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

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Published by Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: January 25, 2024
FACT CHECKED by Dr. Kristy Dayanan, BS, MD
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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

  • Key martial arts for weight loss include Muay Thai, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, boxing, judo, and taekwondo, each offering unique techniques and fitness benefits.
  • Engaging in martial arts is an effective way to lose weight, as these disciplines combine intense physical activity with self-defense skills.
  • Martial arts like Muay Thai can burn up to 600 calories per hour, making them highly efficient for weight loss.
  • Personally, I find martial arts to be a more engaging and practical approach to fitness than traditional gym workouts, as they offer mental and physical benefits.

What Are the Best Martial Arts for Weight Loss?

Martial artists shaking hands before fighting

The best martial arts for weight loss include Brazilian jiu-jitsu, mixed martial arts (MMA), Muay Thai, boxing, kickboxing, Taekwondo, and karate, each offering effective calorie-burning workouts and various physical benefits.

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 blends styles like kickboxing, Jiu Jitsu, boxing, wrestling, karate, and judo, creating a full-fledged fighting discipline.

It demands fighters to master various techniques, transforming a boxer into a kickboxer and a wrestler into a boxer, making MMA top-notch for weight loss.

Here's the kicker: Research by martial arts experts shows MMA torches up to 1,500 calories per hour.

Not just a calorie burner, MMA also amps up muscle strength for self-defense, plus it's great for overall wellness and personal growth.

Taekwondo

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.

Taekwondo 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.

Choi Hong Hi, the founder of Taekwondo, found through his research that speed trumps muscle mass in delivering powerful strikes. He concluded that fast kicks are more effective than any other body part, sparking Taekwondo's birth.

This martial art, known for its dynamic kicks and jumps, demands intense training that blasts fat quickly. Business Insider reports that Taekwondo can burn a whopping 937 calories per hour.

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, or “Thai kickboxing”, hailing from Thailand, is not your average kickboxing. It's a full-body combat sport including kicks, punches, plus knees, elbows, and upper-body grappling.

Dubbed the “Art of Eight Limbs” for its variety of strikes, it's heavily focused on kicking. Fighters must master footwork for defense and powerful counterattacks. Success in Muay Thai hinges on intense leg, lower body, and core training.

“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

I can tell you that boxing is much more than just punches – it's one of the most challenging workouts in martial arts.

It's not all about upper body strength; boxers also beef up their lower body, like thighs and calves, for lasting ring endurance. They master various punch styles while staying nimble to dodge blows, requiring quick footwork and a supple core.

Prepping for boxing means heavy lifting in strength, endurance, and cardio to shed fat. Quick arm and leg moves are crucial too. Plus, you can burn over 800 calories in a boxing session, as earlier data shows.

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

Krav Maga, integral to Israeli military training, is a top-notch workout for those overweight and seeking practical self-defense skills. It melds various martial arts like judo, boxing, BJJ, Muay Thai, and wrestling.

This discipline teaches potent strikes, boosting strength, conditioning, and even mental health.

An hour of Krav Maga zaps about 616 calories, making it a fast track to weight loss. It's part of the broad spectrum of martial arts that simultaneously burns fat and equips you with self-defense tactics.

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.

Are Martial Arts Good for Fat Loss?

Yoga people doing a kick

Yes, martial arts can be effective for fat loss due to their combination of intense cardio, strength training, and flexibility exercises.

Martial arts classes pack a punch with intense cardio, strength, and flexibility exercises, torching calories and sculpting superb physiques.

These high-octane sessions, mixing various techniques, rev up calorie burn by working multiple muscles. The discipline and routine in martial arts streamline weight loss and body shaping.

A balanced diet is crucial, refueling muscles with essential nutrients and speeding up recovery after tough training or sparring.

The result? Fighters and kickboxers flaunt solid cores, ripped bodies, and minimal fat, thanks to disciplined eating and varied cardio workouts.

The diet discipline and high and low-intensity cardio workouts involved in martial arts training enable them to lose weight quickly.

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.

Research from the National Library of Medicine suggests that strength and endurance training in combination with a healthy and balanced diet is effective in weight loss [1].

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.

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

A study from the National Institute of Health shows that high-intensity training exercises burn more calories [2].

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.

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, making it an effective way to stay fit and lose weight.

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.

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

Comparison with Conventional Gym Workouts

Martial arts training and traditional gym workouts differ in focus and benefits.

  • Gym routines typically center on isolated muscle groups and cardiovascular health, emphasizing repetitive exercises like weightlifting and running.
  • Martial arts, however, offer a dynamic, holistic approach, improving agility, flexibility, balance, and coordination through varied movements like kicks and punches.

Martial arts also integrate mental discipline, enhancing motivation and long-term engagement.

For weight loss, martial arts are particularly effective due to their high-intensity, full-body workouts, which burn calories through both physical exertion and mental focus.

This makes martial arts a more comprehensive and fulfilling option for fitness and weight loss than standard gym routines.

FAQs

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.

Which Is Better Gym or Martial Arts?

Choosing between a gym and martial arts depends on your goals. Gyms offer varied equipment and workouts for general fitness, while martial arts provide structured training focusing on discipline, self-defense, and mental growth. Consider your personal objectives and preferences.


References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7177353/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25162652/
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About The Author

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC is an ex-National Soccer player turned MMA and Kickboxing champion, with ACE CPT and PN1-NC certifications. His advice is rooted in education and experience, ensuring that readers receive scientific and battle-tested insights. His mission is to empower his clients and readers to realize their potential and become the best versions of themselves.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Kristy June Dayanan, BS, MD is an author with a BS degree from University of the Philippines and an MD from University of Perpetual Help System. Her ability to simplify medical science complexities and dietary supplement jargon for the average reader makes her a valued medical fact checker and reviewer.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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