10 Ways Martial Arts As Exercise Is Good for Health And Fitness

We all want to be healthy and have the same goals for our kids. With so much information and frankly misinformation out there about how to go about it, we need to go back and find out what has worked for millions of people over thousands of years. The martial arts is that method.

The martial arts is a good exercise solution for 10 major healthy reasons:

  1. It reduces injuries to bones and ligaments by increasing density
  2. It helps with posture issues
  3. It evens out the body through ambidextrous development
  4. It aids in achieving weight loss
  5. It increases Cardio or Stamina capacity
  6. It builds unique, useful, and every day applicable strength
  7. It develops speed in ways other programs cannot
  8. It improves balance
  9. It promotes increased flexibility
  10. It helps reduce stress

These claims are more objectively proven than any other method. The martial arts have been around as a practical and usable training regiment for as long as recorded history has existed.

Millions of people have utilized these benefits over thousands of years. Let’s look at each of these claims more in depth to see how you and your family can still benefit from them today.

Bone Density Increases With Karate and Kickboxing

For generations Karate practitioners have known about the bone strengthening and tendon thickening effects of martial arts conditioning. There are specific and general exercises that contribute to this, but much of the training done in striking styles of self defense produce these results.

There is science behind this and not just general consensus of martial artists. With the sort of impact that occurs on the bones as in striking styles of martial arts, there are micro-fractures that are created. These micro-fractures do not cause permanent harm, but help over the long run to strengthen skeletal structures.

As the body heals these in the bones, more material is added to the area than was there before. This increases bone density over time. As long as care is taken that impact doesn’t reach dangerous levels, the bones get stronger and stronger.

For an example of how many martial artists achieve this effect, see my article on board breaking and its positive attributes.

The tendons react in the same manner. When repairing these micro-tears, more material is added to the tendons, thus creating stronger connections than before.

Both of these can be increased by regular practice on re-breakable boards. Follow this link to Amazon to see some of the best and inexpensive re-breakable boards that can save trees and increase your bone and tendon density.

Faculty researchers in a study done at the Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic found that martial arts techniques designed to thicken and strengthen bone material showed an increases on measurable scales in the density of bone in various parts of the body.

With research behind it and practical experiential evidence supporting it, the martial arts can be said to objectively increase not only muscle tone and strength of motion. It also strengthens the very bones and tendons of the skeletal system. There is almost no other exercise activity that can make claims even close to these.

Martial Arts Can Correct Problems With Posture

There are many problems with posture that adults and even kids can have. There are chronic issues and then there are simple sitting and standing habits that have become a problem over time. These could affect the neck, back, shoulders, and hips.

When scientists study the effects of martial arts practice on students both juvenile and adult they find that even basic stances, techniques, and movements are based on proper posture. To correctly perform these movements, students are encouraged to align their bodies to proper levels.

This stressing of proper posture shows in the research coming from a study done by researchers from the Busan University of Foreign studies, Republic of Korea, Youngsan University, Republic of Korea, and the College of Medical Life Science, Busan Republic of Korea.

What the research showed was that most of the basic techniques taught specifically in striking styles of the martial arts promoted good posture and bone health in students. Different movements were shown to positively effect the correction of different skeletal sections of the body.

Here I have charted the data to show what techniques in this study demonstrated significant aid in correction of posture in specific parts of the body.

Keep in mind, this is not by any means a comprehensive study of all techniques that can be found in the martial arts. It is a very good representation of what benefits even the basic techniques can offer in many styles.

Martial Arts Striking TechniqueBody Part
Positively Affected
Corrective Issues AffectedDegree Of
Positive Effects
Double High Blocking or Bull BlockingNeckNeck Inclination IssuesSignificant
Double Elbow Strike or Yoke HittingNeckNeck Inclination IssuesSignificant
High Block or Face BlockShoulderShoulder Inclination IssuesBeneficial
Side Face BlockShoulderShoulder Inclination Issues Beneficial
Lower Palm BlockShoulderShoulder Inclination IssuesBeneficial
Middle BlockShoulderShoulder Inclination IssuesBeneficial
Front StanceHipsPelvic Inclination IssuesSignificant

Coordination Increases With Ambidextrous Training


In Kali it is extremely important to use both hands when training and to become at least nearly as good with what is called the ‘off hand’ side as with your dominant hand. This can be said about many other martial arts systems, but not all.

To see more information on Kali and the Filipino Martial Arts, see my article here.

Boxing and kickboxing for instance has so few techniques that is it imperative to become an expert in the ones that are offered. If your time is spent training for a sport match in boxing equally with each side of the body, you could definitely be at a disadvantage against a combatant that has spent the entire time on one side.

The boxer or kickboxer that has spent 100% of the time on one side will the majority of the time not be forced to switch and therefore will be more proficient. The athlete that split their time may be able to switch stances, but will not have the skill level on either side that equals the first one’s skill on the dominant.

Though this is true for Boxing and kickboxing with limited techniques and massive amounts of rules to the sport, it is not the case for many other styles and self defense systems. Kali, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Karate, etc. all ask their students to become as ambidextrous as possible.

