8 of the Best Martial Arts to Help You Improve Your Fitness

Martial arts are about much more than just self-defense and protecting yourself from aggressors. They can be incredibly physically demanding. In this article, we look at eight of the best martial arts to not only improve fitness but balance, aerobic capacity, muscle endurance, and mobility, as well as overall wellbeing.

1. Judo

Judo combines grappling, throws, and joint locks to use an opponent’s force against them. It is also an effective way to lose weight, burning up to 420 calories per 30-minute session for an individual weighing 185 pounds.

Judo not only helps you improve your physical fitness, but it also has the potential to enhance emotional wellbeing. One small study of 90 adolescents who regularly practiced the sport found that they demonstrated significantly higher life satisfaction.

2. Taekwondo

Focusing principally on kicks, this Korean martial art has grown to become extremely popular globally, with more than 70 million practitioners worldwide. Taekwondo was first recognized as an Olympic sport in 2000 and formed part of the schedule at Tokyo 2020.

Taekwondo helps to tone leg muscles, boosting flexibility and agility. In fact, taekwondo works virtually every muscle in the body, from the fingers to the toes, but especially the core.

Compared to other martial arts, taekwondo is a relatively new discipline. Developed in the 1940s, it is a fusion of the subak, gwonbeop, and taekkyeon Korean fighting styles, bearing a heavy influence from popular martial arts like karate. The sport helps to improve strength in the arm and leg muscles and builds muscle in the lower torso.

3. Brazilian jiujitsu

This martial art focuses on grappling and ground fighting and emphasizes flexibility and agility over physical strength, setting itself apart from other martial arts. This enables accomplished followers to throw opponents well above their weight range.

Brazilian jiujitsu is a fun sport that makes competitors think, strategize, and analyze while increasing flexibility and building muscle. In addition to strengthening their arms, legs, and core, participants get a great cardio workout.

First originating in Japan before it was introduced to Brazil by Mitsyuo Maeda, a Japanese diplomat, the overriding objective of jiujitsu is to “close the gap” — getting into a tight clinch with your opponent and using a controlling position to take them down and finish the fight. Jiujitsu is an integral component of mixed martial arts training today, building strength and agility through a combination of punches and upper body moves.

4. Boxing

One of the most popular routes to building a fitter, leaner, stronger body, boxing can burn up to 600 calories per hour. Despite its huge popularity in gyms, boxing is not a sport to be underestimated or taken lightly. Although this form of training provides multiple fitness benefits, it is also incredibly demanding, requiring considerable dedication from participants to handle intense workouts without significant risk of injury.

Punching bags can be a great way to improve strength and stamina. Whether you opt for a heavy bag or a speed bag, punching bags are an effective way of improving your fitness. Heavy bags provide a great cardio workout, while speed bags help to improve reflexes and build stamina.

5. Muay Thai

Originating in Thailand, Muay Thai is similar to American kickboxing, but in this martial art, opponents are allowed to use their elbows and knees.

Muay Thai provides a great cardio workout, burning up to 450 calories per hour, according to an American Council on Exercise study. Other benefits include improved flexibility, coordination, sharper reflexes, and increased strength.

6. Sambo

Concentrating on fast groundwork, takedowns, and throwing skills, sambo requires participants to leverage momentum and inertia, tussling their opponent to the ground and holding them there. Training rapidly boosts fitness levels, helping participants to lose weight and improve physical dexterity and agility while promoting emotional balance and self-discipline.

Sambo originated in the Soviet Union, incorporating elements of Turkic and Asian wrestling styles. The martial art concentrates on leglocks, belt turns, and hard-hitting striking techniques. In many ways, Sambo is a more versatile form of judo, strengthening the body to enable participants to attack from various angles.

Each Sambo lesson starts and ends with exercises designed to increase flexibility, improve reflexes, and boost cardiovascular health.

7. Capoeira

This intriguing Brazilian martial art fuses music and dance with acrobatics, combining speed and power with spins to deliver fast, accurate low-trajectory kicks to throw your opponent off-guard. Training enhances blood flow, hand-eye coordination, and breathing while building muscle at the same time.

8. Kalaripayattu

Originating in the Kerala region of India, kalaripayattu is thought to be the world’s oldest martial art, dating back thousands of years. This age-old discipline works body and mind simultaneously, helping participants to become more focused, improve stamina and flexibility, and correct bad body habits such as poor posture.

Douglas Healy is a Springfield, Missouri-based attorney with nearly 20 years of legal experience.