Everything’s relative, and for some, just getting off the couch is a challenge enough. But if you’re bored of the usual sports on offer, or you like to push your body to its limits and set yourself new challenges, why not try one of these five tough-nut sports. Warning: the below fitness activities are not for the faint hearted; read on if you think you can handle it.
1) Extreme assault courses
Mud-based extreme assault courses have been gaining popularity of late and are proving to be big money makers for the organisers. The three big players in the US providing these events are Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash and Spartan Race, which raked in $70m, $50m and $30m respectively last year. Tough Mudder has now reached UK shores and hosts more than 50 events a year in 5 different countries. Events consist of a 12-mile obstacle course designed by former Special Forces troops and are designed to test strength, stamina, and mental grit.
Just before a race (or ‘challenge’ as the organisers prefer to call it) there is a standard warm up followed by group bonding and motivational exercises such as chanting the Tough Mudder pledge, which includes phrases such as “I do not whine – kids whine” and “I overcome all fears”. Team camaraderie is an important part of the events, with 20 gruelling obstacles en route such as participants fully submerging in a vat of ice and ice water, crawling under wires dishing out electric shocks, and climbing over 8-12ft walls, some of which are at an incline towards them. The course takes an average 2.5 hours to complete, with an average of 78% completing it. Other UK extreme obstacle course events include ‘Tough Guy’, ‘Xrunner’ and ‘Endurer Log Dash’ (think 8 mile obstacle course in mud with team members hauling around a 3.6m 20kg log at the same time).
These sorts of events are becoming more and more popular and there is now even a newsletter dedicated to the sector called Mud, Sweat & Tears. I think I’ll stick to reading about it for now.
2) Extreme spinning
If you’ve ever taken a spinning class you’ll know that they’re not for the faint hearted, and if you’re new to exercise it might not be the best first choice! And yet, some folk have decided that cycling at crazy speeds until it feels like your legs are about to fall off, and an instructor yelling at you at the same time, is simply not enough work. The latest group exercise class to take off in the states is soon to hit UK shores. It is called SoulCycle and participants are required to do press-ups and crunches at the same time as spinning using exercise bands hung from the ceiling. Loud thumping music plays a big part in the class as a rhythm stimulus and gives rise to the dance aspect of the class. The benefits are that you get to work various different muscle groups, as well as your legs, at the same time as a massive cardio session.
3) Iron Man triathlon
The ironman triathlon is a series of full-on races involving a 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112 mile bicycle ride, finishing off with a marathon run (26.2 miles)... with no breaks in between! There is a 17 hours time limit given to complete the race, with set timeframes for each section. And if a ‘normal’ iron man triathlon wasn’t tough enough, there is the world championships, also called Ironman Kailua-Kona, held each year in Hawaii which are preceded by a series of qualifying events and includes the bike ride through desert. If you think you’re up to the challenge be prepared for 15 hours per week during peak training period, but a great big smile and sense of achievement once you’ve crossed the finish line.
4) Underwater hockey (aka octopush)
Despite its lack of fame, underwater hockey is a popular sport with divers; especially during the winter months when the weather is too cold for diving. Players are equipped with a snorkel, special hockey stick, protective clothes, flippers and gloves, and have to rely on their ability to manage the oxygen in their body as they play hockey under the water. The hockey stick is much shorter than a normal one – about the size of a spatula, the puck weighs over a kilogram to keep it on the pool floor, and the goals are 3 metre trays situated at either end of a 25m pool.
Originating in the UK during the 1950’s, the sport is becoming increasingly popular, with some countries forming national teams and taking part in world championships. There are 10 players in a team, with only 6 players from each team being allowed in the water at the same time resulting in fast substitutions so players need to work quickly then get out and recover; all adding to the general exhilaration! This is a high-octane aerobic sport – great for those confident in the water who are looking for a bit more of a buzz.
5) Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)
MMA is a form of full-on contact combat sport and uses a mix of fighting styles from various combat disciplines. The concept originated from the ancient Olympics and mixed style fighting contests took place throughout Europe, Japan and the Pacific Rim in the early 1900’s. In 1993 the Ultimate Fighting Championship was formed in the US with rules and regulations being implemented for safety reasons, as well as to enable it to be recognised as a legitimate sport.
The original purpose of the sport was to determine the most effective form of unarmed combat. MMA fighters are required to be super fit and have skill in a cross of fighting disciplines including Judo, Taekwondo, Karate, Kickboxing, and wrestling. The various techniques that are utilised in MMA will generally fall into either striking techniques (such as kicking, hitting, punching) and grappling techniques (such as holds, sweeps and throws). MMA competitors are required to train all day at peak training periods whether it is cardio, weights, sparring or technical practise. Quick mental agility is required to make split second decisions at the same time as plan the next few moves ahead. And all of this takes place in addition to getting wacked, thumped or jumped on by your opponent.
So if you think you’re tough, let one of the above activities put that to the test! On a more boring note, please be aware of your physical limitations before embarking on any extreme physical activities. It’s a good idea to check with your doctor before starting any specific training regimes and take note of the health warnings given by any of the sports providers or experts. Apart from that.... go for it, if you think you’re hard enough!
Have you got any experience of these sports or suggestions of other gruelling and physically demanding sports, games or events?
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