What are the most athletic sports and who are the best athletes in each specific sport? You probably have been in some sort of argument about this topic with friends and family saying that you’re sport is the toughest. Well, we’re here to weigh in on the matter with a panel of experts who helped us come to the conclusion of which sport truly takes the most athletic ability and skill. First, we need to ask the question of what being athletic means? The dictionary defines it as physically strong, fit, and active. This doesn’t really answer the question.
If we are taking strength and power into the mix, we would have to include bodybuilders and powerlifters, but we obviously know that doesn’t feel right. If we’re taking just speed and agility into account, then we would just have to include track and field, but that, too, doesn’t serve this debate justice.
Therefore, our definition has to take into account a combination of 5 categories: strength (combination of raw power and muscle endurance), speed (40 yard dash time), agility (ability to change direction with quickness and explosion), endurance (stamina), and hand-eye coordination (ability to react quickly to sensory perception). We rate each out of a 1 to 10 scale.
So which sport do you think is the most athletic? Or maybe we should ask which sport has the most athletes? Or maybe the best question to ask is which sport requires the most athleticism? An athlete, by definition, can play multiple sports and succeed in every single one of them. Therefore, the best athletes can literally be professionals in practically any sport they play in. So who is the model athlete walking this Earth? No, it’s not LeBron James nor Christiano Ronaldo. The ultimate athlete in our book is the decathlon winner: Bryan Clay. For anyone who doesn’t know him up. He outperformed basically every NFL and NBA player you’ve ever heard in the SPARQ test, which measures true athletic performance. So our measuring stick is certainly Bryan Clay when comparing the majority of athletes in each particular sport. Let’s begin this ultimate debate.
10. Ice Hockey
Hockey is one sport that a lot of people have a tough time competing in, partly because you’re skating on ice and partly because you’re sprinting your butt off during a shift. While you need a lot of anaerobic capacity to get through a shift, hockey players do get a lot of downtime during the course of a game. While running and playing a sport at a high level while on ice is insanely tough, hockey requires the least amount of natural athletic ability to succeed in. Most great hockey players worked so hard their entire life to get there. Hence, this is one sport that hard work significantly transcends talent.
This is the dark horse you’ve all been waiting for. Badminton takes more hand-eye coordination than any sport, including baseball. With a birdie coming in at speeds close to 180 mph in a tiny court, a badminton player’s ability to change directions needs to be quicker than anybody in any professional sport. Their reaction time and ability to make explosive cuts in a 6m x 7m court needs to be impeccable if they are going to be successful at their sport. While they don’t need any strength, their agility needs to be out of this world. Watch a crazy badminton rally and you’ll see how intense it gets. Watching them dive for the shuttle is so awesome by the way!
Despite what you think about gymnastics, this is the toughest sport in the world to be good at. Let’s see you spin in circles on the high bar, release, do a few flips, and grab the bar again. They are the strongest pound for pound athletes and have some of the best bodies gracing this Earth, indicative of the preparation required for the sport.
Five hour matches in the blistering heat. There’s a reason why a tennis player can be 30 years old and washed up and broken down, unable to compete. You will never, ever see one person over 10% body fat ever succeed in the pro tennis world. That speaks volume on how much this sport focuses on serious endurance like no other.
We’re not talking WWE here even though those guys are significantly more athletic than you think. We’re talking about Olympic/Collegiate wrestling. Go to a college practice and you’ll never see a group of individuals work harder in any sport. Along with their toughness and mental fortitude, wrestlers are required to do it all: hit the weights, do sprints, run long distances, and work on their technique and reaction time. Just watch professional ice hockey player Georges Laraque try to go through a wrestling practice with Georges St. Pierre (Oh yeah, he’s 100 pounds lighter than him). 7 minutes of explosive, quick short bursts using every muscle in your body is enough to make a man cry. One slip-up of putting your hands on your knees or taking yourself out of your stance for a single second and you’re on your back.
I am completely torn between putting boxing as #2 behind MMA as opposed to putting it behind football and basketball. Go to a gym with a ring and just run around for 3 minutes non-stop in a circle with your hands protecting your head, your abs held tight and flexed, and see how your legs and arms feel. Shadowboxing alone will leave your arms dead and gasping for air, but then get punched in the mouth and ribs a few times while doing it. It is the only sport you have to train for months on end just to get through one match. It’s a 12 round fight consisting of 3 minute rounds with only 30 second breaks in between and no timeouts or teammates to help you get through it. You can’t stand in the corner to catch your breath while you don’t have the ball either. Every other sport, you could just get up and play, but if you ever actually tried boxing, I promise you would agree it is the toughest sport behind MMA. However, I always make the argument that you see successful fat boxers from time to time who could never succeed in a sport like basketball or football (on a professional level, at least). By definition, an athlete can excel in multiple sports. This is a tough one but we’ll leave the stats to decide.
Outside of your typical linemen, football demands raw power, strength, agility, and speed off of a quick burst from practically every position. Football players are strong and powerful, but what separates them is the raw speed attached to their muscular frames, running sub-4.4 40’s across the field in a flash at 220+ pounds. They can also take huge hits after huge hits and keep playing at a high level. Wide receivers, running backs, and linebackers are freakish athletes, but the defensive backs are the best set of athletes on the football field. It’s a lot easier to run a route when you know where you’re going, but trying to stay in the guy’s back pocket when you have no clue as to which direction the person you’re guarding is heading adds a whole new dimension to athleticism. They do this all while they are required to make the tackle in the open field. Just go to a football field with your buddy, stand 10 yards apart, and try wrapping him up and bringing him to the ground while he tries to get past you.
Regardless of what sport you play or how not tough you think basketball players are, the good ones are hands down some of the most athletic guys on this planet. Yes, we can take the Larry Birds of the sport and demonstrate how you don’t have to be athletically gifted. However, taking an extrapolation of the average professional basketball players, they will be good at any sport they try. Just ask Shaq who made a television show about it. Basketball requires an extraordinary amount of jumping, sprinting, changing direction, and explosiveness, which is a huge ingredient to athleticism. And yes, with his ridiculous speed and frame, LeBron James could be a tight end in the NFL.
Combine boxing and wrestling together and then go for 5 minutes straight (times 3)…let’s see how you feel. Reacting to kicks, punches, and double leg takedowns is hard enough, but doing it while you are exhausted from throwing your own is on a whole new level. Doing a one on one sport completely intensifies things. From a stamina standpoint, this sport sets the bar. Not too sure if LeBron James could last 5 minutes in the octagon before being gassed enough to get knocked out, but Matt Hughes can run up and down the court for 48 minutes, regardless if the ball goes in or not. MMA is the most athletic sport there is because one wrong move and you can end your life- no other sport has quite those risks.