Citadel Paint Station is an excellent product. Although I am still sporting the older edition completely made of wood, I would never give it up for anything else. The problem is that it is an excellent product readily being used the wrong way. GW aggravates the problem when writing in the product description:

“…while its underside has been ergonomically designed to fit on your lap.”

Oh wait, they said “ergonomic design”, that must be good, right? Wrong! The best ergonomic design is pointless if it doesn’t meet a user’s needs. If you put the paint station onto your lap to work on your miniatures, you soon look like this tall guy hunched over his netbook in a Swiss commuter train:

In ergonomics, there are two very simple rules determining the optimal height of a work space to work on:

-If you are required to do heavy work, e.g. chiseling off parts from a block of stone, the lower the surface of your work space should be.


-If you are required to do some really fine and delicate work, e.g. painting a miniature, the higher the surface should be.

This sounds very intuitive and simple, doesn’t it? Yet so often we forget to exactly do that. Ever walked into a gaming store providing a table with free paint for the hobby enthusiasts? Once you have seen all those poor spines hunched over cheap furniture, you know exactly what I am talking of. The place where you work is supposed to be as unique as you are. This is a very unique work space, for example:

This is the work space of Switzerland’s finest modeler and painter called Ukrath Chamondah (Uki for friends) and also the place where such amazing works of art come into creation like the Razorwing Jetfighter in this article. You can see some of his work in the Swiss Hellhound Forum . My boring work space, on the other hand, looks like this:

As you can see, I simply slid an army case under my paint station. When I work on a miniature like a Space Marine, it is almost at the same height as my shoulders. Since I have several army cases (and I am sure you do, too), my paint station is an easy and quick way to adjust my work height to the level I am most comfortable with. The green ball underneath the table is great to sit on and balance my back, but when you are sitting over longer periods of time, you are supposed to have a chair that lets you lean back and rest for a little.

The benefit of 40K Radio

Now you may be tempted to think that my work space with the paint station and army cases is the perfect solution. Well, it is a good solution, but by all means not perfect. While my work space may be friendlier for my back, I got pain in my shoulders in preparation for the 2011 WGC because of working with my arms and hands in a raised position over several hours. Of course, the problem with aching shoulders can be solved, too. If you search the web for benches for watchmakers, you will find furniture you can shell thousands of bucks into. The most advanced pieces can have their height continuously adjusted and they provide special pads for your forearms to rest on. While this is all great, it doesn’t solve the problem that your body will always hurt if you restrict yourself to a certain body position over a longer period of time. A physiotherapist once said at a scientific conference: “The best sitting position is always the next one”. Think about it.

We all know how fast time flies when we paint. Nevertheless, try to force yourself to get up and move every couple minutes. Try to make it a habit to walk around your room after you have accomplished a certain stage on your model, e.g. slapped on the basic color to your Tactical Squad. I am also listening to podcasts while I paint and made it a habit to get up and move whenever they have an intermission. This works especially well with 40K Radio as it is chock full of commercials.


Yes, the Truth Hurts

Last but not least, the best strategy to prevent back pain from painting miniatures is doing sports. Trust me, nobody is as averse against this truth as I am; I would pick a Sunday afternoon watching football on the couch anytime over running like an idiot through some luscious countryside. The least thing I want to do with this article is to present myself as some sort of role model, but I have had to learn that it is better to torture yourself a little every once in a while when doing sports rather than suffer the big pain that prevents you from really doing anything. If you can’t play a regular game of 40K anymore because you can’t painlessly bend over the table to move your miniatures, it gets you thinking. Yes, the best way to enjoy your 40K hobby is in doing sports. Try to work out regularly, even if progress seems almost insignificant for you. Doing something is better than doing nothing and it will help you enjoy your hobby in the decades that are still to come.

So this is it for today folks. What are your experiences with 40K and back pain? How have you set up your very own work space? How do you balance 40K with your demands at work, your family, and your workout schedule?  Show us pics, and talk abour your tricks for doing your painting and playing with no pain and soreness.

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