Is Wrestling the Hardest Sport?

Wrestler in ring
A defeated wrestler laying in the ring. (Image: juliet_eden/iStock/Getty Images)

If wrestling isn't the most difficult sport in the world, it's one of the most exhausting. To succeed at the highest levels in wrestling, you need a combination of physical power, speed, technical skill, mental toughness and endurance. In 2012, the United States Olympic Committee ranked it the fifth most difficult out of 60 sports.

Cutting Weight

Where wrestlers truly embrace the grind is in keeping constant control over their weight. Since wrestlers often need to cut a substantial amount of weight prior to a tournament, they prefer to stay as close to their competition weight as possible throughout training. Keeping up your strength and fitness levels without gaining too much mass represents a rare blend of mental and physical fortitude not often seen in other sports. Other sports such as boxing and mixed martial arts involve similar practices, but wrestlers compete far more often. the weight watching never ends.

Strength and Conditioning

Some athletes, like football players, can train their bodies to do one or two basic things for a position. Wrestlers can't afford to be one-dimensional. An elite wrestler has to constantly keep up his cardiovascular and muscular endurance to go along with explosive speed and power. Like many athletes, wrestlers split their time between rigorous strength training, road work and cardio exercises, and that's all outside of the wrestling room. On the mats, wrestlers have to spend time working on on endless offensive and defensive techniques since the slightest mistake can lead to sudden defeat.

Technique

It only takes one technical error in footing, weight distribution or attention to lose a critical point or risk a match-ending pin. Because every wrestler you encounter in a tournament can present wildly different challenges, you can never rest on your laurels in the training room. Being stronger than your opponent may not count for much if he's significantly faster. By the same token, being the more technical wrestler won't matter if you can't back it up with physicality. So time management in training is essential for wrestlers. They must continually prioritize what aspect of their game to focus on in preparation for a meet.

Injuries

Although every sport carries with it some risk of injury, wrestling injuries can be severe in terms of body function and cosmetic appearance. More than 50 percent of high school wrestlers will experience injuries, most commonly to the shoulder and knee, according to a 2000 study published in the "American Journal of Sports Medicine." Additionally, major skin infections such as staph can be fatal if they aren't caught and dealt with quickly. All the skin-to-skin contact involved in wrestling greatly increases a wrestler's chances of contracting these rashes. Some also wind up with permanent puffy and swollen cauliflower ears, a result of the head being dragged along the mats for years on end.

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