Combat and play fighting is well aligned with the primal nature of many intelligent animals. In terms of evolutionary usefulness, it’s about as functional as any form of exercise can get.
Until you’ve participated in martial arts, it’s impossible to understand just how frail and “in danger” you would be during a physical attack or confrontation. Training in martial arts is great for weight loss and fitness; and it could also save your life.
The reason some martial arts are so well suited to promoting fat loss and improved body composition is because they blend functional movements with strength training, cardiovascular conditioning, agility, mobility and flexibility, spatial awareness, and gross motor control.
Here are the top five martial arts for fat loss and fitness.
1. Muay Thai
Muay Thai is characterized by brutal kicks, knees, and elbows. It’s a very basic and straightforward martial art that doesn’t contain a lot of flashy and fancy techniques, throws (though sweeps are common), joint locks, and so on.
Training for Muay Thai centers around developing punching, kicking, knee, and movement skills, fight strategy, and conditioning. Workouts are very tough and sparring is even tougher. It may be possible to find a gym that allows you to not spar, but it’s uncommon.
2. Brazilian Jiu JitSu
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a martial art characterized by devastating throws, takedowns, sweeps, joint locks and limb manipulation, chokes, and controlling positions.
Aside from wrestling and judo, it offers the unique advantage of taking another human being out of the domain of using kicks and punches in a standing position to the ground where only skills specific to ground martial arts will prevail. For this reason, it’s one of the best self defense martial arts for single attacker scenarios.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is very physically demanding, beautifully blending aerobic and anaerobic demand. It conditions practitioners in a unique way — it seems the only way to condition yourself for BJJ is to practice BJJ. Sparring is a staple in nearly every practice which is where most of the demand comes from.
Wrestling is another martial art that takes place primarily on the ground, though wrestling starts in a standup position. It features devastating takedowns and top position control. Like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, there is no punching or kicking — it’s all about the control of the opponent.
Wrestling got the nod for fitness and fat loss over BJJ because there tends to be less stalling in advanced level wrestling matches and more emphasis on strength and endurance (versus BJJ’s emphasis on grace and flow).
4. Olympic Taekwando
The only martial art besides judo to be featured as an olympic sport is Taekwondo. It’s important to mention that there are various styles of Taekwondo and the olympic version is much different than the traditional styles. There’s no kata, no board breaking, no throws, etc. — it’s all about developing the most devastating kicking techniques possible while utilizing one of the broadest striking arsenals of any martial art.
Olympic Taekwondo is characterized by devastating and highly dynamic kicking techniques. It emphasizes both speed and power while using flexibility and spatial awareness to deliver many techniques in quick succession to both the body and head.
Because it requires so much speed, agility, and explosiveness, training is very demanding and feels more demanding than other martial arts because it solely focuses on developing the largest muscle groups in the body (legs).
5. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)
MMA is a combination of many traditional styles but as morphed into a cohesive style of its own. As an interesting note, most of of the styles in this list have risen to the top when tested inside the MMA arena. The top MMA athletes tend to be well versed in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Wrestling, and Muay Thai. There are a few title holders who have roots in Taekwondo as well.
Many gyms will allow you to participate in the very demanding training style of MMA without ever “fighting” in MMA. Light sparring is almost always required though. Training is very demanding because there are so many skills and so many positions with a strong emphasis on speed, strength, endurance, and agility. For this reason, MMA athletes are among the fittest athletes in the world.