It has been quite an intense period in the world of sports in the past few weeks. EURO 2020, Copa America, Tour de France or the ongoing Olympic Games in Tokyo. For me, an amateur and active athlete for many years, it is a time of celebration and enjoyment of those exciting events. The athletic competitions remain one of few genuine spectacles of drama, romanticism, strategy, spectacular upsets or victories of underdogs.
It is not common for me to cry yet some of the events I have watched recently made me really emotional and tearful. Those include the victories of Hidilyn Diaz (weightlifting) and Flora Duffy (triathlon) winning first Olympic Gold medal ever for their respective countries, the Philippines and Bermuda.
While many complain about various aspects of the current Games such as lack of live spectators or poor performance of the representatives of their countries I enjoy them immensely. Thanks to the modern technology (Eurosport Player) I watch various Olympic sports at convenient times, especially those that are not so popular or easy to come by such as sailing, rugby 7, 3×3 basketball, archery to name a few rarities.
Watching those sports and looking back on my past 13 years and 10,000 hours of pretty intense triathlon training regime for a non professional athlete I have been pondering the question:
What’s the best sport?
Many years ago I read an interesting paper in NYT searching for a similar answer. It queried a number of physiologists who tended to differ on the subject. The authors used pretty sensible criteria to evaluate and rank all kinds of physical activities. They included the accessibility, sustainability, muscle amount activisation, M.E.T. – metabolic equivalent to task (a measure of energy exerted for a given activity) or time needed to achieve best results.
Simplicity is a natural assessment factor. Many of us do not have access to such facilities as a swimming pool or hippodrome for example. What also matters is how strenuous and potentially boring an activity can be or can become over time. In other words can we stick with it for years or lose heart after promising few first weeks or months of practice. Obviously in terms of the last criterion the most “attractive” sport would be the one requiring very little time effort and huge cardio and muscle gains.
With such criteria the article concluded the worst exercise to be butterfly swim and the best one sprinting up the stairs.
Relating this question to my own experience I decided to first identify my favorite of the three sports that make up triathlon (swimming, cycling, running).
My choice was clear and unequivocal. So here is my personal ranking.
My Bronze Medal goes to swimming. It is a sport activating large muscle groups. It is also relatively safe and body toning. While swimming I probably have the least amount of mental distractions giving me a great respite. On the other hand I cannot deny it’s pretty boring. Wall to wall, lap after lap, gasping for air and tasting chlorine are not particularly uplifting moments. Due to COVID-19 closure of many pools I have not done my regular swim laps for a year, which actually felt like a personal relief. The aquatic element is so alien. Besides the motion effiency is so poor that only mere 4% of energy exerted by best swimmers is efficient, i.e. giving us actual propulsion. The rest is spent on fighting drag.
Running, which takes second place in my ranking, has its own pros. It is one of the simplest sports to do. Arguably it is requires virtually nothing, not even the running sneakers. It can be pretty social for those seeking company or encouragement. Yet it is injury prone especially for those who do not stretch their body properly pre and post exercise. Due to such an injury I have had to reduce my runs to zero for months at a time and I have also not really missed them that much.
So this leaves me with my favorite of the three, i.e. biking. I love this sport so much that I am actually riding a stationary bike trainer while typing this post on my device in my pain cave.
Where does this love of mine come from?
First of all, it is a great sport allowing to explore many interesting places both in my native Poland or around the world. My passion for cycling surprised me a bit recently. I have just realized I have spent more kilometers in the saddle that in my car or plane seat as a private pilot in the past 12 months. If you challenged me many years ago to average 67 km per day in 365 days straight I would say it is close to impossible. In hindsight it feels like a breeze though.
Using NYT criteria the sport of cycling ranks high in terms of its sustainability. It is hard to get bored with it even with so many hours spent. You can visit different places, meet different people, ride in different seasons on different types of bike . They include a road, TT (time trial), gravel, MTB bikes or a simple foldable cruiser I often use to commute.
In terms of changes it is a great activity for fashionistas like me. Wearing colorful and matching cycling attire simply adds more color to life. Plus it makes you visible on the road.
Since most of cycling training is aerobic it is also a great way to control your weight.
So is this really the best sport? Not necessarily. Though I am an avid fan and perhaps a bike addict I can see some of its drawbacks. Riding a bike can be dangerous. Close encounters with drivers are not uncommon. You can mitigate that risk riding smart and avoiding congested areas or using a bike trainer. If you fancy nice bikes this sport can also become quite expensive. Professional road bikes can cost in excess of 15,000 USD a piece. It is also time consuming.
In my opinion the answer to the question of best physical activity is definitely very subjective. I strongly believe that we all have our own predisposition toward a particular physical activity. It is very much tailored to our personality. Some people, like me, enjoy long endurance sports that mix individuality with a degree of group activity. Others feel best and are motivated in team sports. Then there are those who just need one opponent facing them like in tennis or paddel.
Finding your favorite sport is a valuable personal discovery. After all it is not so simple nor obvious. I have met people who tortured themselves physically by running marathons for example because it was trendy in their circles. Such a quasi-hobby is often a source of personal misery undermining motivation. It can also lead to extreme fatigue and injuries. Instead of improving our physical and mental health such a sport becomes an extension of our personal or professional distress that we want to avoid in the first place.
When looking for the best physical activity for ourselves it is helpful to gauge if it really serves us well. Do we look forward to it most od the time? Do we really enjoy it or do it because it is in fashion at the moment?
If you cannot decide just on just one choice you can be, like me, a allround, multisport athlete.
So what’s your favorite sport?