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Determining the Fittest Sport

Some of the fittest athletes are said to come from the sports of gymnastics, tennis, cross-country skiing, surf lifesaving, triathlon, basketball, ice-hockey, handball, cycling, boxing, squash, soccer and other football codes, though you could go on and on. That does not stop us from giving these results of comparisons between sports and discussing and confusing the issue even more!

Using direct measurement and expert analysis, the sports of boxing, skiing, squash and tennis have each been labelled as the fittest, and as you can see no one agrees. I have also a discussion about the world's fittest sport, and an oline vote for the fittest sport, with the winner ironman triathlon. See also the discussion about the Fittest Athletes, who may not necessarily come from the fittest sports.

Direct Measurement

One way to determine which sport is the fittest would be to directly test a group of athletes from different sports on a range of fitness tests, and then rank them on the performances in the tests.

Alpine Skiing wins the Canadian Experiment

In October 2003 a large group of more than 1000 amateur provincial Canadian athletes competed in a series of fitness tests at the Toronto Sky Dome. The athletes were aged between the ages of 6 and 19, representing 16 sports (Alpine Skiing, Archery, Basketball, Bowling, Boxing, Cycling, Fencing, Gymnastics, Lacrosse, OFSAA School Sports, Rowing, Snowboarding, Swimming, Synchronized Swimming, Tennis and Track and Field). The aim of the day was to crown the "Fittest Sport in Ontario," while also promoting physical fitness for Canadian youth. The athletes completed 13 tests to determine their overall fitness level, and the winner of the title "Fittest Sport in Ontario" at the end of the day was Alpine Skiing. This was no fluke - they won the award the following year too. In the table below are some of the tests that were used to determine the fittest sport! As the tests cover the full range of fitness components, the competition was aimed at finding the sport that had the best overall fitness. Individual athletes and sports may stand out in specific tests, but they needed to be good at most of them. There is no doubt that skiing is a very demanding sport. I can imagine that they performed very well on tests of upper body strength, power, agility, lactic and strength endurance.

Fitness Component Test
Speed 40m sprint
Strength Endurance 60 sec box jump
Upper body strength push-up, chin up or pull up
Power Standing long jump, Vertical Jump (using opto-jump)
Agility t-test
Flexibility stand & reach
Aerobic Endurance beep test
Lactic 400m run

Expert Analysis

Getting a group of elite athletes from a large range of sports to undertake a series of standardized test would be practically impossible. The alternative is to get experts in sports science, physiologists, trainers and coaches, to rate how they think the athletes would perform in the tests and determine the fittest sports that way. A few groups have tried this approach.

Boxing tops the ESPN List

ESPN decided to determine which sport is the most demanding. First it identified ten skills that go into athleticism, then asked a group of experts to assign a number from 1 to 10 to each of these skills (see more details and the ESPN full list). This analysis was applied to 60 sports, and the sport of Boxing was determined to be the most demanding. Here is their list of the top ten most demanding sports: Boxing, Ice Hockey, Football (Gridiron), Basketball, Wrestling, Martial Arts, Tennis, Gymnastics, Baseball, Soccer.

boxing match in a ring boxers are fit

Forbes thinks Squash

According to Forbes Magazine, squash is the healthiest sport an individual can undertake. Forbes consulted with fitness experts and asked them to score a selection of sports in four areas - cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance and flexibility, and also incorporated scoring on calories burned and injury risk. The winner was the sport of squash - out of a possible five points, squash scored 4.5 for cardiorespiratory endurance, 3 for muscular strength, 5 for muscular endurance, 3 for flexibility, 5 for calories burned in 30 minutes, and 2 for injury risk (total 22.5). Rowing and rock climbing tied for second with 22 points each, with swimming, cross-country skiing and basketball not far behind. See more about the healthiest sport list.

tennis playerPete Sampras Says Tennis

In a statement made in 2009 sure to spark debate among the sporting stars and followers, Tennis ace Pete Sampras claimed that Tennis players are the best athletes in the whole wide world. It is all personal opinion of course.

"I think tennis players are the best athletes, in my opinion. I'm not being biased. I know what it takes, I know hand-eye coordination. In an individual sport, you can't hide." Sampras said. He may well be biased, but with his record his opinion is worthy of respect. "People don't talk about it. I mean, in tennis, these athletes are incredible, ... what these guys do on the run ... the guys that aren't maybe playing well and they come back - they're down two sets to love and they have the resolve to come back and can go on and on".


When comparing sports or athletes to find the fittest, the most important thing is to first define what is fitness, before trying to measure it. It will be hard to find anyone to agree on any of the above sports being the fittest, so this debate will always continue. What sport do I think is the fittest? I don't think it has definitively been answered - I'll have to come up with the ultimate test and find some willing athletes ...

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Testing Extra

We have over 400 fitness tests listed, so it's not easy to choose the best one to use. You should consider the validity, reliability, costs and ease of use for each test. Use our testing guide to conducting, recording, and interpreting fitness tests. Any questions, please ask or search for your answer.

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