If there is an injury in a self defense situation to the dominant side and the off hand side has not been properly developed, this could spell disaster. Also, in the sports related to most styles, there are a wide variety of techniques, so switching, faking, misdirection, and feinting are all important aspects that require coordination of both sides of the body.

Martial Arts Helps With Weight Loss

Photo By: Lance Cpl. Jackeline M. Perez Rivera, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune

According to the Arizona State Healthy Lifestyles Research Center website, Compendium of Physical Activities, the Met score for most martial arts styles in their training is at 10.3. This number is supported by published literature and is a median score for most moderate to high training adults in regular martial arts programs.

If a consistent effort is given during a 1 hour martial arts class most people would fall in the range of this Met score. This is true for styles ranging from TaeKwonDo to Karate and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to Judo.

What is a Met score you might ask? It is a number that is derived by an equation measuring the energy output of a given activity. In other words, it is a reflection of the energy costs associated with your chosen physical exertion.

What will be a determining factor in how many calories are burned in these martial arts classes will many times be the student’s present body weight. The more weight the person carries around while training, the more exertion that is required to do the same task.

So what does this all have to do with weight loss. Weight loss is simple if the truth be told. Reduce sugars so the body doesn’t produce insulin which directs the body to store rather than use calories. Then, either eat less calories to use up fat stores or work out to burn more than you consume. The best by far is a combination of both (though appetite goes way up with activity, so be careful).

So, if you cut sugars and caloric intake then all there is left to do is exercise to cause the body to burn the stored energy in the form of fat. Let’s see how many calories the average moderate to high intensity martial arts 1 hour class burns for different body weights, so you can set your weight loss plan accordingly.

Body WeightMet ScoreCalories Burned
130 lbs10.3639
140 lbs10.3 688
150 lbs10.3 737
160 lbs10.3 787
170 lbs10.3 836
180 lbs10.3 885
190 lbs10.3 934
200 lbs10.3 983
210 lbs10.3 1032
220 lbs10.3 1082
230 lbs10.3 1131

There you have it. You can’t hardly get more calories burned than that unless you jumped rope the entire time. I don’t know about you, but my 1 hour jumping sessions while training for competitions was torture. Martial arts training makes the hour go by much faster.

Cardio Fitness In The Martial Arts

One of the main ways that many sport martial arts competitions are decided is by seeing who can outlast the other person stamina wise. There is a lot to be said about having a good cardio program for sport practitioners, but is it as important for us in our everyday lives?

What about the average martial arts student or the child training? Do they need that level of cardio endurance? The short answer is no. Yet, that only speaks to the level of cardio training that many athletes develop. When we ask whether having a good stamina pool is important in general for everyone, the answer is a definite, yes.

When you can breath you can act, think, and react. When your oxygen level is low, all you can do is try to normalize your system. Many thought processes get ignored as your body focuses on breathing, and what it thinks is survival.

This is all to say, good cardio vascular health affects your moods, mental capabilities, and physical performance. If you are very proficient at anything when you are rested, you really don’t have a measurement of how good you are. The way you can find out if you own that skill is if you can still perform whatever it is at a high level when in an exhausted and stressed state.

The martial artists that know this usually come out on top of most sporting events and real world self defense situations. It is muscle memory and developed instinct that show if someone really has mastered a skill or technique.

Not only is stamina crucial when you are tired. It is also extremely important when you are in the adrenal state. All of your bodies senses are on ‘red alert’, your heart rate is racing, your body is producing excess heat, and your oxygen levels are being depleted by both of these.

It is like you are moving in wet sand sometimes to regain control. What helps is a good cardio routine that many martial arts programs focus on. Strength in certain ways is important, no doubt. But you can be too big and have too much muscle mass.

I would say you nearly always feel that you should have worked harder to build your stamina. Get the strongest man in the world exhausted and he will become putty in your hands.

Strength Training Through Martial Arts

Strength in the martial arts can be a good and even a bad thing. When someone relies mostly on the fact that they are bigger than their opponents, they tend to have sloppy technique and could fold when someone of their same size or with superior technique is in front of them.

The techniques in the martial arts, at least many of them, were designed to overcome brute force. Though strength is needed, it is used differently. Mostly, someone has to become strong enough to move their body with power and speed, even when someone is exerting extreme resistance on them.

Plyometrics, body weight exercises, and resistance partner training are some of the methods many students in the martial arts use to make great gains in the strength they are able to put behind their techniques. Though some use heavy weight training and other means to boost their strength even farther, like with stamina, there is a critical mass here.

Pitting your genetics against another in a sport competition changes things. When each person weighs the same (though both probably played the cutting weight game), are very similarly prepared on the techniques allowed, and have spent similar amounts of time training, it may not be overboard to do many forms of weight training.

Yet for most people, doctors will tell you that heavy weight training is detrimental to long term skeletal and joint health. The martial arts tends to train for strength in ways that does not cross the boundaries in many aspects that would cause future deterioration.

Speed Enhancements After Martial Arts Conditioning

Fast twitch muscle movements as well as endurance style movements that use smaller muscle groups are all needed and trained in the martial arts. This varies on the techniques trained and the style used. To train speed in striking, weapons, or grappling instructors use a wide variety of drills.

