We often debate about “which is the most physically demanding sport” with people and give different answers based on our own experiences or opinions. In 2004, ESPN (Entertainment and Sports Programming Network) conducted a study to answer this question once and for all. They brought together a panel of experts to rank the top 10 most demanding sports based on endurance, power, strength, flexibility, agility, durability, hand-eye coordination, agility, nerve and analytic aptitude. Below we look at the 10 most intense sports according to the study.

Most Physically Demanding Sport



Also known as mixed martial arts or simply MMA, wrestling is a sport characterized by a variety of grappling and standing techniques. Consequently, fighters come equipped with a variety of wrestling and fighting backgrounds. Each round lasts for 5 minutes where fighters are supposed to maintain an unparalleled level of mental and physical alertness to avoid getting knocked out by the opponent. The sport requires speed, quickness, durability, and incredible displays of full-body strength. This is the most physically demanding sport in existence. 



Football (American) is played by the strongest, fastest and largest athletes in the world. While each play only lasts for 4 seconds, the athletes are required to play with bouts of high intensity that require incredible durability and athleticism. Players have to be able to withstand the rigors and hard hits of the game.



Just like football, rugby requires speed, power, agility and conditioning. The unique thing about rugby is the constant physical tension that comes about during the prolonged group and individual battles. The size of the players in the game makes the physical demands even more intense.



This is the world’s most popular sport. Soccer players are usually very fast since they are required to reach top speeds and stop instantaneously to change direction. The intense physical battles for the ball, the sprinting efforts and constant movement make it the 4th most demanding sport. The fact that the fields are as large as 21,000 square feet doesn’t make matters any easier.


Ice Hockey

While ice hockey is largely unrecognized in most parts of the world, it is quite a popular sport in the United States. This is largely due to the steep cost associated with playing the game. If you have set foot on the ice, you will know the incredible physical demands the game makes on the players. The game involves 45 second high intensity shifts characterized by quick starts, stops, hard hits, direction changes and fighting for loose pucks. This is one of the most physically demanding sport.



This game involves a lot of high intensity quick bursts of movement, speed, vertical jumping power and agility. While basketball is played at intervals, it also includes a component of constant motion since it transitions from one end of the court to the other in quick succession. The game is also physically taxing since the players battle for possession.



While it may not be apparent to the casual observer, rowing is a very physically demanding sport. It requires a combination of raw power and refined technique to get the boat moving. Athletes require incredible upper back and core strength combined with impressive levels of endurance to maintain a fast pace throughout the race. The sport is both mentally and physically challenging especially as the fatigue levels accumulate.



Tennis is a sport that involves short duration bursts of energy in the form of transitional movements, quick sprints and hitting the ball. These movements demand a great deal of speed, strength, control and power. Since tennis is played at intervals, the athlete is required to operate at a higher intensity than in a continuous sport. What's more, tennis is played under the scorching sun.



Lacrosse is very similar to soccer. It features displays of agility, speed, coordination and conditioning by the players. The players are required to fend off painful whacks of the sticks of the opponents and fight for loose balls on the ground. They’re also required to have their heads on a swivel constantly to avoid getting knocked out. This is the 9th most physically demanding sport.



Swimming is a very exhausting sport. The continuous nature of this sport does not leave much recovery time. The upper body and lower body are in constant motion in a bid to stabilize the trunk and to navigate through the water. The swimmer hardly gets a chance to rest. The only reason swimming does not rank higher is because it is not ground-based. This makes it less stressful to the swimmer’s musculoskeletal system.


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