best martial arts for weight loss

Best Martial Arts for Weight Loss

Martial arts are some of the best hobbies out there. They are the quintessential multi-purpose hobby, providing an excellent basis for self-defense, a fun way to work out, and intense exercises to lose weight. 

One of the most common aspects of martial arts discussed is self-defense, but another important reason people tend to train in martial art is fitness and weight loss reasons. 

In this article, I will be going through the best martial arts for weight loss.

The arts will be in no particular order since there are many variables to weight loss aside from the specific art (like diet, specific gym, etc.).

Here is a 5 step process to lose weight with martial arts that I prefer you incorporate with your martial arts training (regarding the art you choose).

Kickboxing/Muay Thai (recreational)

The first martial art on my list is kickboxing (Muay Thai is similar, which is why I will discuss these arts as one). It is an art that focuses on using the hands, feet, knees, elbows, and sometimes even the head to deliver all sorts of punches. 

The one downside of kickboxing for weight loss is that if your sole goal is to lose weight, you might not like all the sparring that goes on since kickboxing (and Muay Thai as well) is one of the arts with the highest amounts of sparring. 

However, since most gyms see both the business potential and the moral incentive in them, many places have recreational or aerobic kickboxing (sometimes called cardio kickboxing). This is one of the best options out there. 

Recreational or aerobic kickboxing is meant to provide an excellent full-body workout without much of the sparring and intense fights that usually happen in standard classes. 

This allows practitioners to use kickboxing as a way to lose weight while learning to punch and kick. These classes usually feature a healthy mix of strength training and aerobic training, and they are also entertaining, so if you are looking for a martial art to lose weight, it should be between the first things you should be looking for. 

According to an article from Ace Fitness, a study of theirs has shown cardio kickboxing can burn anywhere from 350-450 calories an hour! [1]

Another great advantage of this martial arts is that it is incredibly widespread. Kickboxing gyms can be found all over the world, even in the smallest cities and towns, let alone large cities.

If only half of the kickboxing gyms have an aerobic-type class, you still have a great chance at finding one nearby, so if you are interested, go for it!

If you would like to learn the basics of striking, or just improve your existing striking skills, the course I highly recommend is the one by Anderson Silva, one of the greatest strikers in MMA history:

striking course


Jiu-Jitsu is one of the most effective and useful martial arts out there to learn. However, aside from its incredible self-defense application, Jiu-Jitsu is also a great calorie-melting form of exercise!

What’s great about Jiu-jitsu is that you don’t need a separation between competition JJ and cardio/recreational JJ.

This makes it widely accessible since probably every JJ school out there will be able to provide the weight-loss results one might expect. 

Naturally, when thinking about martial arts for weight loss, one might easily say that stand-up styles like kickboxing or karate burn way more calories than grappling arts. However, that is often not the case.

The amount of energy exertion needed to roll (grappling on the ground with an opponent) with someone for just 5 minutes is incredibly large. 

Though there are not many accessible studies on the caloric expenditure of people training in Jiu-Jitsu, most estimates say that around 400-800 calories per hour is a plausible estimate.

Just ask any person who has trained in both stand-up and grappling like Jiu-Jitsu; they are likely to tell you how grappling is way more tiring. 

If you would like to learn the fundamentals of BJJ, the course I highly recommend is the one by Bernardo Faria, 5x Black Belt World Champion:

bjj course


Taekwondo, arguably the most famous Korean martial art on the planet, is also an incredible fat-burner.

It gets quite a lot of criticism within the martial arts community for being ineffective, but it sure doesn’t get shade in the fitness community since it can set space for some incredible weight loss. 

Taekwondo is a fairly popular martial art, found in quite a lot of cities and towns, though its popularity is not nearly at the same level as that of kickboxing, boxing, wrestling, or karate.

However, it offers a lot when it comes to weight loss, so make sure you check out whether there is a school near you. 

The reason Taekwondo is great in a weight-loss context is that it is highly acrobatic.

Of course, not initially, so you don’t have to worry about backflip kicks in the third class. Over time, however, the movements become more and more complicated, and the classes more intense. 

This requires you to work on ever more of your leg and core muscles (primarily), which are some of the most important when it comes to weight loss due to their sheer size. 

Of course, simply cardio exercise is also great for weight loss, but growing the largest muscle on your body (quads) and the ones around it and then using those muscles to perform intense, hard kicks just gives a whole new definition to weight-loss training. 

