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5 Best Martial Arts for Weight Loss (What You Need to Know)

Michael Garrico
Published by Michael Garrico | Co-Founder & Marketing Director
Last updated: August 11, 2023

In my long experience as a fitness trainer, I’ve learned that, sometimes, the best form of weight loss is driven by the purpose of achieving something beyond just shedding pounds.

One such option that I’ve been passionate about for a long time and that has worked for my clients is martial arts. I decided to investigate it as a form of weight loss by exploring fighting styles that help shed pounds.

To help my research, I consulted a colleague who is an MMA expert with a black belt in Jiu Jitsu and Karate.

Let’s dive in.

Quick Summary

  • Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Mixed martial arts, boxing, Muay Thai, Taekwondo, and Krav Maga are among the best martial arts for weight loss.
  • When choosing martial arts for weight loss, consider fighting styles emphasizing strength training and high-intensity workouts.
  • Besides helping you lose weight, martial arts training teaches you how to defend yourself, which can boost your confidence and mental health.

Are Martial Arts Good for Fat Loss?

Yoga people doing a kick

Yes, martial arts are good for fat loss.

Most martial arts classes incorporate intense cardio workouts, strength training, and flexibility and mobility workouts which help in burning calories and, thus, help martial arts fighters attain an excellent physical shape.

Martial arts training is also associated with significant weight loss due to its combination of intense workouts and calorie-burning activities.

Martial arts classes involve a variety of techniques and movements that engage multiple muscle groups, increasing the number of calories burned during each session.

Combined with martial arts' discipline and structure, this makes it easy to lose weight fast and get in shape.

What's more? Martial artists acquire rigid discipline and self-consciousness that is useful in making better food choices.

In this regard, diet is important in martial arts. Training requires a balanced, healthy diet.

That's because fighters need to adequately replenish their muscles with micronutrients that can aid their performance. It's also essential in healing, especially after rigorous training or sparring.

This is why you see fighters and kickboxers with strong core muscles, shredded physiques, and low body fat. The diet discipline and high and low-intensity cardio workouts involved in martial arts training enable them to lose weight quickly.

How Many Calories Do You Burn With Self-Defense Training?

A person punching a punch bag

You burn upwards of 500 calories per hour with self-defense training.

I got this estimate from a colleague of mine who works with professional martial artists. He collects various tracking data from training with his fighters in different martial arts.

His analysis showed that top self-defense training exercises burn way more than 700 calories each hour. However, some may burn lower than 500.

The point is; it depends on how intense the training session is and your body weight. You see, the more you weigh, the more you burn

A lot more factors may determine the number of calories burned. But for now, let’s focus on what's more important - the intensity of your workout.

Let's examine some of the best martial arts for losing weight.

What Are the Best Martial Arts for Weight Loss?

Martial artists shaking hands before fighting

The best martial arts for weight loss are Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Mixed martial arts, Muay Thai, Boxing, Kickboxing, Taekwondo, and Karate.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)

BJJ is a popular fighting technique and among the most effective martial arts for rapid weight loss. According to my colleague's testing data, just one hour of BJJ can burn up to 1,000 calories.

Here’s how.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a high-intensity full-body workout that engages almost all core muscles. So, when fighters engage in BJJ, they put most of their muscles to work.

Second, martial art incorporates various techniques that are effective in burning fat and enabling weight loss. Below are some of the activities involved:

  • Drilling and grappling techniques
  • Working from the ground, transitions, and submissions to overcome an opponent
  • Balancing from several positions, side control, mounting, and full guard
  • Stretching workouts after a training session
  • Sparring and rolling

Now, some of these activities will burn more calories than others. For instance, rolling will burn more than stretching. That's because rolling is more intensive than stretching.

Besides calorie burning, another good thing about BJJ is it helps you develop resilience, strength, and discipline.

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)

A coach training a mixed martial artist outside

MMA training borrows from different martial arts fighting styles, striking like kickboxing and grappling in all positions, including on the ground like Jiu Jitsu.

It unifies the best in all fighting disciplines, from boxing to wrestling, kickboxing to karate, and judo.

Because of this, the exercises are also unified, and MMA fighters have to train robustly in all different techniques.

For instance, a boxer will have to sharpen his kickboxing, and a wrestler will have to complete some boxing drills. This makes MMA one of the best martial arts out there for weight loss.

Data from the professional martial arts trainer corresponds to this finding. The report asserts that MMA burns the most calories at 1,500 every hour of exercise.

Besides burning calories, MMA also builds and strengthens muscles for self-defense. It's also an excellent workout for well-being and personal development.


Tae Kwondo is one of the oldest martial arts, dating back thousands of years. It involves kicks and lots of continuous movement while upstanding.

The jumping, flipping, and kicking involved in this sport can burn more calories than an equivalent time on a treadmill.

Tae Kwondo may seem like any other combat sport, but you will be surprised to know that there’s more scientific thought behind it than any other martial art.

In his martial art research dealings, Choi Hong Hi, the founder of Tae Kwondo, discovered that concerning a strike's power, speed was more critical than the muscle mass or weight behind it.

It led him to believe that a kick would deliver a more significant blow to an adversary than any part of the body, especially when delivered in an expeditious manner.

This led to the discovery and development of Taekwondo as a martial art [1].

Taekwondo incorporates kicks and jumps that require some high-intensity training exercises to master. That's how the training exercise nukes fat fast. In fact, Business Insider asserts that this martial art exercise can burn up to 937 calories an hour [2].

