BODYCOMBAT is a boxing and martial arts based workout that you can do in your own living room. Is it worth your time and energy?
Before I get into my review of Les Mill’s BODYCOMBAT™ workouts (and yes, it is meant to be in all caps), let me set the scene.
I received a voicemail from a listener named Lee who had read my review of BODYPUMP and was wondering if I had reviewed any of the other Les Mills workouts. Leslie Roy Mills is a retired New Zealand track and field athlete and was Mayor of Auckland from 1990 to 1998. He represented New Zealand at the Olympic Games and Commonwealth Games over two decades, competing in the shot put and discus throw. He opened his first gym in 1968 and now is most famous for lending his name to Les Mills International, a company that brought the fitness world workouts such as BODYPUMP, BODYCOMBAT, BODYBALANCE, RPM, LES MILLS GRIT and more.
When Lee reached out, it was nearing the middle of March 2020 and most of the world was either in lockdown from the Covid-19 pandemic or was about to be locked down.
I told Lee that I would review more workouts once the lockdown was over and it was safe to congregate in close and sweaty environments once again. But then Lee pointed out (rather astutely) that the workouts were all available online. So, happily, I was able to do some of the classes in the safety of my own living room.
Eventually, I plan to try BODYCOMBAT up-close-and-personal. But for now, I'll review what I have access to—the online, on-demand workouts.
What is BODYCOMBAT?
Let's start with the description from their website:
Step into a BODYCOMBAT workout and you’ll punch and kick your way to fitness, burning up to 740 calories along the way. This high-energy martial-arts inspired workout is totally non-contact and there are no complex moves to master. A LES MILLS™ instructor will challenge you to up the intensity and motivate you to make the most of every round. You’ll release stress, have a blast, and feel like a champ.
Side note: The calorie-burning link in that website statement took me to a broken page, which I thought was ironically apt. I’ll get into that later.
BODYCOMBAT is available as either a 55-, 45-, or 30-minute workout. Again, since I was doing the online version, I started with BODYCOMBAT INVINCIBLE Workout #1. It was a fun 8-minute warm-up video, and I have to say it succeeded in thoroughly piquing my interest. The punching and kicking movements were just complex enough for me to feel challenged but not complex enough to turn me off.
Their website goes on to say “BODYCOMBAT works your legs, tones your arms, back and shoulders and provides phenomenal core training. You destroy calories, develop coordination, agility and speed, and feel empowered.” While I am not sure how you "destroy calories" (nor am I sure I want to know), I can definitely see how these workouts would help with coordination and agility.
The BODYCOMBAT workouts definitely challenge more than just your muscles It uses a combination of movements from boxing, Karate, Taekwondo, Muay Thai, Capoeira, and Kung Fu. Even in the warm-up video #1, I was doing hooks, jabs, uppercuts, kicks, and running with high knees. This full-spectrum movement is one of the reasons I approved of the Body Groove workouts a while back. Off to a good start!
What kind of workout is BODYCOMBAT?
When someone asks me “What's the best exercise program for overall health and wellbeing?” I generally answer that it must be a program you enjoy (or at least find fulfilling) that allows you to move your body in ways that you normally would not. I believe a good program should include movements that nourish your muscles, ligaments, tendons, and cells in a variety of ways. It has got to be more than just the movement equivalent of swallowing cod-liver oil every day.
While the Body Groove videos that I mentioned earlier are a dance-based workout. BODYCOMBAT is a boxing and martial art based workout. The two are remarkably similar in their benefits if not their content. In both, you move your body through a full range of motion, learn full-body routines, and then build those routines into choreography that you then repeat in variations set to music. The only difference is their market demographics—one is for lovers, and the other for fighters.
Either way, the results of both workouts are the same. You'll get sweaty, raise your heart rate, and get the added benefit of moving your entire body in unique patterns on multiple planes.
Planes of movement
For those of you not familiar with the concept of planes (or axis) of movement, here's a reminder. There are three planes of motion that we humans move our meat sacks on:
Sagittal Plane (forward and backward movements)
Frontal Plane (side-to-side movements)
Transverse Plane (twisting movements)
If we are interested, as fit and active individuals, in expanding our movement capabilities, then our exercising goal should be to use all three of these planes in as many varieties and combinations as possible.
