What is the world most physically demanding sport? We have the answer. Using the head-to-head competition format, matching up sport with sport, until we only had one left. From a starting list of 32 sports from around the world, based on online voting, the World's Fittest Sport was found to be ironman triathlon (do you agree? select your winner from the complete list).
Final ! MMA v Ironman Triathlon
In the final voting, ironman triathlon easily out-voted mixed martial arts. Ironman triathlon scored 69% of the votes to be crowned the World's Fittest Sport. Final score: after 536 votes, ironman 368 votes (69%), MMA 168 votes (31%).
MMA v Swimming - after an extended polling period in which MMA was always just ahead, after 537 votes MMA held out with 273 votes (51%) compared to swimming with 264 votes (49%)
- Ironman Triathlon v Water Polo - after 251 votes Ironman was clearly in front with 151 votes (60%) compared to water polo with 100 votes (40%)
- MMA v Road Cycling - Road cycling is certainly a grueling and very demanding sport, sometimes lasting many days, though it was no match in terms of overall physical demands compared to mixed martial arts (MMA). MMA won with 110 (58%) compared to road cycling with 81 votes (42%)
- Swimming v Mountain Biking - It was a close vote between two sports very worthy of reaching the quarter finals of the world's fittest sport. The physical demands of swimming overall was considered superior to the demanding Olympic sport of mountain biking. After 234 votes, swimming won 125 (53%) to 109 (47%).
- Water Polo v Rugby - Both of these sports are well known for its tough competitors. Considering both union and league, the rugby players were no match for water polo, where a lot of the physicality happens under the water. Water polo won with 79 votes (62%) compared to rugby with 48 votes (38%)
- Ironman Triathlon v Decathlon - The Olympic decathlon champion may sometimes be dubbed the world's greatest athlete, but based on your voting ironman triathlon was considered more physically demanding. After 111 votes, swimming won easily with 80 (72%) to 31 (28%).
Round 2 Match-ups
All the winners from the first round take on another sport in the second round.
- Road Cycling v Formula1: Both of these sports predominantly place high demands on the aerobic energy system. These physical demands of formula 1 were no match for road cycling events, which can last over several days (e.g. Tour de France). Road cycling won decisively 77 to 36.
- MMA v Rowing: There is no doubt about the high physical demands of MMA - one of the toughest fighting sports around. Rowers do it very tough too, however it is over in a few minutes, and is all done in a straight line. The voting was very tight in this one, and I let the poll run for much longer than usual, and after 670 votes, the winner was MMA (51%, 344 votes) over rowing (49%, 326 votes).
- Swimming v Boxing: In a surprising result (for me anyway), swimming raced away to beat boxing as more physically demanding overall. I would not want to be the one telling a boxer that. After 213 votes, swimming won 124 (58%) to 89 (42%).
- Mountain Biking v Artistic Gymnastics: Voters were asked to consider the demands of the Olympic sport of artistic gymnastics overall, as there are a few different disciplines within the sport with a range of physical demands. Mountain biking is also an arduous Olympic sport, involving cross country riding along grueling undulating terrain in an event taking about 2 hours. This ended up being a grueling poll, taking a long time for Mountain bike to inch ahead of gymnastics. After 456 votes, mountain biking won with 233 (51%) compared to gymnastics with 223 votes (49%)
- Rugby v Marathon Running - the predominantly aerobic sport of marathon running put up a good fight and was narrowly beaten by the physical tough rugby. This was another very close poll, eventually we stopped it when Rugby pulled ahead after 631 votes, rugby won with 323 (51%) compared to marathon running with 308 votes (49%)
- Water Polo v X-Country Skiing - anyone who has watched a game of water polo, especially if you can see what goes on under the water, will know it is a very tough sport, and the extreme endurance sport of cross-country skiing was no match for it. After 133 votes, the winner was clearly water polo (62%, 83 votes) over cross-country skiing (38%, 50 votes).
- Ironman Triathlon v Aussie Rules Football - The all round fitness required for Australia's national team sport was no competition for the ultra distance and ultra demanding iron-man triathlon. After 73 votes, the winner was clearly ironman triathlon (78%, 57 votes) over Australian football (22%, 16 votes).
- Decathlon v Ice Hockey - it is very difficult to compare the ultimate all-round track and field event the decathlon to the dynamic and tough indoor team sport ice hockey. Both require a wide range of fitness abilities, but more of our readers voted for decathlon. After 215 votes, the winner was decathlon (56%, 121 votes) over ice hockey (44%, 94 votes).
Round One Results
- Road Cycling v Speed Skating - another one not easy to predict. They are two very demanding sports but one an endurance sport and the other speed based. Road cycling events can last over several days (think Tour de France), however it is mostly demanding of the aerobic energy system. Speed skating requires a more coordinated action, and arguably is more intense and stressful on the body though only over a shorter period. The winner was easily Road Cycling with 61% of the vote (126 votes) against Speed Skating 39% (79 votes).
- F1 v Handball - on paper this was not an easy to predict result. The physical demands of formula one often goes unappreciated, requiring a high aerobic capacity and good upper body and leg strength. Drivers perform with heart beats of up to 200 per minute for extended periods. The Olympic sport of Team Handball is also a very demanding sport, though it is not well known outside of Europe, where it is a popular. It is similar in many ways to basketball, however the demands are possibly greater for handball as the players move quicker up and down the court and throw the ball more powerfully. The winner was easily Formula One with 64% of the vote (242 votes) against Team Handball 36% (137 votes)
- Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) v Volleyball - There is no doubt about the high physical demands of MMA - one of the toughest fighting sports. However, if you consider beach volleyball, then running, jumping and diving in the sand is very physically demanding. Volleyball is not an easy beat, and many people agreed. It was not enough to beat MMA, but 29% of people (65 votes) thought that volleyball was more physically demanding than MMA 71% (160 votes). For MMA, it was the most clear cut win in the match ups so far.
