Martial Arts vs Gym – Get Results That Last

With lockdown lifting you might be thinking… Martial Arts Vs Gym.

Either way, in this blog you will explore how the gym and Martial Arts compare. 

Why We Join The Gym 

When you ask someone why they go to the gym, the answer is usually to stay in or get into shape. But, when you delve a little deeper into this, you’ll find people also go to the gym to destress and get some head space. 

Regular exercise has been proven to: 

• Reduce stress 

• Ward off anxiety and feelings of depression 

• Boost self-esteem 

• Improve sleep 

These are all great signs of the culture modern society is building around fitness. Many people today see health as so much more than the calories they eat and burn.  

Why We Start Martial Arts 

Many adults that pick up Martial Arts for themselves or their children usually mention five main things;  

  • Self-defence
  • Learning a new skill
  • Confidence
  • Fitness
  • Resilience

What’s interesting is that most people, the ones genuinely interested in Martial Arts, always have some mental benefits they want to gain too. Because, everyone knows Martial Arts is not just about getting your dream body. It’s about so much more. It really can change your whole life. 

What are the similarities? 

There is no question, both kinds of training will get you out of the house and off the couch. Even better, when training effectively you will get your heart pumping, muscles working and endorphins flowing. 

When considering Martial Arts Vs The Gym, one thing you can be sure of is that you are getting your body to move. 

Nowadays, looking after your body and mind is more important than ever. We are surrounded by problems, technology, and temptations. Constantly reminded of these things, and how they affect our lives. 

In a world which makes it easy to be unhealthy, it can be hard to decide what to do with your health, and when.  

So, you see the reasons ‘why’ we do one or the other are not so different. The destination or goals are more similar than we may think, the only difference is the journey.  

Here you will see for yourself how Martial Arts and the gym relate to one another. So, you can decide which one will work best for you and which journey you want to take.  

Martial Arts Vs Gym For Cost Effectiveness 

Is Martial Arts Worth The Money? 

By definition ‘cost-effective’ means effective or productive in relation to its cost.  

When you ask ‘How cost-effective is Martial Arts?’, it’s best to define what you mean by cost effective. 

A Martial Arts School membership will generally be based on the number of times you train per week. 

You will get some schools that still operate on a pay as you go basis. But with the convenience of technology, many schools are going digital. Making it easier for you and their admin teams.  

Some other factors that will dictate how much you pay, including; quality, location, instructor ratios and various other factors. Have a read of our blog How Much Does Martial Arts Cost to find out more. 

When you pay for Martial Arts classes you are not just paying for a fitness class, you are paying to be taught by an instructor who has dedicated time to their training. They understand not just the physical skills but also the concepts and application of them too.  

This level of true understanding takes time and dedication. To embody these skills effectively takes even longer! 

Cost Effectiveness Of Gym Memberships   

Typically, normal gym membership fees are relatively cheap. 

Especially since the rise of the 24-hour budget gym. When you consider Martial Arts Vs The Gym, a membership which can set you back as little as £14.99 a month looks very appealing.  

It is a wonder how these gyms are running. They must rely on their members not showing up too often. 

On the other end of the scale you will find private, members only gyms that can set you back hundreds of pounds every month. Not to mention a hefty joining fee. But just like anything, if you want that you’ll pay.  

These higher end gyms often have exclusive facilities, high end equipment, luxury grounds and spa facilities too.  

Going back to the definition of cost effectiveness. If you’re looking for an exclusive gym that gives you access to a steam and sauna, your money is better spent at a high-end gym. Don’t waste your money on a budget gym membership that you will never use, even if it is less than £20 a month.   

The Most Cost Effective – Winner Is… It Depends On What You Want!

This one really comes down to what you believe cost effective means. If it means – cheaper, no doubt a budget gym will come out on top.  

However, if you mean which is the best investment in self-development then it has to be Martial Arts.  

The gym won’t teach you anything, it is simply a facility with equipment that will help you achieve your goals. You gain no knowledge only a facility and equipment. That’s if you actually use it effectively and consistently. Knowledge is power here, ‘Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach him to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.’ Remember when gyms close and gym equipment cost becomes hyper-inflated, it is the Martial Artists that can train anywhere, anytime, no equipment required.  

With the right skill and knowledge, you can certainly achieve your goals using the gym. Be careful though, there is a lot of bad advice teaching you damaging gym workouts. 

