Blood, Sweat & Tears: 10 Most Physically Demanding Sports

most physically demanding sports

Staying physically active is the key to long-term health. However, while the standard 30-minute walk a day is enough for the average Joe to stay in shape, it isn’t enough for everyone. If you’re a fitness fanatic, you probably want something more challenging — something that will push you to the absolute limit.

Luckily, there is no shortage of activities you can try out! However, be warned. The following are some of the most physically demanding sports in the world. So, if you plan on giving any of them a go, be prepared to pour in a lot of blood, sweat, and tears!

10 Most Physically Demanding Sports

If you hate exercise, then any kind of sport is an absolute nightmare. You get breathless and sweaty, and the muscle pain is something that can stick with you for days on end. However, objectively speaking, some activities are harder than others.

Professional athletes start their training in early childhood to be able to excel in their chosen sport. They spend years, and sometimes decades, trying to build the strength, agility, and stamina they need to keep up with the competition.

While all sports require hard work, these 10 stand out as the most physically demanding sports in the world.

1. MMA


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People who aren’t into sports frequently confuse mixed martial arts, or MMA, with the World Wrestling Entertainment or WWE for short. However, though wrestling is at the core of both sports, they couldn’t be more different. For one, while WWE involves crazy acrobatics and epic takedowns, all those fights are staged for TV.

MMA fights, on the other hand, aren’t scripted. They’re a legitimate full-contact sport that involves a combination of different techniques taken from several fighting disciplines. A few of these include boxing, amateur wrestling, karate, and even Brazilian jiu-jitsu, the hardest martial art in the world!

So, to master their craft, MMA fighters need to push themselves to the absolute limit. They have to constantly do full-body strength and conditioning exercises to be able to perform striking and grappling moves. Lightning-quick reflexes are also a must because of the short fighting time.

Taking into account the amount of skill and effort it takes to become an MMA fighter, this sport definitely earns the title of the most physically demanding sport.

2. Boxing


To the average viewer, boxing already looks hard. However, when you look at the science behind it, it’s actually one of the most physically demanding sports in the world. According to a recent study, boxing puts the most strain on the human muscles.

Professional boxers need to have the considerable upper body strength to dish out those trademark knockout punches. That includes arms, back, and core strength, which is actually the most important factor for powerful punches.

But defense is equally as important as offense. Therefore, a professional boxer must develop good reflexes to block their opponent’s attacks. Endurance is also imperative to shrug off any blows that do end up going through. What’s more, when you factor in the intense 3-4 month training period to prep for a fight, it’s easy to see why only 0.09% of boxers become pros.

3. Rugby


There’s a common misconception that rugby is just a different name for American football. However, this isn’t entirely true. The two sports evolved from the same 19th-century British game, also called rugby. Yet when Americans adopted the game in 1874, they changed its name to football while also tweaking the rules.

That is why modern American football and rugby differ in terms of the number of players, the time limit, and even the type of gear participants have to wear. However, both sports have one thing in common—they’re extremely physically demanding.

Football and rugby players alike are some of the largest and heaviest in the world. They have to possess enough strength and endurance to handle the constant hard hits they sustain during matches. In addition to size, they must also be very quick on their feet to sprint across large fields for touchdowns.

But the thing that makes rugby only slightly more demanding than football is game time. Football matches have four quarters, with breaks in between so players can rest and recharge. Rugby, on the other hand, has two forty-minute halves with only a ten-minute break in between. Consequently, players need a lot of stamina to endure a full match.

Plus, they have to do it with minimal protection. Unlike football players, rugby players only get a mandatory mouth guard and light head and shoulder padding. Therefore, they must rely on their own body strength and athleticism to avoid injury. In short, it’s definitely not a sport for the light-hearted!

4. Ice Hockey


When you take all the strength, speed, and stamina you need for rugby and put it on ice, what do you get? You get ice hockey, of course! This grueling game is not only Canada’s favorite wintertime sport but also one of the most physically demanding sports in the world.

For starters, the whole sport takes place on ice. So before you can even think about getting into the game, you have to master a whole new set of locomotive skills. Second, every hockey champion needs to be a master of coordination. As opposed to basketballs or volleyballs, hockey pucks are very small. Plus, they easily bounce when they make even the slightest contact with a solid object.

So a good hockey player needs to learn how to receive a puck, cradle it, so it loses its momentum, and then smoothly guide it past defenders to score a goal. And they have to do all this while balancing their full body weight on the ice. Even if you’re a good skater, that is a pretty tricky thing to do!

5. Basketball


Basketball may seem like an unusual entry since it’s a no-contact sport. Nevertheless, it still involves a lot of speed and stamina. Players must constantly keep moving, perform quick maneuvers at high intensity, and make powerful vertical jumps to score a basket. The amount of time you’d have to put in the gym to get that kind of leg strength alone is already pretty astounding.

