The Sports Scoop

My View on the World of Sports

A Breakdown of the Physically Toughest Sports

If you follow any kind of sport, you understand that certain qualities are desirable.  Characteristics such as speed, power, and agility are a few desirable attributes for athletes to possess.  Another trait associated with various sports is toughness.  Being tough can mean different things to different individuals, but the general idea that you need a certain level of fortitude to engage in sports is universal.


I decided to attempt to figure out what sport you have to be physically toughest to play.  Since toughness can be interpreted in so many different ways, I elected to create some criteria upon which I will base my selections.  I have come up with five ways to measure the toughness of a sport.


The first criterion is the risk for injury.  While you can get injured playing virtually any sport, the threat of being hurt playing ping pong differs greatly from playing football.  In my eyes, a sport that has a high risk for injury takes a tougher person to play.


Second is the tolerance for pain.  This factor has to be looked at in the broadness of the sport rather than the narrowness of each individual.  Some athletes can endure more than others, but sports such as marathon running and Olympic lifting innately require a high pain tolerance.


The third aspect is the nature of reckless abandon in the sport.  We have all heard the term “sacrificing your body,” and that is exactly what I am referring to.  An example would be going after a puck when you know you will be smashed into the boards, which takes plenty of courage and toughness.


Next, the length of one’s career in a sport is a good indicator of how tough it is.  Usually, the shorter the career, the more physically challenging the sport is.  Boxing is notorious for fighters retiring early in their careers because of the physical demands of the sport.


The final criterion is the average person’s willingness to participate in the sport.  I am basing this off of my assessment, but I would be willing to bet that most would agree with me when I say that I would rather try swimming than head down to Australia and get assaulted playing rugby.  The exception would be rugby players, of course.


I ranked fifteen of the more physically demanding traditional sports, one through five, based on each of these factors.  After totaling up the numbers for each sport, I was able to conclude what the physically toughest sport is.  Keep in mind two things.  I don’t consider mixed martial arts (ultimate fighting), which would be number one if included, to be a traditional sport, and mental toughness is not included in this assessment, that is a whole different story.


Wrestling, Olympic lifting, and lacrosse narrowly missed the list, but without further delay, here’s the list of the top five:


5.  Marathon running – Tolerance for pain and a lack of desire for the average person to participate were major factors here.  Remember how miserable it was running the mile in middle school gym class?  It’s only that 26.2 times.

4.  Football – Reckless abandon and risk of injury are certainly high in this sport.  Much depends on the position you play and wearing pads helps prevent some injuries, but you still have to be plenty tough out there.

3.  Hockey – I gave hockey similar scores to football, but it edges ahead for two reasons.  First, you can do much more damage with a stick and puck than a football, and second, fighting is very common and surprisingly condoned.

2.  Rugby – It was difficult to put rugby at two.  It is more of a 1b.  Rugby is as physical as any sport and participants don’t wear pads, which definitely earns them some toughness points.  Having completely no regard for your body or well being pretty much sums it up.

1.  Boxing – What really got boxing the top spot was the lack of career length.  It’s common to see boxers leave the sport in their prime because it’s just too much.  Boxing received high marks for all categories, and like these other sports, it can result in some serious long-term injuries.


May 3, 2007 - Posted by | Boxing, Football, Hockey, Rugby, Sports


  1. While I agree with hockey, rugby & boxing, where are bull riding, motocross and lacrosse? And pro football doesn’t even come close to rugby in that there are no sustitutions, so time-outs and no protective gear. Marathon running? Maybe, but triathalons trump that easily. Please consider these thoughts for your list. Thanks, P. Geller

    Comment by Paul Geller | July 8, 2008

  2. WRESTLING is the toughest sport. Hours ans hours of relentless training, just to have 6 minutes of glory.

    Comment by wrestler | July 10, 2008

  3. i agree with boxing. getting hit would suck. and i don’t know much about rugby, but i would defineately have marathon running as #2. all you have is running is YOURSELF. no time outs, no half times. you just exert yourself to the fullest of your abilities for 2.5 hours… and you’re trying to say football is tougher than that? please.

    Comment by Anonymous | September 10, 2008

  4. What about swimming??? I put in about 27 hours a week at the pool year round just so at the end of the season I can hopefully drop about half a second.

    Comment by swimmer | November 11, 2008

  5. What about rowing? I read an article that rowing one two thousand meter race takes a physical toll on your body the equivalent of playing two back to back basketball games. You use every muscle in your body and can not give up ever or your boat will lose.

    Comment by 365 | February 18, 2009

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  7. waterpolo is the most toghest sport yu can ever play and if yu dont believe try it

    Comment by waterpolo player | April 13, 2009

  8. Mixed martial arts should top the list. It’s pyhically demanding and the risk of injury is great. It incoporates aspects of wrestling, boxing and the martial arts. It’s extremely tough.