Besides weight loss, there are loads of benefits that come with training in Taekwondo: 

  • The training strengthens, and tones muscles and increases stamina and strength
  • The movements and the emphasis on speed help enhance flexibility and mobility
  • Learning Taekwondo boosts self-esteem, self-discipline, concentration, and confidence

Muay Thai

A muay thai practitioner posing for the camera

Muay Thai has its origins in Thailand, thus the moniker “Thai Kickboxing”, which is another name for this fighting style. But don’t confuse it with regular kickboxing because that's an entirely different combat sport.

You see, kickboxing involves kicks and punches only. On the other hand, Muay Thai also involves knees, elbows, and upper-body grappling in addition to kicks and punches.

Because of the diversity of attacking tools, this fighting style is also known as the “Art of Eight Limbs”.

While this is the case, Thai kickboxing is mostly kick-centric. Fighters have to rely on their footwork to defend themselves against strikes as they prepare to launch counterblows and kicks.

As you can tell, combat demands tremendous leg and lower body workouts. You also have to target some core muscle groups to set yourself up for success in this sport.

“A cardio Muay Thai class which incorporates upper body moves with kicks, knees, and elbows – burns up to 600 calories per hour.”

- Pamorn  Martdee, Champions Gym 

Besides learning to throw low and high kicks, Thai kickboxing incorporates a few stretches and physical conditioning exercises that raise the heart rate and get the blood flowing, a vital aspect in any weight loss exercise regimen.

Consequently, Thai kickboxing is an excellent recommendation if you’re looking to build toned leg muscles and lose weight quickly.


Boxing may be punches only, but it incorporates diverse and some of the most challenging workouts compared to other martial arts.

You might think you only need upper body workout training to be good in this sport. However, you must also train your lower body, especially the thighs and calves, to withstand the ring for prolonged periods.

Boxers practice a variety of punching styles and, at the same time, have to be flexible enough to dodge high-paced fists. This means they have to develop fast footwork and a flexible core.

To get into shape for this combat sport, a lot of work is needed in strength, endurance, and cardio to burn fat. Rapid arm and foot movement also forms a vital training regimen for boxing.

According to the data from the analysis mentioned earlier, boxing classes can result in more than 800 calories burned.

Besides helping you lose weight, here are other benefits that boxing training brings:

  • You learn to defend yourself, thus improving your confidence
  • Improved cardiovascular health
  • Physical fitness
  • Mental health benefits

Krav Maga

Two people practicing Krav Maga

Synonymous with the Israeli military, Krav Maga is another excellent full-body workout sport suitable for overweight guys looking to acquire self-defense techniques for real-life situations.

Like MMA, Krav Maga also combines a variety of martial arts, including Judo, boxing, BJJ, Muay Thai, and wrestling.

In Krav Maga, you learn powerful striking techniques that can help you increase your strength and conditioning.

In addition, Krav Maga training sessions also boost your confidence, mental health, and resilience [3].

In regards to weight loss, one study investigating its fat-burning ability found that an hour of Krav Maga burns about 616 calories [4]. This makes this fighting style suitable if you want to lose weight quickly.

The above techniques are just a few in the sea of martial arts and combat sports exercises that can help you burn fat and learn self-defense simultaneously.

Other martial arts that can be useful in weight loss include:

  • Kung fu
  • Karate
  • Capoeira
  • Judo
  • Tai Chi

But how do you know which technique will help you improve your body composition and fitness the most? Let's examine a few things you should look for when choosing martial arts for your weight loss journey.

4 Things to Consider When Choosing a Combat Sport for Weight Loss

A coach training a boxer in the ring

Remember, weight loss is your end goal. So the style you choose here should reflect this goal. That said, here’s how to go about choosing the right sport.

1. Strength and Endurance Training

Look for a martial art training regimen incorporating strength training and endurance workouts.

Multiple research suggests that strength and endurance training in combination with a healthy and balanced diet is effective in weight loss [5].

Fighting styles like Jiu Jitsu, boxing, and Muay Thai incorporate strength training which promotes muscle building. This makes them smart choices if you want to improve your body composition.

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2. Cardio and Moving Parts

Feet movement is just as important as strength in fat loss. It's all about increasing your heart rate, which has been associated with fat burning [6].

Now, one of the best martial arts for this is Muay Thai. This martial art keeps your feet on the move and is also good for cardiovascular health.

3. High-Intensity Training

Studies show that high-intensity training exercises burn more calories [7].

Fighting styles like MMA, Kung fu, karate, boxing, and even BJJ, often incorporate high-intensity interval training exercises like heavy bag punching, planks, and deep squat exercises, which result in significant weight loss.

4. What you like

It's important to choose a technique that you enjoy. The last thing you want is to feel burdened.

So, evaluate your personality and choose a combat sport that you love watching so you can have fun while attacking those fat stores.


Will Martial Arts Make You Fat?

No, martial arts will not make you fat. On the contrary, they help you lose weight and instill a sense of confidence and discipline that can assist you in making healthy food choices.

Which Martial Art Builds the Most Muscle?

Martial arts like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, wrestling, and Judo build the most muscle. These fighting styles utilize muscles to grapple, control, and take down opponents, contributing to their growth.

Learn to Kick Ass While Losing Weight

Losing weight doesn't have to be boring. So why not sign up for a martial arts class?

You can learn how to kick ass while shedding that stubborn belly fat. Plus, it’s more fun than cardio and gives you confidence knowing nobody can bully you.

I also recommend adding a fat burner to the mix to boost your weight loss further.

It goes a long way in burning those extra calories to get you to your ideal weight quicker.


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