This is fun and exciting stuff. So much so that I had to stop at one point and move more of my furniture out of the way so I wouldn't hurt myself or my lamp. Again.
And that's what struck me first when I started doing the BODYCOMBAT workouts. I was using all three planes and levels in many combinations, many of which I don't use in my regular workouts. (I mean, when was the last time I tried to do a high-kick behind me?) This is fun and exciting stuff. So much so that I had to stop at one point and move more of my furniture out of the way so I wouldn't hurt myself or my lamp. Again.
If you are a runner, cyclist, or weightlifter, it is easy to forget that moving your entire body, not just curling a dumbbell or pedaling a stationary bike, is essential for both good health and for ensuring that you maintain your ability to move well, both now and later in life. Incorporating a workout like BODYCOMBAT into your fitness regimen will move you closer to that goal.
The calorie issue
One page of the BODYCOMBAT website claims the workout will burn 740 calories and another says 570. But making calorie-burning claims is ridiculous. Let's say a bigger guy who's new to BODYCOMBAT tries the workout. (Yes, I mean me.) He lacks the efficiency that comes with repetition, so he'll burn considerably more calories than a smaller person who's very adept at the movements.
While I could poke fun at these rather specific (and yet quite disparate) numbers, I'm more inclined to say “Who cares?” If you're doing these workouts (or any workouts) just to burn calories, then you're missing the point of fitness in general.
The value of a workout like this one goes far beyond a one-dimensional goal of burning fuel. The benefits that I see are:
Moving more parts of your body, separately and simultaneously
Moving those body parts in ways and directions that you normally wouldn't
Building neuromuscular connections from repeating challenging and unfamiliar movements
Challenging and building your coordination and balance by moving multiple limbs at the same time, often on one foot
Challenging your memory by stringing the movements together in longer and longer routines
Relieving some stress and tension of the day by pretending to beat up an imaginary foe (Well, maybe that's just me.)
And one last benefit, which I also brought up in my review of the 9Round gym chain, is that in fitness boxing sessions, you're constantly and rapidly changing your body position. The more you do that, the better your balance and proprioception reaction becomes. Proprioception is your body- and spatial-awareness along with hand-eye coordination. Or, in scientific terms, it's kinesthetic intelligence. It's something we use a lot as children but slowly lose as we get older ... unless we do something about it.
Proprioception obviously matters a lot in sports and fitness. But research also shows that improving your proprioception can increase your working memory, which is used for holding short-term information. Your working memory allows you to do things like math, solving logic problems, and even remembering that series of BODYCOMBAT movements you just learned. So, you can think of full-spectrum workouts as a positive benefit loop—the more you do these types of workouts the better your brain gets at doing them.
The cons of BODYCOMBAT
I did the online version of the BODYCOMBAT INVINCIBLE Workouts, which you can actually do for free on YouTube. In workout one, you get a good warmup and a taste of the BODYCOMBAT style. In workouts two and three, a trainer takes you through the basic movements that make up BODYCOMBAT. This is very helpful. As someone who has never done a roundhouse before, I was happy to have this instruction and time to practice. Once I finished the first three videos, I was feeling pretty confident and ready to combat my butt off.
And then I did workout four and it fell apart.
I found myself standing still in the middle of my living room, staring at the screen, trying to figure out what the heck I was supposed to be doing.
Suddenly I was speeding through a routine that incorporated a movement that we hadn't covered in the instruction videos, and I found myself standing still in the middle of my living room, staring at the screen, trying to figure out what the heck I was supposed to be doing. Luckily, I was alone at home—I could pause and rewind the video (a few times) while I slowly pieced it together and worked out the routine. Once I restarted the video from the beginning, my heart rate had definitely dropped, but at least I was then able to keep up with the instructors on the screen for the full workout.
In the end, this was a small hurdle that was easily solved. Until I can take a class in person, I'll assume this is simply a downfall of the online version. Given how much fun I had doing the BODYCOMBAT videos—not to mention the agility, balance, and coordination benefits I could glean from including a workout like this in my exercise regimen once every seven to ten days—I'll forgive them for not holding my hand 100 percent of the time.