6 Best Martial Arts for Fitness & Weight Loss (Ranked!)

Are you wondering about the best martial arts for fitness and weight loss?

In this article, we’ll look at the 7 best martial arts for fitness and weight loss, what the focus of each martial art is, what a session might include, why it’s so great for fitness and weight loss, and the number of calories burned over a 1-hour session.

Before listing the best martial arts for fitness, it’s essential to define fitness.

Fitness is a broad term meaning something different to each person, but for the sake of this article and how most people see it, fitness means having high endurance levels (cardiovascular and muscular) and strength.

On the other hand, weight loss refers to fat loss, which can be more easily achieved by increasing endurance levels. Both fitness and weight loss have the common goal of achieving low body fat and building decent muscle mass.

Best Martial Arts For Fitness & Weight Loss

Here’s the list of the best martial arts for fitness, in terms of improving endurance and strength, and losing body fat as a way to look and feel better.

  1. Boxing
  2. MMA
  3. Muay Thai
  4. Capoeira
  5. Wrestling
  6. BJJ

Note: For each martial art there’s an average amount of calories burned in a 1-hour session. This can vary for each person depending on weight, sex, intensity applied, and school attended – as each school has different training methods and ways of teaching.

1. Boxing

Photo by mborowick

>Calories Burned per Hour: up to 700 calories
Stamina, movement, and precision

Boxing is an amazing martial for fitness and weight loss for many reasons.

The first and most important is that boxing rounds are 3 minutes each and there are a possible 12 rounds, which totals 36 minutes of fighting. This is 21 minutes more than the typical MMA fight length of 15 minutes.

To fight someone for 36 minutes with only 9 minutes break requires incredible stamina, muscle endurance, and mental toughness – which is exactly what boxing trains for.

A big component of boxing is footwork, agility, and movement (head, body, feet) in order to evade punches from an opponent and to set up shots. All of this movement-based training is exceptional for cardiovascular endurance and weight loss as it burns a lot of calories.

Boxing is also a martial art with a heavy focus on sparring. Sparring is the closest thing a boxer can get to a real fight, so it’s great for pressure testing and creating intensely focused sessions where skills and technique are sharpened, and fitness is improved.

Outside of sparring, cardio is mostly improved through jumping rope, on the treadmill, and punching bag workouts where technique can also be improved.

The only negative for boxing is that it’s less diverse and entertaining than other striking-based martial arts such as muay thai as you can only strike with the hands.

2. MMA

>Calories Burned per Hour: 500 to 700
>Focus: Well-roundedness and cardiovascular endurance

MMA is great for fitness and weight loss because of its inclusion of striking, wrestling, and jiu-jitsu (grappling and submissions). This means there’s a lot of variability in each training session which keeps people hungry for more as they encounter new things and improve every session.

It also means there’s a lot to learn, and when martial arts are challenging, progressive, and fun, fitness and weight loss come naturally.

Another reason MMA is great for fitness is that while it requires a variety of training styles, its main focus underlying all styles is to improve cardiovascular endurance. In an MMA fight, if a fighter’s cardio fails them, they’re significantly weaker in all areas and are highly likely to lose.

To improve in MMA, not only do classes improve endurance and require this, but some MMA fighters even train in triathlons before fights as a way to get in great physical shape.

MMA fights are 5 minutes per round (3 or 5 rounds), which is a long time to be fighting at maximum effort with many different martial art styles and using the whole body – thus being great for fitness.

Overall, MMA is incredible for fitness because there’s a huge variety of training and things to learn which means it never gets stale. A typical class includes calisthenics (bodyweight exercises), sparring, striking technique, grappling (wrestling), and jiu-jitsu, just to name a few.

Unlike other martial arts, MMA’s inclusion of several martial arts means its athletes train multiple energy systems, such as the aerobic, creatine and phosphate, and glycolytic system – making it an incredible martial art for fitness.

3. Muay Thai

Photo by Eric Langley

>Calories Burned per Hour: 500 to 650
>Focus: Intensity and variability of striking techniques

Muay Thai is amazing for fitness because it’s very fun. It’s known as the art of eight limbs because striking involves punches, elbows, knees, and kicks.

This extra variety makes practitioners exceptionally well-rounded strikers and makes training more fun as there’s so much to learn and practice.

Muay Thai’s fighting style focuses mostly on striking technique and cardiovascular endurance and less on strength.

However, strength is tested during the standing grappling known as the Muay Thai clinch. This is a constant battle for superior positioning, angles, and grips to either strike an opponent with knees and elbows or initiate sweeps and trips.

Through striking and grappling, muay Thai creates strong cores, mobile and flexible athletes, great cardiovascular endurance, and calorie-burning workouts. 

Bringing this all together and making Muay Thai so great for fitness is its incorporation of a lot of sparring to practice technique and fighting ability against fellow practitioners. Sparring is the most intense type of training outside of an actual fight.

The intensity from sparring provides a great workout and trains the ability to focus. Competitive Muay Thai sparring keeps a person fully engaged and losing track of time so that fitness comes easily.

Muay Thai athletes are primed for 15 minutes of intense fighting (5 rounds of 3 minutes each).

How great a martial art is for fitness can rely greatly on the school within each martial art – some are intense and some aren’t.

