Going to the gym and eating healthy food is just the start of the journey towards getting fit. To take your athletic regime to the next level, getting involved with sports can really help focus on specific areas and take your game to greater, unprecedented heights. You only need to look at the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Conor McGregor to draw inspiration from stars who are at the top of their respective games. These guys are in peak physical condition, and there’s nothing stopping you from achieving these results as well. The good thing is, sports are fun, and you can get strong while enjoying yourself. If you don’t know which sport is for you, don’t worry. Here is a definitive list of some of the best sports out there for improving your physique, and a bit of background on each. Watch the games, play the sports, and fully immerse yourself to achieve the best outcomes.
Rugby league was designed to be a faster and more entertaining alternative to rugby union and arguably requires a much higher level of fitness than the traditionalists’ favoured offshoot of the game. With fewer members on each team (13 rather than 15) there is more space for attacking, giving players a greater chance of making sprints through gaps. League still requires a robust frame for tackling, but attacking players tend to focus on improving speed before strength. Training for the game requires plenty of cardio work, circuit training, and core strength building.
Rugby league is hugely popular in Australia, where a lot of the world’s greatest talents play. The current holder of the World Golden Boot award is Cooper Cronk, the halfback for Melbourne Storm. Storm topped the NRL ladder in 2016, but narrowly missed out in the Grand Final to Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks. They are widely expected to bounce back this season, though, and at the time of writing, can be backed at 8/1 in the NRL betting to go all the way. The NRL season in Australia runs between March and October, and watching the fierce competition of that league is enough to entice anyone to get involved with the sport.
Playing a 90-minute football match requires huge levels of stamina, a lot more than the average spectator may expect. To play at the top levels, players undergo rigorous training throughout the week in preparation for the competitive fixtures. Ronaldo trains five days per week for approximately 3-4 hours each day. This includes periods of running for cardio, explosive high-intensity sprinting drills, technical drills to enhance ball control, and gym exercises to improve specific body strength.
It’s this level of training that makes Ronaldo one of the fittest athletes on the planet, and helps him maintain his status as a key protagonist in a successful Real Madrid side. When watching Ronaldo play for Los Blancos, you will notice his blistering speed and technical ability, and the fact that he is able to maintain those levels for the entirety of the game while players around him tire. This is how he continues to score goals, and at the time of writing is the third top scorer in La Liga behind Lionel Messi, and Luis Suarez. A lot of footballers show signs of fatigue later in their careers, but at 31 years old Ronaldo clearly has a few more good years left in him. His dedicated training schedule is one of the primary reasons for that.
Mixed Martial Arts
UFC has brought mixed martial arts to mainstream audiences, and it is becoming increasingly popular worldwide. One of the most famous stars of recent times is the Irishman McGregor, the reigning UFC Lightweight Champion. He is a picture of fitness and a man at the top of his game, but it has taken a lot of backbreaking work for him to get to the stage he is at now.
Building a fighting physique takes a lot of planning as to which exercises you need to focus on and what kind of foods you need to eat. When McGregor was training for UFC 189 he did a lot of all-round fitness between focused muscle-building sessions. Interestingly, this included yoga practice to improve balance, flexibility, and focus. He also did pool work, jump rope, and dead hanging from objects. Because UFC incorporates numerous fighting styles, it is quite possibly the best form of fighting to get into for those that want to develop all-round fitness levels. Traditional boxing had previously been touted as one of the healthiest sports, but because MMA also makes use of the legs for kicking it encourages fighters to work on both upper and lower body strength.
Tennis isn’t just an enjoyable way to spend a glorious summer day with friends; it’s also an opportunity to seriously improve your fitness. Moving about on the court doesn’t just require strength to hit the ball, it involves agility and stamina. A good tennis player must keep their focus over at least three sets, in a battle of wits and physical endurance.
Serena Williams is one of the best tennis players the world has ever seen. She has 23 singles Grand Slam titles to her name, and recently won the Australian Open for the seventh time. She is a baseline player whose primary strength lies in her power to take control of rallies. According to Muscle Prodigy, Williams’ training schedule involves drills to improve endurance, increase flexibility, strengthen her core, and build overall muscle functionality. This is done initially through tennis practice on the court, followed by cardio and strengthening in the gym.
For people who want to zero in on massively enhancing their upper body strength and appearance, rowing is the ideal sport to get into. Rowing is becoming increasingly popular across the UK as boutique rowing studios are opening at a fast pace up and down the country. According to exercise physiologist Stella Lucia; “With each stroke, pretty much every part of the body is used. A big part of rowing is core strength.” This suggests that for those that want to build strength and work on cardio at the same time rowing is the perfect exercise.