Check out Functional Patterns for guidance on Functional Training and to learn about how your body feels, moves, and how to improve it.  

Martial Arts Vs Gym For Mental Health 

Martial Arts For Mental Health   

What might start as a physical activity, very quickly becomes just as much about your mental strength.  

Through pushing ourselves physically we realise our physical limitations rest within our mind and that we can always give more.  

“When you think you’re done, you’re only at 40% of your body’s capability.”

– David Goggins  

It’s not easy, but sticking with it through the hard times will build your resilience, discipline and control.  

Whatever style of Martial Arts you choose, you will find tools to help you on your journey.  

  • Kata’s and Forms train the mind to be one with the body, to improve form, and muscle memory too 
  • Sparring will develop your focus, self-awareness and ability to keep calm under pressure on and off the mats  
  • Committing to attending every training session develops discipline and dedication 

Another reason why Martial Arts is beneficial for mental health, is that you will learn something in the process. This personal development improves confidence and self-esteem. 

Not to mention the friends you will make as part of your Martial Arts community. The benefit of joining a club/school is that you meet people who share a common goal.  

When people are working toward self-betterment, they tend to look at things through a positive lens. Spending more time around positive people will help you have a more positive outlook on your training, progress and self.  

Win-win healthy relationships are the foundation of any success story. 

The Gym For Mental Health   

Performing any kind of exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. When these are released, they interact with receptors in your brain. This interaction reduces your perception of pain and leads to a positive feeling in the body. For example, the feeling that follows a run is known as “the runners high” and can lead to having a positive thoughts and emotions.  

Providing you have the will power to get up and train hard in the gym, you will be doing your mental health some good.  

Even better finding a gym partner will help keep you accountable. Just like in a Martial Arts community you will build a bond with someone who shares a common goal.  

The Best For Mental Health – Winner is…Martial Arts

Learning is such a big factor in mental health and self-development. For this reason, with Martial Arts Vs Gym, Martial Arts comes out on top for mental health. 

You may learn a thing or two about building muscle or burning calories in the gym. But Martial Arts will teach you about body strength through the studies of ancient philosophies and ideologies that can have a positive impact on your life.  

A big part missing from modern society is the lack of community.

In times when we hardly know our neighbors, our security and wellbeing become a solo journey. Find your people, those who support you when you need a boost and who understand your struggles. After all, we are social creatures and should not ignore this fact when considering our health.  

If you chose the gym you will need to supplement your gym workout with research into how your body works. This will help you get the most out of your workout and teach you about your body along the way. 

Martial Arts Vs Gym For Physical Training 

Martial Arts For Physical Training  

Find yourself a good Martial Arts School and you will train every muscle in isolation and together.  

The key here is to find a good Martial Arts School. Check out our 5 Signs Of A Bad Martial Arts School so you know what to avoid.  


You may not get ‘huge’ training in Martial Arts. That’s not to say that you won’t build muscle and great strength. You will. And even better than vanity muscles, you will build dense muscle. As you will see further down, (in the functional training section) you will build muscles that you can use efficiently and effectively.  


Fitness is more of a by-product of Martial Arts rather than the primary concern. However, if your goal in Martial Arts is to improve your fitness, it is a life changing way to get fit. So when considering the mental effort of trying to improve fitness in the gym, putting Martial Arts Vs Gym up against each other, Martial Arts wins. All the results as a part of the journey.

Drills, pad work, bag work and sparring will all increase your cardio health.  

It’s not for the feint hearted, it’s intense, you will sweat and get your heart racing.  

An effective and efficient Martial Art that includes sparring will of course keep you very fit as you need to keep up. Lazy = Risk.  

There’s nothing more motivating than trying to get the better of someone trying to beat you up. Arts such as Kickboxing, Judo, MMA are just a few of the styles that will help you burn calories… A lot of them. 

Despite training in the gym five days a week Suj shares his first experience training at FitRoots. 

“The first few sessions at FitRoots, I was knackered after the warm up, and I was like this is something I really need to improve.”  – Suj (FitRoots student) 

Watch Suj’s Story here.


One of the biggest benefits of Martial Arts for physical training is that you can start at any age and you can train until you are well into your 80s. And when it comes to Martial Arts Vs Gym it comes out on top. Just ask the many Grand Masters are well into their 80s and some even their 90s.  

