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Padwork blog post

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PADWORK

A workout for the body and mind.

5 minute read

Hitting focus pads or doing ‘pad work’ with a boxing coach is a great physical activity. It works the whole body, which means it can burn lots of calories. Excellent for those wanting to manage their weight. Because you can hit something hard, it can relieve stress. You learn ways to hit hard and confidence grows. Combinations mean you are using both hands, which improves coordination. Slipping and rolling with the punches and moving out of the way leads to better agility and balance. 

 

However, did you know it is also very good for your brain?

 

Learning specific combinations paired with footwork drills, a key aspect, has been linked with growing the size and function of your brain.[1] 

 

Many clients say that hitting the pads and learning the punching and footwork routines is a total break from their day. They think of nothing else. If they do, not only will they get the combination wrong, but they might get hit in the head or punch me in the face, which happens occasionally. For some, it is a form of mindfulness and focus they don’t experience doing other forms of exercise where your mind can wander. 

 

Dancing can improve cognition and reduce Alzheimer’s Risk [2]. Still, interestingly, there are now organisations such as NeuroBoxing dedicated to improving the lives of those with traumatic brain injuries and those suffering from neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s. Padwork has also benefited people with neurological diversities like ADHD and autism. Boxing and the neurodiverse is the subject of my next blog post, which will also cover my journey with boxing and ADHD pre and post-diagnosis in 2014. 

 

Padwork can also improve our brain health in the longterm. In the book Outlive, Peter Attia talks about something called ‘Cognitive Reserve’. He states that learning a new skill over time, one that is quite complex, such as learning upper body and lower body movement patterns simultaneously, has been linked to the brain being more resistant to cognitive decline by building cognitive reserve.

 

The evidence he cites, discussed in depth in this podcast, suggests that activities and challenges that involve nimble thinking processes and quick reactions are more productive at building this ‘cognitive reserve’ than activities that keep the brain active. For example, a crossword or sudoku seems only to make people better at crosswords and sudoku. 

 

Peak Performance by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness covers a similar topic and is one of the best self-help books I have read (thank you, Paul N). They explain ‘system one and system two learning’, coined by Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, PhD. The human brain is divided into two types of thinking: system 1 and system 2. System 1 is automatic and driven by instinct and intuition. However, system 2 is more thoughtful and analytical. System 1 is our default and requires less energy; it is our autopilot. Only when we find something challenging and have to analyse it do we use system 2, which uses more energy because we are growing the strength of our brains. 

 

Our web of knowledge consists of brain cells called neurons. These are linked by axons, which function like fine electrical wires in the brain. When we learn something new, electrical activity travels along these axons. At first, these connections are weak, figuratively and literally, and we struggle with the new task. For example, we can learn a new language or slip a jab with the right shoulder while stepping out to the left off the right foot, then pivoting and counterpunching with a backhand uppercut to the body, left hook, and right hand to the head. All this is done while keeping the guard tight and maintaining balance, distance, timing, speed, and power. In the video below, Tim actually demonstrates this combination at 0:43.

 

If we stop and choose not to struggle, think the task is too complex and give up, we default back to autopilot, system 1. But if we continue out of our comfort zone and endure the new skill, the electrical connection between neurons strengthens. The more we practice, the more our brains become “insulated” against cognitive decline.

 

If we become proficient at a new skill, we need to take it to the next level or learn something new. But we must still practice what we have learned; otherwise, those strong connections will get weaker again. It really is a case of use it or lose it, and we should never stop learning. 

 

There is another aspect of challenging tasks aside from improving brain function, offsetting cognitive decline, and improving mental health. Dr Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist and associate professor of neurobiology and ophthalmology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, has spoken at length about a relatively new area of neurological science called the AMCC. 

 

The AMCC stands for the Anterior Mid-Cingulate Cortex and is directly associated with tenacity and goal achievement. A very short and crude explanation of this science and area of the brain is that when we do things we don’t want to do repetitively, we physically grow this part of the brain, making us more resilient and inclined to see through difficult tasks. But the biggest bombshell is that growing the AMCC literally improves our will to live!

 

So those who consistently test themselves, such as getting out of bed and doing exercise, having cold showers, or even washing up, if it is something you hate, if done regularly, will improve mental health and resilience. We will have more will to live!

 

For more information on this, check out this YouTube clip, in which Dr. Huberman discusses the subject in more depth, along with some very colourful language from David Goggins… 

 

In summary, whether you are young or old, fit or unfit, know how to box or are a complete beginner, have learning difficulties or trouble focusing, learning specific types of pad work with a coach can help many areas of your life!

 

For more information on 1-2-1 boxing coaching, please click here

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