The world number one rower Eric May provides strong evidence for the benefits of rowing on the body, as the New Zealander has an exceptionally chiselled physique. The 34-year-old won gold medals at the 2012 London Olympic Games and the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. He also set two world best times. The Olympics is a great place to watch rowing, but the best event of the year for many is the famous boat race between Oxford and Cambridge universities. The Boat Race usually takes place in March on the river Thames, and is an intense battle over a 4.2 mile stretch of water. It is always closely fought, but Cambridge have recorded more wins with 82 to Oxford’s 79.
Cycling is a fantastic way to enjoy the countryside and do sightseeing, but it is also an incredible method of improving one’s fitness. In The UK, 3.5 million people cycle at least once a month, and if more people took to two wheels rather than using their cars it would also be beneficial for the environment. The health benefits are well documented. Cycling is known to protect from serious diseases such as strokes, heart attacks, some strains of cancer, depression, diabetes, obesity, and arthritis. It uses muscles but also gets heart rate up and blood pumping around the body. Cycling can be done at the gym on exercise bikes or in spinning classes with others to spur you on, but getting out and climbing some hills in the real world can be more rewarding.
Cycling events are also pretty fun to watch. The Tour de France is perhaps the best-known and most prestigious competition in the cycling calendar, and it takes place in France with occasional stop-offs in neighbouring countries. It is a three-week-long event that involves various stages, and cycling teams consisting of nine members each. It’s hugely popular to watch on TV because it is a highly competitive sport, but it takes place with a backdrop of some stunning scenery. Because it is in July, the weather is usually pleasant as well and the whole occasion has a summery feel to it.
Swimming is not only pleasurable; it is an essential skill that everyone should learn. But it can also be a brilliant way to develop and improve fitness. For those who want to work on their cardio, but don’t want to put too much pressure on themselves, swimming keeps up the heart rate but takes a lot of stress off the body. At the same time, it still tones muscles and builds strength but is not quite as arduous as rowing for example. Taking part in swimming racing events can be a superb way to keep you at the top of your game as well. To gain some inspiration, there are plenty of televised swimming events throughout the year.
The main swimming event of the year takes place in the FINA World Aquatic Championships which is held every two years with an event due to take place in 2017. The championships also involve diving, high diving, open water swimming, synchronised swimming, and water polo.
Some people are put off by the monotony of running, and often steer clear of it because they think it is boring. But there are plenty of ways to make running more interesting. Long-distance running is an amazing way to keep up decent levels of stamina, and running for 30 minutes each day is unbelievably good for your heart. But running on a treadmill in a gym is not always the best way to enjoy the sport. Getting out into the fresh air can be much more rewarding. There are plenty of apps now that aim to make the experience fun as well. Zombies, Run! for example, is an augmented reality app that puts you right in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Your mission is to get to an outpost while collecting supplies. You receive mission briefings and hear music through your headphones, and when you get chased by zombies you have to speed up. Who said running was boring?
You don’t have to stick to long-distance running, though. Training for a 100m sprint is supremely different to working up to a marathon. Short sprinters need superior core strength, and the likes of Usain Bolt spend a lot of time in the gym doing leg raises, side sweeps, reverse crunches, cable knee drives, and hanging leg raises among other weight exercises. Don’t worry though, the world’s fastest man has admitted to eating chicken nuggets before, so it’s not all strenuous workout sessions.
Basketball is an intense team sport that takes place on a 15-metre court. Players are continuously running from end to end while bouncing, passing, and controlling the ball, as well as shooting. Players need to be at unparalleled levels of fitness to stop and start so frequently, as well as inject quick changes in pace. The game also requires agility, vision, and lightning-fast reactions. To practice for basketball it is wise to put heavy focus on ball control and dribbling. In addition to that, strength training is imperative, and bleep test short-burst running improves that ability to stop and start. Players also progress by doing glute bridges, lateral lunges, lateral bounds, and Romanian deadlifts.
To get into the sport and experience how the professionals do it, there is no better league in the world to watch than NBA in America. The reigning champions are the Cleveland Cavaliers, who beat the Golden State Warriors 4-3 in 2016.
If you are already a fitness fanatic, combining a new sport with your regular workout will up your levels of intensity even further. And if you are someone who is aiming to get into fitness, sport can be an enjoyable way to develop that healthy addiction. Remember, if you watch, live, and breathe your favourite sport you have more chance of success.