This isn’t so much a problem in Muay Thai, where the majority of schools are intense and great for fitness because of the culture and the way it’s taught (especially in Thailand).

Muay Thai also incorporates a lot of conditioning work to make practitioners as strong and fit as possible.

A favorite exercise for Muay Thai athletes is jump rope (skipping) as it increases cardiovascular conditioning, timing, and coordination, and strengthens feet and ankles to prevent injury.

Overall, muay Thai is great for fitness because of its variety of striking and grappling, and how every time it teaches a technique or a drill, it puts them into intense practice as it’s the best way to learn.

4. Capoeira

Photo by Red CreaDeporte

>Calories Burned per Hour: 500 to 700
>Focus: Flexibility, acrobatics, and kicking techniques

Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art born in 16th century Brazil, used by slaves for self-defense. To mask their training, capoeiristas blended dance and flowing acrobatic maneuvres together.

Capoeira as a martial art isn’t the best in terms of self-defense or progressing as a fighter, but in terms of martial arts for fitness and weight loss, it has to be included. 

With its incorporation of dance, capoeira is one of the most fun martial arts to do and there are also fewer injuries because it’s less fight orientated. Both of these make training easier to stick with and fitness likely to improve as time off isn’t required.

The mixing of acrobatic kicks and high-tempo dancing makes for an extraordinary workout, including improved cardiovascular endurance and calories burned for fat loss.

Also, as capoeira features a lot of hands on the ground and inverted and spanning kick maneuvers, it improves relative strength, body control, balance, joint health, and flexibility.

The downside is that it’s not the most effective self-defense martial art and the mixture of dancing and fighting can be daunting for beginners. Not only this but the acrobatic maneuvres and flexibility required are not easy, even for gifted athletes.

However, difficult or not, attempting capoeira and giving it 100% makes it undoubtedly one of the best martial arts for fitness and weight loss as it’s high energy and a lot of fun.

5. Wrestling

>Calories Burned per Hour: 400 to 550
>Focus: Endurance (muscular and cardiovascular), intensity, and strength

Wrestling is a grappling-based martial art focused on controlling an opponent through clinch-fighting, holds, throws, takedowns, and pins.

Wrestling is an amazing martial art for fitness and weight loss because it features two competitors using all of their strength, will, and cardiovascular/muscular endurance in order to control an opponent against their will.

For this to happen and for there to be progression with wrestling, athletes are required to get stronger with heavy-weight training; especially in the lower body.

Training is geared towards lots of cardio workouts, explosiveness, muscle endurance, stamina, and flexibility.

Also, unlike striking-based martial arts, there aren’t any strikes to the head or body, which if hard, are likely to end your session.

Wrestlers can keep wrestling, improving, and working harder than any other martial art allows for as they’re not getting concussed or injuring bones like in striking or submission-based arts.

Wrestling matches are often only 6 minutes long, split into two rounds of 3 minutes with a 30-second break between. For this reason, wrestling is one of the most intense martial arts and one that requires the most strength and explosiveness.

The only downside of wrestling for fitness is that it can be quite repetitive and harder to stick to because there’s not as much variation compared to other martial arts.

However, this is why it’s one of the best – it’s gritty, relentless, and great for overall fitness. Take a look at any wrestler, they’re always in phenomenal shape.

6. Bjj

>Calories Burned per Hour: 400 to 600
>Focus: Ground grappling and submission technique

Bjj is a great martial art for fitness and weight loss because grappling someone to the ground and trying to defend and attack with various chokes and locks is extremely tiring.

Using technique and leverage to control an opponent is also mixed with ground grappling to secure a better position on the ground before a submission opportunity opens.

With striking-based martial arts, fighters can rest by backing up and circling to avoid engagement, or by throwing defensive strikes such as teeps. 

On the other hand, in Bjj there’s no time to rest because if you do your opponent will maneuver and secure an advantageous position before attempting locks and chokes.

Now you’re working even harder to defend these various locks and chokes until eventually you escape or have to tap.

Over time, increased stamina is built which results in more calories being burned and an ability to work harder for longer – before eventually competing against more experienced jiu-jitsu practitioners.

Bjj is also amazing for fitness because a large component of the teaching is taught through rolling (ground sparring). They see rolling with a similarly skilled competitor as the best way to practice technique and skills.

The added benefit of this competition is an increase in fitness through intense energy-burning rolls.

Bjj is also one of the best martial arts for self-defense because its techniques are effective for all body weights. This means fitness and weight loss come easily as a byproduct of learning a very useful martial art.

Lastly, Bjj is great for fitness because of its belt system. Leveling up skills and acquiring the next belt turns training into a game with goals to aim for. This is a big reason why Bjj is so popular and many students continue with it and get extremely fit long term.

The Bottom Line

Overall, these are the best martial arts for fitness and weight loss because they’re useful (self-defense), fun, intense, and build endurance, flexibility, and strength; while each individual martial art has its own focus and benefits.

Therefore, if strength is the focus, wrestling would be the best, or if cardiovascular endurance and being light on the feet and mobile are the focus, boxing would be best.

If discipline and lack of focus are issues, then MMA or Muay Thai is best because of the variability and intensity.

Regardless, any of the above martial arts provide great fitness and fat loss options.

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