People often debate, what sport produces the fittest athletes? Is it cyclists, marathon runners, gymnasts, Cross-fitters? In order to properly answer this question we must define fitness, which is different than athleticism.
Athleticism = Fitness + Coordination + Sport related Skills.
Fitness = The ideal mix of endurance, strength, and flexibility.
Some people may question why I have flexibility in this definition. Quite simply, one is fit in order to perform tasks. It’s hard to do anything if you are at home nursing a pulled hamstring or torn rotator cuff. Flexibility keeps you healthy..and hence..fit.
You must be well-rounded. This rules out a bunch of sports.
For instance a cyclist might have the best cardio of all and great lower body strength, but he will score poorly on any measure of upper body strength and flexibility. A gymnast scores exceptionally high on strength and flexibility, but their routines last for under a minute. Compared to other athletes, they have poor endurance.
MMA fighters, decathletes and CrossFitters are the top of the food chain. They have exceptional strength, endurance, and good flexibility. Let’s look at the pro’s and con’s of each sport.
Pro’s: Can run really, really fast. Jump very high, and throw things super far. Ashton Eaton, the reigning 2x Olympic Gold medalist can run the 100m dash in 10.21 sec, the 400m in 45.00 seconds, and the 1500 in 4:14. He can high jump 6’11, and throw a 16 pound ball over 50 feet.
Con’s: Compared to other athletes, their upper body strength is lacking. Many of the decathletes feats can be seen as measures of athleticism, and not just pure fitness. For instance, the hurdles, the pole vault, and the javelin are measures of agility and technique as much as they are of fitness. Although a Decathlete competes in 10 different events. All of the events basically boil down to variations of three skills. Running, jumping, throwing.
Pro’s: The most varied of all the sports. One has to learn how to fight standing, clinching, on the ground, and off one’s back. Champion fighters have to be able to go all out for 25 minutes straight. From years of throwing high kicks, and having their joints contorted, MMA fighters are some of the most flexible athletes around. They have an ability to withstand damage, that non-combat athletes can’t even come close to. They have both explosive and static strength (the ability to clinch and hold someone down, keeping the muscle contracted for long periods).
Con’s: MMA is a highly skilled sport, so while many MMA fighters have elite fitness, there are some, such as Demian Maia, who rely so much on skill, that you wouldn’t recognize he was a professional athlete if you ran into him on the street.
Pro’s: CF athletes train specifically for fitness. This gives them an advantage over the competition. They don’t have to spend time learning the chess-game of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu the way an MMA fighter does. CFers are stronger than all but the largest MMA fighters (Brock Lesnar/Bob Sapp). They train in a variety of different strength training events, from gymnastic movements to powerlifting, and running with weighted vests on.
Con’s: CFers tend to lean more towards strength than endurance. Ben Smith, the winner of the 2015 CrossFit games has a fairly pedestrian 5k time of 20:20. This means he would get lapped by the fastest children. The 10-year-old boy world record in the 5K is 17:34. This skew of CFers towards strength over endurance, is the CF’s biggest weakness.
Of the three, MMA fighters, decathletes and CrossFitters, who do you think has the fittest athletes?
Is there a sport I left out?