Also, what makes TKD one of the best in my opinion, especially if you don’t care about the self-defense aspect, is the sparring/competition system.

It is a point system, in which landing complicated, hard, and precise strikes is what takes you to victory, not mauling the opponent’s face or anything like that. 

Sparring in TKD is rare, precisely due to the point scoring system, which allows people to focus entirely on their technique and exercise, and not all that much on actually fighting or sparring.

This can make Taekwondo look like an attractive option for people out there who want to get some insight into the martial arts world, but still have weight loss as their primary goal. 


Boxing is another exceptionally famous and widespread martial art, probably the most popular out of the arts on this list.

It can be found almost literally everywhere, from the largest metropolises to the smallest of towns and villages even. 

It has a very long history, dating back as far as history can keep account of it, and even more than that probably. 

People often envision boxing as this combat style wherein you enter a gym and just go about bashing each other’s faces and stomach, however, that isn’t the case. 

There is an entire art of boxing. It is an intricate, complicated art that also provides some of the most extreme workouts out of all martial arts.

Many boxing students will tell you that, especially in the beginning, the day after training your arms don’t seem to exist, and you can barely walk from the soreness. 

Many people also have the fear that if they go to boxing classes, they will be beaten up in the first x months, all until they learn how to fight, which sometimes is the case, but not in civilized boxing gyms. 

Suppose you can find a proper boxing gym. In that case, the first 3-6 months will consist of learning basic form, and even more importantly perhaps (because most people starting boxing is out of shape), weight loss and muscle building, together with body conditioning, endurance training, and more. 

Only after these months of training hard to look and feel better and to have a basic boxing form do you start sparring, and even then it is often voluntary.

This is why my main advice would be to choose a gym based on the coach. If you can talk to them openly, they won’t have a problem if you want to train without sparring, which might be optimal for pure weight-loss gains. 

If you would like to learn the fundamentals of boxing, or just improve your existing boxing skills, the course I highly recommend is the one by Teddy Atlas, one of the greatest boxing coaches of all time:

boxing course


The last martial art on this list is going to be MMA. MMA means mixed martial arts, in which case 99% of coaches and instructors implement both stand-up and grappling styles. This makes it incredible not only for self-defense but also for weight loss. 

The idea behind MMA was to take the best out of all disciplines and form a martial art that fills in the gaps that every martial art has.

A boxer doesn’t know how to use their legs? Sharpen their skills with some kickboxing, Muay Thai or TKD.

A wrestler doesn’t know how to punch? Spend some time focusing on boxing drills. 

The whole philosophy is to take the best from everywhere and turn it into a unified art. This is the same with the weight-loss and exercise regiment when it comes to MMA. 

Often, you will see exercises in a Karate dojo that you wouldn’t see in a wrestling gym, and for obvious reasons. A karateka does not require the same type of exercise, since the movement is different.

What MMA does is combines all of this into one system. 

It puts a lot of focus on developing all parts of your body, and not only the ones needed for a particular martial art, making it arguably one of the best forms of full-body exercise out there, and thus, one of the best weight-loss options out of all martial arts.

If you would like to learn MMA for self-defense, the course I highly recommend is the one by Greg Jackson, the head coach of UFC great Jon Jones:

mma course


The Bottom Line

All of the mentioned martial arts and combat sports are not just an excellent way to lose weight but will also help you learn how to defend yourself, make some good habits, and develop mental health.

Always remember that learning any martial arts is better than not learning one at all. Pick the one, try it. If it doesn’t suit your personal preferences, change it and try another one.

Be sure to enjoy the process!

Vladimir Vladisavljevic has been training in the art of kickboxing for over seven years, holds a Taekwondo black belt, and has a master's degree in sports and physical education. He's also a huge mixed martial arts fan. He's a big deal in Bulgaria as a mixed martial arts commentator, analyst, and podcaster.
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Vladimir Vladisavljevic

Vladimir Vladisavljevic has a master's degree in sports and physical education. He has been training in kickboxing for over seven years and holds a Taekwondo black belt. He's also a huge mixed martial arts fan. Vladimir is a big deal in Bulgaria as a mixed martial arts commentator, analyst, and podcaster. He was known as The Bulgarian Cowboy in the Western world. In addition, he has a YouTube channel where he talks about his love of esports, one of the fastest-growing fields in the world. Our testing and reviewing method.
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