- Rowing v Surfing - a battle between two very different water sports. I have witnessed first hand how hard rowers push themselves in training and testing, and on the water there are not many events as tough as a rowing race. However, it is over in a few minutes, and is all done in a straight line. In comparison, competition surfers can be in the water for hours and competing over several days, battling against each other and against mother nature. After 162 votes, rowing was the clear winner with 119 votes (73%) over surfing which got 43 votes (27%).
- Boxing v Badminton - Both being sports and starting with the letter B are not the only things these sports have in common, they are also sports requiring excellent fitness levels. The big difference between them is that in boxing you are constantly getting hit, which is obviously something very demanding on the body. The majority of people agreed, after 216 votes boxing was the clear winner with 165 votes (76%) over badminton with 51 votes (24%).
- Swimming v Field Hockey - Voters were asked to consider the demands of swimming overall, as there are many different events within the sport with a range of demands. Field hockey may not be familiar with everyone - it has similar game play to soccer, but probably at an even faster pace, and anyone who has played will know that it is very physically demanding. Theoretically I would think hockey should win this one, but I am not surprised that after 212 votes swimming was the clear winner with 157 votes (74%). Field hockey finished with 55 votes (26%).
- Artistic Gymnastics v Soccer - This was a difficult choice to make. Not only do these sports require very different physical abilities, soccer is mostly played by men, gymnastics by women. Even with the large football fan base, the ultimately superior physical abilities required for gymnastics won out. I let this poll run for longer as it was always going to be close. After 305 votes gymnastics was the winner with 160 votes (52%), over soccer with 145 votes (48%).
- Mountain Biking v American Football - The physical demands in football vary greatly between playing position, so voters were asked to think generally when making their decision. Football is a high collision sport requiring very tough competitors, compared to mountain biking, an Olympic cycling sport held off road along grueling undulating terrain. After 139 votes mountain biking was the winner with 86 votes (62%), beating American football with 53 votes (38%).
- Marathon Running v Motocross - both of these sports require exceptional endurance levels, but that is not the only physical demand required to succeed in these sports. After 183 votes the pure endurance sport of marathon running was the winner with 123 votes (67%), beating motocross with 60 votes (33%).
- Rugby v Lacrosse - Lacrosse may not be as well known to people, but it is a very fast paced and physical sport. However it was no match for rugby. I did not specify which form of rugby (Union or League), although they have slightly different physical demands they are essentially in the same ball park and we believe they can be considered as one for this comparison. After 149 votes the tough sport of rugby won with 120 of the votes (81%), lacrosse only gaining 29 votes (19%).
- X-Country Skiing v Baseball - there are a lot of baseball fans out there who think their sport is great, but they did not think that the players are very fit. It is a sport that is all about skills, and was no match for the extreme endurance sport of cross-country skiing. After 55 votes the poll was stopped to save any more embarrassment. X-Country Skiing won with 51 of the votes (93%), baseball only gaining only 4 votes (7%).
- Water Polo v Tennis - Anyone who has watched a game of water polo, especially if you can see what goes on under the water, will know it is a very tough sport. Tennis is no easy sport either, with long matches often described as grueling. It was a difficult choice, but after 182 votes, water polo won with 121 of the votes (66%), with tennis gaining 61 votes (34%).
- Aussie Rules Football v Downhill Skiing - Cross country skiing is widely accepted as extremely demanding in terms of aerobic fitness, the other skiing discipline of downhill is very demanding too. However, the all round fitness required for Australia's national team sport, AFL, held out. It was a close call, but after 203 votes, Aussie Rules Football won with 113 of the votes (56%), with Downhill Skiing gaining 90 votes (44%).
- Ironman Triathlon v Basketball - While the ultra distance Ironman triathlon is the ultimate endurance event, involving a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and a marathon 26.2-mile (42.2 km) run, the indoor team sport of basketball requires a greater all round fitness. For the voters, it was no comparison. After 102 votes it was a clear win for the triathlon. Ironman triathlon won with 83 of the votes (81%), basketball only gaining 19 votes (19%).
- Ice Hockey v Squash - This appears to be a close match-up, both require a high level of fitness to complete at the top level. Vote below which sport you think has the greatest overall physical demands between these two. After 204 votes it was a close win for ice hockey. Hockey won with 116 of the votes (57%), squash gaining 88 votes (43%).
- Decathlon v Wrestling - Again, this was a very hard one to predict, the decathlon is widely regarded as a very demanding sport covering a wide range of abilities, while wrestlers are always quick to claim that their sport is the most demanding of all. After 113 votes it was a close win for the decathlon. Decathlon won with 68 of the votes (60%), wrestling gaining 45 votes (40%).
- See more about this the fittest sport competition.
- Vote to confirm these results: What do you think is the world's fittest sport?
- Discussion about the World's Fittest Sport
- See also about the Fittest Athletes.
- Who is the World's Greatest Athlete?
- My list of the World's Fittest Sport
- ESPN List of most demanding sports