Martial Arts will help you build and maintain strength, flexibility, agility, stamina and mobility for life.  

Due to the combat aspects of certain arts which might include full-contact in fighting or sparring (which means hitting hard to the head and body), not every Martial Art will grant students longevity. But this is all down to how you fight or spar.  

  • Full contact sparring can lead to injuries or trauma. 
  • Light contact sparring will not leave you with injuries or trauma. This means you can train for long periods of time over many years. 

Tai Chi is a great example of a Martial Art commonly known for good health and a long life. It is explicitly advertised as helping students achieve greater longevity as well as calming the mind and reducing pain in the body.  

Despite the physical and mental benefits of Martial Arts, the key to living a longer (active) life lies in the discipline which can be developed by practicing Martial Arts consistently.  

Discipline from consistent training helps to develop positive habits such as eating well, resting fully, regular activity and managing stress. These habits all lead to a longer, healthier life.  

The Gym For Physical Training 

When used correctly, the gym is a great tool for physical training.  


What to build muscle? 

The gym has everything you need.  

It’s the concrete jungle of the fitness world.  

But what about using it? 

Quite often you will have a free induction at a gym so you can learn how to use the equipment. And sure, you will learn the safest way to use the weight machines and various other cardio equipment, but you won’t be taught the best or safest training for your mobility and functional strength.  

Weighted machines will build your muscles in isolation.

This will give you bigger muscles at the cost of motion and posture.  

Bigger (overinflated) muscles often give you the illusion of strength. But in reality, you are getting stronger in that movement only.  

Even if you are deadlifting 200kg+ this doesn’t mean you’ll be able to transfer that exercise in everyday life. For example, if you are trying to lift someone up, wrestling skills will help you, but deadlifting will not be as useful. 

Humans have evolved to walk, run, and throw and any exercises that restrict these movements goes against our natural body movement and evolution.


If your primary goal is to get fit, the gym is set up in a way to get you fit and in shape. The sole purpose of the equipment is to take you there.  

Treadmills, cycling machines, cross trainers…Everything, even fitness classes.  

There’s not much more to say here apart from you will get fit using the gym providing you use it consistently and really push yourself.  


The gym is prohibited for under 16s except for some places that allow children to work out and only use lighter weights.  

After you are 60+ it becomes harder to sustain a gym workout or lifting weights.  

Sure, if you are dedicated to gym training, you will be motivated and able to train for as long as you desire. Due to the lack of learning aspect, many gym workouts leave little more than physical/vanity training.  

This type of training subsides when you progress beyond only caring about your physical training. It wears thin, and is only for a select few long term.  

The Best For Physical Training… Draw

There are lots of ways to train your body, the most important thing is to find something you will be consistent with. Something that will engage, motivate and inspire you to keep training.  

It must be said that Martial Arts is not some magic pill to getting the body of a professional fighter. You don’t generally develop the body of a fighter without putting in some serious work at the gym.  

So if you’re looking for a temporary body to show off in your youth, by all means the gym is probably you best and quickest bet. You’ll probably be able to lift double your weight or achieve that perfect beach body if you try hard enough. 

I believe that training our bodies to their full functionality must always be the goal.

There is no one or the other for physical training in Martial Arts Vs Gym. Martial Arts will maintain your full range of motion, balance and coordination and the gym will develop your strength.  

So, when you kick your opponent in the head it will be high, hard and sharp.  

If it must be one over the other, I’d choose Martial Arts. Providing it is an efficient and effective style. You’ll develop an athletic physique, that will move much better than a bodybuilder.  

No amount of weight training will give you the skills to defend yourself and that includes getting away as fast as you can.  

Martial Arts Vs Gym For Functionality 

What is functional training you say? And how does it relate to Martial Arts or the gym? 

By definition, functional training is ‘training the body to successfully perform the daily activities of life more efficiently, and without injuries’. 

It’s become a buzzword, especially in the fitness industry, and there’s a lot of room for interpretation. You can read more about functional training specifically in our upcoming blogs. 

So, you have to be careful when someone says something is ‘functional’, when in most cases, it actually isn’t. 

Let’s look at how Martial Arts and the gym can be functional. 

Martial Arts For Functionality 

Due its nature, Martial Arts must be functional, otherwise it wouldn’t work in reality! 

As a side note, it’s fair to say that there are plenty of Martial Arts, and Martial Artists which do not represent practical Martial Arts.  