Then there’s also the training you have to do to stay in shape. It takes hours of constant practice and repetition to develop the necessary skills to score a single basket. Plus, you don’t get the luxury of a break. Players who stop playing even for a few weeks show a considerable decline in performance.

Therefore, if you see a pro basketball career in your future, be prepared to spend hours at the court every single day to develop your abilities.

6. Alpine Skiing


With so many dangerous sports in the world, you probably didn’t expect alpine skiing to make this list. But don’t be fooled. This staple of the Winter Olympics is one of the most physically demanding sports.

Skiers need to race down a steep snow-covered slope as quickly as possible. That alone requires substantial speed and anaerobic stamina. However, considering how uneven the mountain terrain gets, you realize that speed is only half the story. You need incredible reflexes and lightning-quick hand-to-foot coordination to maintain your speed.

Lastly, this sport is one of the few where the weather conditions matter. Temperatures below zero can severely impact a skier’s ability to race. They can also completely alter the slope, either freezing it into solid rock or melting it into a slushy rut. Overall, if you can’t stand the chilly weather, this sport is definitely not something you’d want to indulge in.

7. Tennis


After alpine skiing, tennis doesn’t seem all that shocking. Nevertheless, it’s still quite unexpected. But, when you consider the mental and physical toll a single tennis match takes on a player, it’s much easier to see why tennis is one of the most physically demanding sports.

Players have to perform short burst sprints and quick transitional movements to be able to hit the ball. Moreover, they need a lot of coordination and movement control to quickly switch directions while on the court. Though players get many breaks between each round, they still need a lot of stamina to keep up.

Though some varieties of tennis, like team tennis, can take place in the winter, the most popular matches follow a summer calendar. Therefore, most games take place under the blazing sun, with the average match lasting a minimum of 2 hours. Since most people can barely handle ten minutes of light exercise in 80-degree weather, it’s safe to assume tennis is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.

8. Swimming


Ever since he won his first gold medal at the 2008 Olympics, Michael Phelps has been in the news for a variety of reasons. One of the most unusual ones is his incredible 12,000 calorie diet! While training for the Olympics, the world’s most decorated athlete regularly went through 4,000kcal per meal to fuel his five to seven hours of training a day!

While not every swimmer is going to be on the same level as an Olympian, the sport itself is still going to take a lot out of you. For one, water is much denser than air. Therefore, you need to put in considerably more effort to swim than you would have to in any other land sport. Then there is the technique itself. While strength and speed are obviously important, they can only carry you to a certain point.

Consequently, swimmers have to develop a solid technique to strengthen their upper body. They also need quite a lot of coordination to stabilize their torso while navigating through the water. Not only that, but they must constantly train to stay in peak shape.

Unlike other sports, swimmers don’t get an ‘offseason’. The closest they have to a rest period is two weeks at the end of each summer. That’s when the season switches from long course to short course. The rest of the year, they have to constantly train to keep up with their competition.

Since very few people can handle such a rigorous schedule, it’s safe to say that swimming is one of the most physically demanding sports.

9. Rowing


Looking at a professional rower at work, you’d be forgiven for thinking this sport seems fairly easy. But as the old saying goes, looks can be deceiving. Rowing requires you to utilize almost every single muscle in your body. In fact, it’s one of the most effective full-body workouts out there, beating out cycling and running by a landslide.

You use your quads, hamstrings, and glutes to push to initiate the drive and your arms and back muscles to pull the oars. Plus, you activate your obliques and ab muscles to stabilize yourself during each stroke and keep pushing. All in all, as a sport, rowing is a master class in endurance.

Plus, you need astronomical amounts of training to stay in shape. The average rower spends 46‒60 hours every week following an intense workout regimen that includes a combination of weight lifting and anaerobic training. They also spend hours rowing on water, or using a specialized machine that simulates rowing, called an ergometer.

Overall, it’s definitely not easy to handle — even if you’re a regular gym-goer in top shape.

10. Figure Skating

Figure Skating

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After all the rough and tough sports on this list, the last entry may seem silly to you. But the pretty outfits, soft music, and dance are just surface-level fluff. Anyone who has ever engaged in figure skating knows that it’s one of the most physically demanding sports ever.

For starters, consider the mechanics. The average ice skate blade is just 4 mm thick. It takes a lot of effort to stabilize your weight on two paltry metal edges while you’re gliding across an extremely slippery surface.

Now, remember that figure skaters have to do all that balancing work while also doing jumps and acrobatics at high speeds. Such a feat demands a lot more strength and coordination than running around on a rugby field.

Lastly, there is something figure skating requires that no other sport on this list does — grace. Your average football player can scream, flail and make all kinds of faces as they push themselves to score a home run. In contrast, a figure skater has to do complex, painful, and dangerous routines while looking like the epitome of effortless beauty and elegance.

So when you pick up figure skating, you’ll have to give 100% of your ability and look good while doing it.

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