    Comment by Mike | May 14, 2009

  9. Water polo, no doubt. Try combining the physical abuse of rugby, with the endurance of distance swimming, and the quick pace of basketball, no other is that demanding.. It’s a sport that often goes under the radar in discussions like this, but it is easily in the top 5… I switched from football, and it is way tougher than it. Polo needs the respect it deserves.

    Comment by Greater philly polo | June 2, 2009

  10. obviously whoever wrote that list has never stepped on a wrestling mat. you go out on the mat alone and come off the mat alone you don’t have a safety to take care of a missed tackle or a cutoff man to rely on. is without a dought the toughest sport.

    Comment by Greg | November 26, 2009

  11. As an amateur boxer both as a young Golden Gloves welterweight and later as a middleweight masters boxer in my 30s and early 40s, I absolutely agree that boxing is the most physically gruelling sport; just stepping into the ring is an achievement. But as a pretty unsuccessful triathlete I found that just as gruelling, if not more so. I would have to disagree about wrestling; as a college wrestler I found it relatively indemanding compared to my previous boxing experience.

    Comment by Mitch Geller | November 26, 2009

  12. I agree with the poster above. Rowing is definitely one of the toughest sports out there. The amount of dedication, determination and sacrifice in training and the toll it puts on your body should already put it into top 3. Boxing I agree should be up there but you’re missing a lot of sports which most people would consider as more tough.

    I would suppose endurance sports dominating any list

    Comment by Disagree | January 19, 2010

  13. footbal is a sport played by soft, pretty boys. Boxing is quite tough, swimming the same, martial arts and wrestling all have one thing in common. There is no suffering involved its just all out for a short time. Ok the training may be hard but what sport doesnt involve hard training. Cycling is a sport for tough guys. 150 mile races and races over 3 weeks = suffering. You wont see a cyclist lying about looking for symapathy when they have crashed at high speed. Footballers cry about a small tap.

    Comment by Liam | April 17, 2010

  14. I like this post. Hope you to post useful article soon

    Comment by Dorche | May 10, 2010

  15. Rugby is defenetly the toughest of them all…You wrestle,run,tackle,kick,throw…belive me,try it!!!

    Comment by Rugby is life | May 12, 2010

  16. you forgot waterpolo! it’s pretty unknown but is like handball in the water, only tougher physically!

    Comment by steve | June 5, 2010

  17. Water polo by far. you have to swim, leg up out of the water while throwing a ball above your head. you punch eachother underwater. it calls for huge uper body and loer body stregth. Water polo is the hardest most phisical sport

    Comment by spencer | July 1, 2010

  18. The sport Rugby League is like rugby multiplied by 10. Faster paced and harder hits are allowed, and almost every game devolves into a fist fight. Rugby is hard, but the rules have softened the game up a lot. League is just

    Comment by Dave | July 15, 2010

  19. marching band is the hardest. try carrying a 50lb tenor drum for 9 hours a day!!!

    Comment by Logan | July 25, 2010

  20. try muay thai

    Comment by Anonymous | August 9, 2010

  21. mma, closely followed by rugby.

    Comment by trunksct | November 11, 2010

  22. Motocross ranks number I race it and know the risks and what is required physically. The consequences could be from a broken bone to even being fatal. I’ve personally watch crashes where people die. Your body takes so much abuse and a motocross riders pain tolerance is way higher than a football players. Motocross is the toughest sport period.

    Comment by Tu | November 15, 2010

  23. Rowing is the most physically demanding sport. It is scientifically proven.

    Comment by jake | December 14, 2010

  24. Gymnastics is one of the shorter careers around. Physically , gymnasts are consistently the world most fit and constantly live in a state of injury in a quest for the toughest , most intense and most perfect events.
    It should be number one. It’s components are the basis for all sport.

    Comment by sam | January 31, 2011

  25. i play rugby and i’ve done other sports like martial arts
    and martial arts is 7 times harder then rugby
    rugby is not even that tough..people jst overexhaturate about it

    Comment by Pewi Mac | April 17, 2011

  26. rowing is the toughest sport, definitely

    Comment by Anonymous | November 10, 2011

  27. I think your description of rugby is almost dead on. I played in the mid-to-late 1970’s (second row scrum- left side) and I would add that after 80 minutes of disregarding my body, I admit to needing a pain reliever. Of course the PR of choice for all rugby players is a keg of beer shared between both teams.

    Comment by Bob Englander | December 13, 2011

  28. Where the hell is wrestling on here?

    Comment by Dylan Hite | January 27, 2012

  29. Honestly, just based on the number of people who are capable of playing a football game, I dont even think that should be on here….. I mean, as long as you have the basic athletic gifts for it, you can handle playing a single position. But, with all do respect to the games themselves, the vast majority of football/hockey players wouldn’t be able to hang with top notch wrestlers, mixed martial artists, or marathon runners… Those are the sports I believe really test a human’s toughness.

    Comment by Dylan Hite | January 27, 2012

  30. what about bullriding

    Comment by Anonymous | February 8, 2012

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