Traditional Chinese Cinema

One example is what used to be used in Traditional Chinese movies or theatre where jumps, flips and big operatic movements are the highlight of the scene. Action is simple, where you see an attack, counter attack and a reaction. It is called Wuxia (武俠). Bruce Lee came along and changed Martial Arts cinema and it evolved from Wuxia giving Martial Arts cinema a more practical representation of the art. 

On the broader scale, practical Martial Arts must be applicable for real life situations. For example, when you need to defend yourself, should the situation arise. 

To make Martial Arts functional, the movements it contains must respect quality human movements, which are based on our biology, and evolutionary history. 

In this section, we’ll explore how these factors make Martial Arts functional, and when it doesn’t. 

Is Martial Arts Functional? 

To know if Martial Arts is functional, you must put it through some basic tests. 

These tests must show: 

  • It works 
  • It’s useful 
  • It’s safe (or you can use it safely) 

Let’s go through each characteristic, and show if Martial Arts works, is useful, and is safe. 

Does Martial Arts Work? 

It depends. I know earlier it was said that it works, but not all Martial Arts are equal. 

Ultimately, it depends on what you want. Many Martial Arts are practiced purely for self-defence, whilst others are practiced mostly for ‘the arts’ or for the general health benefits. 

If you are looking to Martial Arts to see if it works, certain styles like Kickboxing, Muay Thai, Wrestling, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), Wing Chun etc. and so on, will focus on practical elements. 
Whereas Martial Arts like Aikido, Tai Chi, Qi Qong, Taekwondo, Karate, Kendo, and similar, will have practical elements, but aren’t entirely focused on this as their end goal. 

Is Martial Arts Useful? 

Martial Arts is useful, but what is it useful for? 

Gone are the times where we must use Martial Arts just for self-defence. Hence why many opt to practice the more relaxed styles instead. 

Martial Arts is useful for self-defence, and all the other health benefits that people typically associate with it.  

But this question is usually asked in a self-defence context. The answer is yes, if and only if the Martial Art, and the Martial Artist are aligned physically and mentally. 

Is Martial Arts Safe? 

By ‘safe’, we’re talking about a few things, the training involved, and what happens when you use it in reality. 

How can your new Martial Arts skills be used with little or no risk to yourself, especially if an altercation occurs? 

Firstly, the training must be safe, yet challenging. There’s a fine line between pushing yourself and injuring yourself. Knowing where this line is, especially as a beginner is hard to know. 

With time, you will become more self-aware. And with your newfound self-awareness, you will be able to judge what your threshold to training intensity is. 

Your Safety Level Of Martial Arts

This level of safety depends on the Martial Arts School you train at, as well as yourself. 

You have to take responsibility if you experience an injury, but acknowledge whether or not the training methods being taught to you are safe. Unfortunately, Many Martial Arts Schools use questionable training methods, but these are hard to spot if you don’t know what to look for. 

Similarly, is it safe to use your new Martial Arts skills in a fight if you had to? 

If so, great. If not, is it the Martial Art that’s the problem, or is it you? 

Sometimes it can be a mixture of both. 

How To Test The Functionality Of Your Style

As we discussed earlier, each art has it’s uses. But regardless of getting into the debate of which Martial Art is best, it would be more productive to focus on testing what you have learnt in reality. 

This doesn’t mean go out and start fights on people. It simply means to experience controlled testing of your skills in a safe environment, which replicates reality. 

In the Martial Arts world, this is sometimes called sparring, free-fighting, or for the self-defence folks, ‘pressure testing’. 

Test your new skills, and see if they actually work. Sparring should be a staple part of any practical Martial Arts programme, but it must be done safely. 

The Gym For Functionality 

Unlike Martial Arts, the gym doesn’t have a specific need or requirement to be functional. Gyms are not functional by nature, but it can very much be made functional, with the right process and set up. 

The fundamental thing to understand is that the gym is normally a solo pursuit. That is, you arrive, do your session, then go home. Unless of course you are attending a class, or are paying for a Personal Trainer (PT).  

For context here, we are going to assume that you are intending to use the gym by yourself, and have to decide what you do, when you get there. 

In this section, we’ll explore how the gym is functional, how it isn’t, and how it relates to our biology, and movement patterns. 

Is The Gym Functional? 