You can imagine that speed is necessary to take advantage of openings when using boxing, Karate, TaeKwonDo, etc. Also self evident would be the speed required in parrying, blocking, and striking with weapons.

What may not be as apparent is the speed required in grappling arts such as Judo, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Japanese Jujitsu, or catch wrestling.

The take downs, movements to submission, and off-balancing many times must be lightning fast for students to pull them off. There are minuses to having to rely on speed as we get older, but there will always be a need for quickness in sport and self defense.

What is important to remember when training in the martial arts is that a balanced approach is necessary. Again, those athletes competing on a high level where skill, size, and allowed techniques are relatively equal will need highly developed speed to be able to get the edge over an opponent.

In real world applications, there are points at which training so much for speed could be to the detriment of other areas. If you train hours each day for roundhouse kicking speed, but are waist deep in a swamp with a bayoneted rifle over your head, you have not used your training time wisely.

This also applies to everyday life. You can definitely reach whatever goals you have utilizing the martial arts as a training method. Just make sure that your goals are appropriate for you lifestyle and how you plan to use your martial arts. It is not necessary or sometimes even possible due to genetics to reach the same levels as professional competitors in high level competition circuits.

Balance Improvements

Balance is something that many of us take for granted until we push ourselves at one point or another and find out how little of it we actually have. It is aided by strength, but it has to be directly practiced in order to improve it significantly. The martial arts is a great way to improve balance whether standing, on the ground, or jumping through the air.

I have worked in many retirement and nursing homes over the years. I have taught exercise classes to many elderly residents. The number one question I would get, besides the men asking how I could help them impress the ladies (no, really), was how to regain lost balance.

My answer to them helped some, but put off others. The most gains in balance were had in two ways. One was to strengthen the core through exercise and the other was directly practicing the things that seem most difficult to help your brain find ways around deficiencies.

Many walked daily and liked the idea of daily, actionable plans to train their balance. Others wanted secret, easy fixes that I had to tell them just didn’t exist. Where the most gains were found was through directly addressing movements that caused them instability, but in controlled and safe ways.

This was right up the ally of stances, kicks, and even standing clinching style drills. These are all incorporated into most martial arts styles. To improve or regain balance, there is not much you will find that is better than the martial arts. To be fair, dancing and gymnastics do good jobs, but add the practicality of the martial arts and the choice is clear.

Flexibility From Martial Arts Training Reduces Injuries

Flexibility comes in many variations in the martial arts. Most will think of kicking and leg stretches, but there is so much more to flexibility. Most people don’t push their limits on a regular basis and don’t know how inflexible they actually are.

There needs to be flexibility in the shoulders, hips, legs, arms, and most of the rest of the body in order to stave off injuries. The lifestyles that most of us lead where we sit at desks, in cars, and while relaxing lends to the stiffening of all of these.

It takes concerted effort in our cultures to promote proper flexibility. This is where martial arts training shines. You put your self on the track to achieve goals that require flexibility. Once these goals are accepted, you are much more likely to pursue it with intentionality.

Grappling requires hip and core flexibility as well as legs and shoulders. These same requirements are found in many other styles as well. Karate may not have the high kicking techniques of TaeKwonDo, but the speed with which Karate students kick can cause the same injuries.

Most of the techniques in the martial arts demand flexibility due to the speed, power, or height of the movements. It is important for safety and proper application of technique to be flexible. This can then help many other activities in a martial art student’s life.

Reduction Of Stress For Improved Mental and Physical Health

Stress is basically an accumulation of emotions that build irritation in our subconscious minds. It goes unnoticed much of the time until there are adverse side effects.

This can be dealt with through proper physical exercise. The martial arts is filled with stress relieving drills, workouts, and routines.

There is a saying that many boxing, Karate, TaeKwonDo, etc. instructors use when a student has had a rough day.

Blow it out.

The is meant to relate the ‘rebooting’ nature of hard striking practice on heavy bags or striking pads. It is well known that a good heavy bag routine is the cure for many types of stress. “Blowing it out” in this way gets out frustrations and allows true relaxation and resetting for the next day.

The martial arts gives an outlet for frustration that life regularly brings. Though proficiency, accomplishment, and reaching goals bring emotional stability, sometimes beating the crap out of a heavy bag with powerful striking techniques is what it takes.

The Martial Arts As Exercise Takeaway…

These ten benefits are not the only things that come from martial arts as exercise. There are many more, but this list should make anyone ready to jump in and study in the style of their choice.

It takes dedication to get in shape and improve health. With the martial arts and its inherent goal setting and achievement rewards, the process is much easier to adhere to.

If you are looking for an effective exercise to improve your life or the lives of your family, find a quality instructor. Your future self will thank you.

Mathew Booe

Mathew Booe is a father of four, husband to Jackie since 1994, retired international competitor with over 50 wins, an international seminar instructor, a master instructor of hundreds of Little Ninjas each week, and the one bringing you the great content like you just read. Sign up for the newsletter to hear about his upcoming books before they are released to the public.

Recent Posts