Which are the Best Martial Arts for Weight Loss?

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People holding their black-belts during martial arts training with the caption "Which are the Best Martial Arts for Weight Loss?"

Martial arts have turned out to be the perfect weight loss solution for me, as it is a highly entertaining way to get in an excellent workout. I can spend an hour kicking, punching, boxing, sparring, and training, and I’ll sweat copious amounts of calories away. For me, weight loss has never been more enjoyable, and I can see myself doing martial arts for years to come! I took up martial arts for two reasons:

  • I wanted a fun way to do exercise
  • I wanted to lose weight

Two men - one in white, one in black uniform - sparring in the countryside.

Calories Burned Doing Martial Arts

According to the various websites that I’ve checked out, doing martial arts for an hour will equal a good deal of calories burned:

Weight 130 lbs 155 lbs 180 lbs 205 lbs
Calories Burned 590 704 817 931

This includes:

  • Karate
  • Taekwondo
  • Kickboxing
  • Muay Thai/MMA
  • Judo/Jiu-jitsu/Hapkido
  • Krav Maga

If you are a boxer, you’ll burn about:

Weight 130 lbs 155 lbs 180 lbs 205 lbs
Calories Burned 531 633 735 838

Seeing as I weigh about 280 pounds, it’s easy to burn at least 750 to 1000 calories in a single martial arts practice session – depending on the intensity of the class.

Two people practicing martial arts on a beach.

Which is Best for Weight Loss?

Now, let’s look a bit beyond the calories burned, and let’s take a look at the various types of exercise included in each martial art. We want to know which are the best martial arts for weight loss, and we have to look at each art to know a bit more:


Karate is a martial art centered around power, and the focus is placed more on the upper body strikes – though there are plenty of kicks thrown in. The stances help you to defend yourself, but there isn’t a lot of movement when practicing karate. You’ll get an excellent core workout, as each strike requires you to tense your core muscles to give all of your power. It will burn fat and build some strength, but it won’t be as good for your cardio as other martial arts.

Kung Fu/Taekwondo

Kung Fu is probably the most diverse martial art there is, meaning there are dozens of fighting styles. Many of them require a lot of movement, including jumping, flipping, kicking, and general movement. Taekwondo focuses almost entirely on your kicks, but the flying and leaping kicks are great for a solid leg and cardio workout. They’re both excellent martial arts to lose weight, as you never really stop moving when sparring using these styles.

Woman performing a kick during a martial arts training.

MMA/Muay Thai/Kickboxing

For sheer intensity, you can’t beat MMA and Muay Thai. If you’ve ever seen MMA fighters boxing and kicking away at each other, you know that it’s all about power, speed, and motion. You can see how exhausted the fighters are after a few minutes in the cage, and the truth is that these martial arts are about as good as it gets if you want to lose weight. With all of the moving around, changing stances, throwing kicks and punches, and wrestling, it’s an excellent martial art for weight loss – as well as self-defense.


As you can see above, boxing isn’t quite as good for burning calories as martial arts – at least not during sparring and practice sessions. If you actually go full-on in your boxing for an hour, you’ll burn over 100 more calories than you would doing martial arts. There are few fighting styles as cardio-intense as boxing, as you are throwing all of your power into upper body movements. You’ll feel exhausted fairly quickly if you use all of your power, and you can get your upper body in great shape thanks to the lightning punches and quick dodges you use in the “sweet science”.


For those who need self-defense, both Judo and Hapkido are excellent. They aren’t as good for weight loss, as they don’t use a lot of jumping up and down, moving around, or striking. There are some kicks and punches involved in the martial arts, and hapkido does use some weapons – but all in all, it’s not the best if you want to lose weight.


Probably the most active of the martial arts, Capoeira is dance and fighting blended into one. It’s hard to learn, but it will teach you amazing moves – including acrobatics, kicking, sweeping, knee and elbow strikes, punches, slaps, and even takedowns. It’s an excellent martial art to learn if weight loss is your goal, though you can bet that it will be hard to learn until you drop a few pounds. Once you get light on your feet and you get into the groove of the art, you’re guaranteed to lose weight!

Two women sparring during a capoeira session.

Krav Maga

Krav Maga is one of the most hardcore and brutal martial arts that exists today. It has taken elements from Muay Thai, Judo, Wing Chun (the martial art Bruce Lee practiced), Jiu-jitsu, Judo, wrestling, and boxing. It uses a lot of grappling techniques to disarm, stun, and knock out opponents in seconds, and it’s a martial art focused on real life situations. This means that there’s not a lot exercise in the martial art, though many schools will teach strikes and kicks. Seeing as the goal of Krav Maga is to avoid confrontation – or finish things quickly if you are confronted – it’s all about speed, power, and attacking your opponent’s weak spots.

I didn’t include all of the martial arts, as there are too many to count (wrestling and grappling, Aikido, Lua from Hawaii, Russian Sambo, French Savate, etc.).


The good news is that all of these martial arts can help you to lose weight in an entertaining way. It’s up to you to choose which one will be the best for you!

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0 thoughts on “Which are the Best Martial Arts for Weight Loss?”

  1. I like this list as it might give people some ideas of what martial arts to pursue from a health perspective. Minor correction though regarding Judo. Any Judo session that contains sparring (randori) is all about movement and “moving around” and energy – in fact, Judo is a martial art/sport that is perfectly geared for sparring since there are no strikes and very few moves that require holding back on the part of the practitioners (so long as both parties know how to fall properly).

  2. The conclusion SHOULD say: “these are the best for losing weight: Kung fu, Taekwondo, mma, muy thai, & kickboxing.”

  3. In my opinion the key is intensity of the training and inclusion of sparring matches / play fights during each session. Body mobilization during a sparring is a colories killer!


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