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OCT 6, 2023

The Ultimate Guide to Martial Arts and Contact Sports for Fitness

When it comes to physical conditioning, mental discipline, and self-defense skills, there’s nothing quite like martial arts. But which is best for you?

When it comes to achieving optimal fitness, there are countless ways to get in shape. However, few methods combine physical conditioning, mental discipline, and self-defense skills quite like martial arts and contact sports. Now, we’re not saying go out and pick a fight with someone but whether you're looking to shed a few pounds, build muscle, boost your cardiovascular health, or simply enhance your overall wellbeing, practicing martial arts and participating in contact sports can offer a wide array of benefits. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore some of the best martial arts and contact sports for fitness, with a focus on their unique health advantages.

Judo: The Path to Strength and Flexibility

Judo is often translated as "gentle way." But that’s a bit of a reduction as ‘ju’ in Japanese is more nuanced; with meanings like flexible, resilient, and clever. So what you’re actually being encouraged to do is optimize your strength through positioning and technique.

Physical Fitness

  • Strength: Judo emphasizes using your opponent's energy and balance against them. This requires a strong core and upper body, leading to improved muscle strength.
  • Flexibility: Judo practitioners perform throws, holds, and groundwork, which enhance flexibility and joint mobility.

Cardiovascular Health

  • Endurance: The constant movement in judo provides an excellent cardiovascular workout, increasing endurance over time.
  • Calorie Burn: Judo can help burn a significant number of calories, aiding in weight management.

Mental Wellness

  • Focus and Concentration: Judo requires precise techniques and quick decision-making, promoting mental clarity and concentration.
  • Stress Reduction: The discipline and meditative aspects of judo can reduce stress and anxiety.

Boxing: A High-Intensity Cardiovascular Workout

Boxing has long been associated with intense physical conditioning and is a favorite among fitness enthusiasts for several reasons.

Physical Fitness

  • Cardiovascular Endurance: Boxing involves constant movement, including punches, footwork, and defensive maneuvers. As such, this high-intensity cardio workout improves endurance.
  • Full-Body Strength: Constantly throwing punches and blocking hits requires strong muscles throughout the upper body, core, and legs.

Weight Management

  • Calorie Burn: Boxing can burn a significant number of calories, making it an effective way to shed pounds and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Lean Muscle Development: Repeated boxing movements helps promote lean muscle development, that really sculpts your body.

Stress Relief

  • Release of Endorphins and Cathartic Outlet: Engaging in boxing releases endorphins, which reduces stress and improves your mood. In fact, according to a study printed in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, non-contact boxing “improves mood, self-esteem, confidence, concentration, metabolic burden, strength and coordination.”

Krav Maga: Self-Defense and Total Body Conditioning

Krav Maga has become incredibly popular over the last few years; going from a martial art developed by the Israeli military to a widely adopted, comprehensive fitness regimen.

Physical Fitness

  • Functional Strength: Krav Maga focuses on practical, real-world self-defense techniques that require functional strength.
  • Agility and Coordination: The rapid movements and counters in Krav Maga enhance agility and coordination.
  • Muscular Endurance: Practicing self-defense techniques builds muscular endurance, allowing you to perform better under stress.

Self-Defense Skills

  • Confidence Through Preparedness: Learning Krav Maga builds self-confidence, with those taking part feeling more capable of protecting themselves.
  • Awareness: Practitioners become more aware of their surroundings and potential threats, contributing to personal safety.

Mental Resilience

  • Stress Management: Krav Maga training can be intense, helping participants develop mental toughness and resilience.
  • Quick Decision-Making: In high-pressure situations, Krav Maga practitioners learn to make rapid decisions and react effectively.

Tai Chi: The Gentle Flow of Balance and Relaxation

Tai Chi is a graceful Chinese martial art that combines flowing movements with deep breathing, making it an excellent choice for those seeking a less aggressive, low-impact fitness option.

Physical Fitness

  • Balance: Tai Chi is all about balance and stability, reducing the risk of falls, especially in older adults.
  • Flexibility: The slow, deliberate movements in Tai Chi improve joint flexibility and range of motion.
  • Core Strength: Holding postures and transitioning smoothly requires core engagement, strengthening these muscles.

Stress Reduction

  • Mind-Body Connection: Tai Chi emphasizes mindfulness, promoting relaxation and reducing stress.
  • Improved Sleep: Practicing Tai Chi has been linked to better sleep quality, which is vital for post workout recovery.

Pain Management

  • Chronic Pain Relief: Obviously chronic pain conditions, such as arthritis and lower back pain aren’t removed with a magic wand, but Tai Chi can alleviate the symptoms through improved body awareness and movement.

Kickboxing: A Dynamic Fusion of Cardio and Strength

Kickboxing is a high-energy sport that combines elements of martial arts and boxing, offering a comprehensive workout that targets various fitness goals.

