“The Fittest Sport” series is sponsored by Mongoose Sports & Entertainment
It’s an age-old source of debate among athletes, pundits and fans alike. But, after much research, we at Pledge Sports are providing a definitive answer to a near-impossible question: “What is the fittest sport?”
The Fittest Sport
It’s important to note, by “the fittest sport” we aren’t referring solely to an athlete’s level of general fitness, but rather their all-rounded ability, fitness and skill their sport requires.
For example, a marathon runner runs 26 miles per event, but a soccer player averages 7 miles per game – including sprints, constant change of direction, tactical awareness, physically battling opposition players, dribbling and kicking a ball. The comparison of skill set is an unfair contest.
In our seven-part series of “The Fittest Sport”, we will take each individual sport and provide in-depth analysis into what makes particular athletes fitter than the rest. We’ve analysed:
For those less familiar, a triathlon is a multi-sport event consisting of running, swimming and cycling. The Olympic Games format consists of a 1,500m swim, 40km cycle and a 10km run, all of which are completed consecutively without any break.
It’s important to note that beyond the Olympic format is the Ironman Triathlete, an event considered by many as the pinnacle of fitness. An Ironman consists of a 3.8km swim, 180km cycle and a 42.2km run (the equivalent of running a marathon).
Triathletes make our list because they combine three physically demanding endurance sports to make an ultra challenge. We’ve said throughout the series that we would not focus solely on long-distance runners because while they are obviously very fit, we believe the fitness required to be an elite triathlete is greater.
Triathletes deserve their place on the list not just for their fitness, but because they master the skill sets of the three endurance sports mentioned above.
It’s one thing for them to run 26 miles, but it’s an entirely other challenge to hone a perfect technique for swimming through kilometres of ice-cold water before gathering breakneck speed on a road bike after leaving the freezing swim behind.
A recent study published in the journal Pain explained that triathletes experience less pain than your average exerciser which allowed them to keep going for longer, hence the superhuman endurance often associated with these athletes.
The study included 19 triathletes—classified as individuals who participated in at least two triathlons per year—and 17 non-athletes. Participants in the study went through a series of “pain tests”, including the application of a heating device to one arm and submerging the other arm in a cold-water bath, and recorded their attitudes toward pain.
The triathletes identified pain just as well as non-athletes (they’re not Terminators), but they perceived it as less intense and were able to withstand it longer. In the attitude questionnaires, the triathletes reported fearing and worrying less about pain, which may help explain their higher tolerances.
“Triathletes rated pain lower in intensity, tolerated it longer, and inhibited it better than individuals in a control group,” said professor Ruth Defrin of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine.
Those who have read any of the previous six instalments of “The Fittest Sport” series will know that we have used VO2 max to compare and contrast the fitness of particular athletes.
VO2 max is the optimal oxygen uptake of an athlete and the rate at which they can pump the oxygen around their body. It’s seen as the gold standard in measuring fitness.
According to Topend Sports, elite triathletes average a score of 70 ml/min/kg. For context, the average young male (20-29) will have a VO2 max of 45. Furthermore, both field hockey and ice hockey ranked on our list of the fittest athletes and they both average a score of 60-65.
Ever wondered what a Super Olympics would look like? One where athletes had to compete across the board in all disciplines to see who was actually the best all-around athlete? Well, that’s more or less what Decathlon is.
We’re talking ten events over two days, absolute survival of the fittest. In the Olympics layout of the men’s event, decathletes take part in a 100m sprint, long jump, shot put, high jump and 400 metres on Day 1, before contesting the 110m hurdles, discus throw, pole vault, javelin and 1500m on Day 2.
Critics will say that decathletes wouldn’t shine at one given sport, and that is a point we can take on board. But, our counter-question would be, could an elite javelin thrower win the 110m hurdle event and the pole vault before tackling a 1500m race?
And don’t even get us started on cardiorespiratory endurance. Decathletes can run 1,500 meters in 4 minutes, 20 seconds. Want to talk about their speed? 100 metres in 10 seconds.
The shot put, discus and javelin require power, and the high jump and long jump call for agility. Balance, coordination and incredible skill are needed for the pole vault and 110-metre hurdles, and athletes need serious flexibility for every event listed above.
These guys, triathletes and decathletes, are in a league of their own.
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