martial arts weight lose

Can Martial Arts Build Muscle? (And Help Lose Weight)

Martial arts are a great exercise because they work on your entire body simultaneously.

Different martial arts use various parts of the body more, and each will give you the ability to defend yourself better in case of emergency.

But can martial arts build muscle or help you lose weight?

Martial arts can help you lose weight and build muscles, especially if you are beginning to practice. But, as you advance, you’ll have to implement strength training to gain more muscle, and you’ll need to burn more calories than you take in to lose weight.

That can be harder than you think because as you progress with your training and practice with higher intensity, you will need to take in more calories and protein to maximize the results.

Therefore, you’ll need more training and better diet management to get the desired results, be it gaining muscles, losing weight, or both.

Can Martial Arts Build Muscle?

First, you need to understand how muscle growth works to answer this question. To increase muscle strength, you must put that muscle through more load and work to grow it.

Therefore, if you start practicing martial arts, you will see and feel the results quite quickly to gain muscle and strength. [1]

That doesn’t mean you will become buff overnight, but you will progress as you continue training.

Almost every martial arts training contains a strength workout, sometimes with weights and sometimes using body-weight exercises.

All of that means you will gain muscles all around.

That works great for those who want to get in shape and learn to defend themselves with martial arts.

But, if you’re going to get over the hump, compete at a high level, and continue building your muscles further, you must implement a more thorough strength workout plan.

Increasing your strength will give you a significant advantage in the ring, so it’s crucial to constantly improve it. So, how to do it?

First, it’s always a good idea to use your body weight in training. That means push-ups, sit-ups, squats, burpees – whatever exercise you can think of that uses your body weight to execute. 

As you progress, your muscles will get used to that particular weight, so you must add weight to continue your muscle gain.

Start adding weights to your training. Do bench presses, dumbbell workouts, etc.

If you combine these exercises with your martial arts training, you will be astounded by how quickly the results can come.

Martial arts can help you build muscles, but only to a certain level. When you reach that point, implementing strength workouts will be necessary to continue building muscles. 

The main reason that’s the case is that you do a lot of cardio in martial arts.

Burning calories and gaining muscles don’t go hand-in-hand, so you must balance how you train and what you want to achieve.

If you want to gain muscles, do more strength training.

But, if you wish to lose weight, commit yourself to cardio and endurance exercise.

Can Martial Arts Help with Losing Weight?

As stated before, martial arts can help you lose weight rather quickly, especially in the first few months of training. [2]

I lost 16 lbs in three months when I started kickboxing, as it is a high-intensity cardio workout as much as a martial art and a combat sport. 

But there are layers to it. Sometimes, practicing martial arts can cause weight gain instead of weight loss. It all depends on what you want to achieve.

Depending on that, your coaches will adjust your training to emphasize those goals better. 

If you want to lose weight and get in shape, you will do many more high-intensity workouts.

That includes weight-bag work, running, doing combinations, intense sparring, and other exercises that will increase your heart rate and get you sweating like crazy.

You have to burn calories to lose weight, and martial arts can be great to do just that.

can martial arts build muscle

However, it’s not rare to see professional fighters moving up in weight divisions because their training results in them gaining weight instead of losing it.

That can happen when you implement hard strength workouts into your plan.

Also, they eat a lot of protein and take in many calories to improve muscle gain, resulting in weight gain.

If your goal is to lose weight, you have to ensure that you are burning more calories than you are taking in.

A high-intensity cardio workout burns a lot more than lifting weights, so you should focus your training on that kind of exercise more. 

But, if your goal is to gain muscle and be bulkier, you’re probably aware that you will gain weight as you do it.

There is a silver lining where you can do both by adjusting your workout plan gradually to find that balance.

Ultimately, it all depends on whether you’re practicing martial arts to get in shape and learn self-defense or actually to compete in sports.

Why Do People Think You Can Quickly Lose Weight with Martial Arts?

I wanted to share my thoughts on the general idea that martial arts mean losing weight and how that idea came to be.

We tend to see and hear a lot about martial artists rapidly losing weight before their fights, especially in MMA, where fighters drop as much as 20 lbs in a few days

While they do lose weight so rapidly, it presents a wrong picture of martial arts and weight loss because people don’t hear all of it. [3]

The fighters dehydrate themselves extremely to meet the weight limit of their desired category.

But, after the weigh-ins are complete, they regain as much as 15 lbs in 24 hours, giving them an advantage when fight time comes.

That’s in no way a healthy way to lose weight, and you shouldn’t think that martial arts lead you to such rapid weight loss.

It has nothing to do with martial arts but with dehydration, a unique diet plan, and a team of nutritionists and doctors watching you every step of the way.

Best Martial Arts for Weight Loss

Incorporating martial arts into your fitness routine can be highly effective when it comes to achieving your weight loss goals. Various disciplines offer unique combinations of cardio, strength, and technique training. Here are some excellent options to consider for shedding those extra pounds:


Kickboxing is an intense, calorie-torching workout that combines punches, kicks, and knee strikes. This martial art not only tests your cardiovascular endurance but also works on building strength in your core, legs, and arms. Its high intensity and full-body engagement make it a perfect choice for rapid weight loss.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)

BJJ is a grappling-based martial art focusing on ground fighting and submission techniques. Although it’s not as high-intensity as kickboxing, BJJ workouts still provide an excellent option for weight loss. The continuous movement and positional transitions enhance muscular endurance, increase flexibility, and burn calories in the process.

Muay Thai

Muay Thai is a striking martial art that involves punches, kicks, elbows, and knee strikes. Training in Muay Thai demands high cardiovascular and muscular endurance levels as it works your entire body. The intense training sessions help to burn calories rapidly, making this martial art an ideal option for those seeking to slim down.


Boxing might seem primarily upper-body focused, but this discipline can offer an intense full-body workout. Boxing workouts engage your core, legs, and upper body by incorporating footwork, head movement, and proper technique. Combined with heavy bag work, pad work, and sparring, this martial art can contribute significantly to your weight loss goals.


Taekwondo is a Korean martial art known for its high, fast kicking techniques. It incorporates various movements, stretching exercises, and core strengthening, demanding balance, strength, and flexibility. This martial art engages your entire body, making it a great addition to a weight loss program.

To optimize your weight loss results in any of these martial arts disciplines, it’s crucial to maintain a healthy diet and combine your training with other forms of cardiovascular and strength exercises. Remember that weight loss relies on a calorie deficit, so creating a holistic plan that addresses your physical activities and dietary habits is essential. With consistency and determination, you’ll be well on achieving your weight loss goals.

What Next?

As you were searching for the answer to can martial arts build muscle and help you lose weight, I assume you are thinking of starting with martial arts training.

If you don’t know which one to choose, I highly recommend reading my in-depth guide to choosing your first martial art.

Once you start, here is a detailed 5 step process on how to lose weight with martial arts. Check it out!

Gianluca Martucci, Gianluca Martucci is a personal trainer and an athletic trainer.
Article by

Gianluca Martucci

Gianluca Martucci is a personal trainer and an athletic trainer. Since he was a kid, he has been a big fan of Martial Arts and Combat Sports: from Wrestling and now MMA to Karate and Kung Fu, for this reason he specialized in workouts for martial artistis. Our testing and reviewing method.
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