Physical Fitness

  • Cardiovascular Conditioning: As we said with boxing, the constant movement, kicks, and punches involved throughout kickboxing sessions elevate your heart rate and improve your overall cardiovascular fitness.
  • Muscle Toning: The specific kicks and punches you’ll be executing target the entire body, helping to tone muscles.

Weight Loss

Stress Relief

  • Release of Endorphins: And, once again like boxing, the intensity of kickboxing releases endorphins, reducing stress and elevating mood.
  • Empowerment: Learning self-defense skills injects a sense of empowerment and imbued confidence for those looking to hone their senses.

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA): The Ultimate Fitness Challenge

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has gained immense popularity for its rigorous training routines and diverse skill set, making it an excellent choice for fitness enthusiasts.

Physical Fitness

  • Full-Body Workout: MMA training includes striking, grappling, and ground fighting, providing a complete workout that targets all major muscle groups.
  • Cardiovascular Endurance: The intense sparring sessions and drills enhance cardiovascular fitness and endurance.

Functional Strength

  • Practical Strength: MMA training emphasizes functional strength that can be applied in real-life situations, from an active work life to outdoor activities at the weekend.
  • Core Strength: The focus on groundwork and grappling moves requires a strong core - which improves overall stability.

Mental Toughness

  • Resilience: MMA training teaches mental toughness, helping individuals push through physical and mental barriers.
  • Problem Solving: MMA practitioners are constantly having to adapt to different opponents and situations, enhancing improvisation and problem-solving skills.Kickboxing is a high-energy sport that combines elements of martial arts and boxing, offering a comprehensive workout that targets various fitness goals.

Taekwondo: Kicking Your Way to Fitness

Taekwondo is a Korean martial art known for its high kicks and dynamic movements. All of which offers you a unique approach to physical fitness.

Physical Fitness

  • Leg Strength: Taekwondo's emphasis on kicking develops strong leg muscles, enhancing balance and agility.
  • Cardiovascular Fitness: Sparring and forms practice elevates the heart rate and improves cardiovascular health.

Discipline and Focus

  • Mental Fortitude: Taekwondo instills metnal discipline, focus, and respect through its traditional training methods.
  • Stress Reduction: Another huge part of Taekwondo is the meditative aspect at its core. Similar to Tai Chi, this can bring a sense of inner peace and harmony to your actions.


To sum up, there’s a whole host of different martial arts and contact sports that offer a rich tapestry of fitness options. Each weaving its unique threads of physical conditioning, mental fortitude, self- defense skills, and personal empowerment to bolster and elevate your fitness routine.

More than that, these varied disciplines go beyond the pursuit of a fit physique and embody a holistic approach to wellness. So, whether you're seeking a path to physical vitality, mental resilience, or personal empowerment, there’s undoubtedly a martial art to help transform your fitness and wellbeing journey.


Which martial art is best for beginners looking to improve their fitness?

For beginners, martial arts and contact sports like Tai Chi and Kickboxing can be excellent starting points. Tai Chi offers low-impact, flowing movements that enhance balance and flexibility, making it accessible for individuals of all fitness levels. While Kickboxing provides a dynamic mix of cardio and strength training, making it a great choice for those looking to burn calories and build muscle while learning self-defense skills.

Can martial arts and contact sports help with stress reduction?

Yes. Many of these disciplines, including Boxing, and Krav Maga, can significantly reduce stress. This is because Boxing and Kickboxing release endorphins, which alleviate stress and improve your mood. Similarly, Krav Maga training can serve as a cathartic outlet for stress and anxiety.

Are martial arts suitable for individuals seeking weight loss and muscle toning?

Of course. Martial arts and contact sports like mixed martial arts (MMA), and Taekwondo provide intensive workouts that can aid in weight loss and muscle toning. Both focus heavily on constant movement and improvisation, which combines cardiovascular conditioning with strength training. Both of which help individuals shed pounds while sculpting lean muscle.

Are martial arts and contact sports safe for all age groups?

Martial arts and contact sports can be adapted for individuals of various age groups and fitness levels. No matter what discipline you pursue, it's essential to choose the right level of intensity based on your age, fitness goals, and any pre-existing medical conditions. So always consult with expert trainers and medical professionals first.

Can martial arts empower individuals beyond physical fitness?

Absolutely. In addition to physical benefits, these disciplines empower individuals in numerous ways. Learning self-defense techniques like those in Krav Maga and Taekwondo can boost self-confidence and personal security. What’s more, the mental resilience developed through training carries over to daily life, helping individuals confront challenges with greater determination. Additionally, the sense of community within these disciplines fosters a support network that extends beyond the training mat, enhancing personal growth and development.

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Written by Matthew Stogdon

Matt has been writing for two decades, across print and digital media. He is also an accomplished filmmaker, with several accolades under his belt.


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