10 Scientific Reasons Combat Moves Make You Fitter and Smarter

Darebee was the first fitness resource to seriously incorporate combat moves from the worlds of martial arts and boxing in its workouts. To us it made total sense. Members of our in-house team have had long careers in martial arts and boxing and the feeling was that there was a fitness resource that could be tapped to make workouts more energetic and fun without having to subscribe to years of martial arts philosophy, belt gradings or boxing camp training.

Just because we want to do something however is never enough justification to do it. Like everything Darebee does we seek to back it up with the latest exercise and fitness science have to offer and look for ways that will make it work better for those who try it.

The research we looked at shows that complex motorneuron movements such as those required by combat workouts help improve cardiovascular and aerobic fitness but also have significant impact on cognitive functions, boosting the performance of our brain.

You may be perfectly happy, of course, with the many other workouts and fitness plans we have in place that do not use combat moves to help train your body. If however you were looking for scientific reasons on why to choose a combat moves workout we give you ten (plus some suggested workouts).

    • Complex Motor Activities make you smarter. In a 2015 study of exercise and cognitive enhancement in learning environments, Dr David Moreau, a research psychologist from the Centre for Brain Research and School of Psychology at the University of Auckland, found looked at both empirical and experimental research studies examining embodied cognition. The theory of embodied cognition says that our ability to think, analyze and decide is the result of the totality of our body and its state instead of something that happens in isolation in our head. Dr Moreau’s research found compelling evidence linking complex physical training moves and an increase in cognitive abilities with “designed sport, an activity specifically tailored to tax working memory and spatial ability by incorporating complex motor coordination in three-dimensional space, outperformed interventions solely focused on either physical or cognitive demands on measures of working memory capacity, spatial ability, and biomarkers of general health, such as resting heart rate and blood pressure.” Suggested workouts: Onna Bugeisha, Skybreaker and Combat Pro.
    • Improved balance, memory and spatial awareness. A 2017 carried our by researchers from several German Universities looked at the impact of balance exercises on healthy adults over a period of 12 weeks. The study was designed to check for improved fitness and cognitive functions compared to a control group that carried out fitness exercises of similar level and intensity which did not include a challenge to balance. After 12 weeks researchers found that from a strength and cardiovascular point of view both groups were at the same level but the control group had fallen behind in memory skills and spatial cognition. They concluded that “stimulating the vestibular system during balance training induces changes of the hippocampus and parietal cortex possibly via direct pathways between the vestibular system and the brain regions [associated with memory and spatial cognition.” Suggested workouts: Monkey, Crushing it! and Ryu
    • Your brain and body stay younger. In a 2012 study carried out by researchers from the Department of Sport and Health of the University of Évora and the Research Center in Sports Sciences, Health Sciences and Human Development (CIDESD), both in Portugal showed that older adults who participate in ballistic exercises that challenge their cardiovascular and aerobic fitness as well as motorneuron skills, exhibit physical adaptations to their bodies and brains that maintain cardiovascular and cognitive health beyond that expected by their biological age. They concluded that “The brain is remarkably plastic at functional and anatomical levels in response to experience, and evidence has accumulated that [complex] physical activity preserves brain health and cognition.” Suggested workouts: Sucker Punch, Challenger and Sky Ripper.
    • You enjoy increased quality of life in later years. In a 2014 study published in the April issue of Neurology magazine, the official journal of the American Academy of Neurology, David R. Jacobs, a professor in the division of epidemiology and community health at the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota, and Na Zhu, a researcher, showed evidence of improved quality of life in later years for participants who exercised regularly using complex, multi-dimensional exercise routines. This makes the struggle that comes with performing combat moves-based workouts an investment you make in the quality of life of your future self. To arrive at their finding the researchers studied 2,747 participants over 25 years. Suggested workouts: Boxer Arms, The Final Form, The Fighter.