This question is almost as confusing as asking if Martial Arts is functional. The short answer is – it depends. 

As mentioned before, the gym is a place you go to train, use it however you wish.  

If you go to the gym and spend 20 minutes on the cross trainers, followed by 20 minutes on the bike and finish you workout with a few sets of deadlifting, bench press and calf raises… Then no, the gym is not functional.  

However, if you know what to use and how to use it the gym can be incredibly functional. 

There are various pieces of equipment which you can use for functional training, including: 

  • Battle Ropes 
  • Bosu Ball 
  • Kettlebells 
  • Medicine Balls 
  • Slam Balls  
  • Cable Machines 
  • Landmine Press 

You can find more, but these are generally the most widely available in gyms. 

For more information on FST exercises here’s a great video from Functional Patterns ==> HERE 

They also have videos on how to: 

Check out Functional Patterns, and let me know what pains you have that need fixing using FST. Book your free consultation here.

The Best For Functionality… Depends On How You Train

The best form of functional training will depend on your knowledge of what functional training is.  

As you now know, Martial Arts is functional by default. If it wasn’t you would not be able to use it.  

Gym workouts can also be functional. 

But before you really get into the specifics of functional training, just stay away from the weight machines. 

Once you have done your research and have educated yourself on function training, the gym will feel like a new place. More like a playground to explore where you can create your own exercises.  

Martial Arts Vs Gym For Support and Community

How do Martial Arts and The Gym compare when it comes to building community and receiving support?

Martial Arts For Support and Community  

Apart from teaching Martial Arts, Martial Arts schools don’t have much in common. This can sometimes cause problems in the industry. Read 7 Problems With Martial Arts to find out more.  

One thing they do have in common is that they build a strong sense of community with their students.  

Each community is unique and different, but one thing is for sure: the instructors care about their students and helping them reach their potential.  

The community is cemented by each student/instructor who walks through the door having a common goal…Martial Arts.

In very few places will you see people of all ages, backgrounds, professions and areas come together in such a way. 

Nothing will push you to your limit like a Martial Arts instructor and a team who know how to push you to your personal limit. When you join a school, you will start to build up relationships with the other students. Working towards a similar goal with others will give you encouragement which is second to none.  

The Gym For Support and Community 

Gym communities, like Martial Arts communities share a common goal. The only difference is that gym workouts tend to be more of an opportunity to get some headspace, and some time alone.  

Of course, it is possible to get a gym partner or two to help, support and encourage you through your work out and progress together. 

Maybe you can get to know the personal trainers in the gym and the reception staff too and exchange niceties. 

Personal trainers can be great for support, but once you stop paying for their time it is very difficult for them to continue to give their time. 

Bear in mind, generally joining and going to the gym is more of a solo journey. 

The Best For Support and Community… Martial Arts

The answer here will depend on a number of factors. And sometimes you won’t want any support or community as part of your gym or Martial Arts training.  

Martial Arts community will give you more support and community that a gym.  

The gym is a place you go to, but Martial Arts about people. Some you learn from, others you teach. Either way, sharing knowledge with others is very human and taps into the social animal in all of us.  

According to my personal experience, I have seen many people come to us and say they want to try Martial Arts because they are fed up of the gym. This is partially down to a lack of results, from lack of accountability, community and engagement. With time you will find that this comes as a result of training your body separately from your mind.   

Martial Arts Vs Gym – Final Conclusion 

Ultimately what this comes down to is your goal: 

Do you want to build big muscles? 

Are you looking stay fit and improve your strength? 

Do you want to learn Martial Arts? 

If you are not focused on building big muscles, then in my opinion Martial Arts is best.  

Not interested in learning Martial Arts then stick with the gym. Doing Martial Arts halfheartedly will be a waste of your time, money and effort.   

Of course, remember you can do both 

In fact, it is my recommendation that you do both.  

A mistake that many Martial Artists make is that they neglect the gym. Teaming cardio and strength training gives anyone practicing Martial Arts an advantage over those not training outside of their Art. 

Many Martial Artists say it is necessary to do some sort of strength training and running to supplement workout to ensure they become stronger, faster and more agile than their opponent.  

What’s Your Next Step? 

Interested in learning more about Martial Arts and Functional Strength Training that can be applied in the gym?  

Join our waiting list for the latest news on our online membership site due for release later this year. All you need to do is register your interest here.

Share your thoughts below  

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