    • You learn faster. Adaptive abilities don’t happen just at a physical level. The body learns from its environment and changes cognitively to meet the challenges it faces. Neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to remake its neural connections, is an adaptive response that delivers benefits in both the emotional and cognitive spectrum. A 2013 study carried out by Candice L. Hogan, from the Department of Psychology at Stanford University, followed 144 community members aged 19 to 93 as they went through a series of exercises over set periods which were then compared to a control group that was not exercising, but which matched occupations and age range. The results showed that those who underwent complex physical exercise exhibited improvements not only in their cognitive abilities but also in the way they felt about themselves and their situation in life (affective response). The study concluded that “that exercise may hold important benefits for both affective experience and cognitive performance regardless of age.” Suggested workouts: The Rival, Lionheart, and Jade.
    • You achieve improved coordination and agility. Of course it’s not just the cognitive and emotional side of us that benefits from complex battle moves training. A 2018 study published in the March edition of the Journal of Physical Fitness, Medicine & Treatment in Sports followed 60 children separated into two groups, one of which was the control group, over seven weeks. One group underwent speed, agility and quickness (SAQ) training using complex exercises while the other one trained at the same intensity but using less complex exercises. As you probably guessed the students who were trained using complex exercises designed to enhance speed, agility and quickness made significant gains in these attributes whereas the control group didn’t. The study concluded that a “SAQ training program was enough to improve children performance both in dynamic balance and hand-eye coordination…” Suggested workouts: The Brawler, Modern Girl and Revenge.
    • It rewrites your DNA. In 2013 a study published in PLOS Genetics, a journal for DNA-related research, showed that intensive exercise enhances methylation, a process via which DNA uses epigenetic signals to switch off genes, which leads to muscles becoming stronger and more durable, cells becoming leaner and storing less fat and, even, cell gene expression factories multiplying to a stage seen in biologically younger cells. These are all benefits that exercise can deliver and the more intense and complex the exercise is the more it is likely that they shall be experienced. Combat moves, performed at high intensity, in effect, negate some of the problems that are inherited through DNA allowing an individual to, essentially, rewrite their genetic code. Suggested workouts: Whiplash, Finish Him!7 Ninjas
    • It stops your fitness plateauing. Hitting a plateau, the point at which repetitive exercise or additional exercise no longer delivers results is something every fitness athlete dreads. It truly feels like you’re treading water and getting nowhere fast. There aren’t that many studies on reaching a plateau and neural adaptations but where the anecdotal literature agrees is that by varying the exercises the inevitable plateau is put off for a pretty long time. Combat moves deliver a variety of exercises to the body. They make different demands as the body adapts at a muscular and neural level and then performs differently and present an ever-evolving challenge to adapt to. War Machine, The Pits, Free Roam
    • It elevates your happiness hormone. A 2013 study into the monoamine connection in the brain showed that complex exercise movements activate a physical stress response that releases neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. These are hormones that also affect mood and modulate the degree of happiness we actually feel. A 2015 study carried out by researchers from the Cognitive Psychology Unit, Leiden University, in the Netherlands highlighted the fact that the body responds differently to physical stress caused by exercise and stress caused by psychological stressors. The findings to date are that complex exercise movements that challenge the body and mind release hormones that make it easier for us to feel euphoric and happy afterwards. Suggested workouts: River, Fist of Fury, Witcher
    • You behave better. A 2016 study on the link between neurobiology and compound exercise movements found that physical exercise that challenges us at many different levels activates the release of hormones in the brain that lead to greater neuroplasticity i.e. the ability of the brain to change its functional and structural properties. This built on work done just three years earlier in a separate study that was published in July issue of Neuropsychobiology, a journal that features original, clinical and basic research in the fields of neurophysiology and functional imaging, neuropharmacology and neurochemistry, neuroendocrinology and neuroimmunology, genetics and their relationships with normal psychology and psychopathology. The findings are that intense, compound exercise triggers physical as well as neuronal changes in the brain that lead to altered behavior, greater self-regulation under extreme emotional distress and better management of cognitive resources. Suggested workouts: Black Canary, Rebel, and Combo Fighter.

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