By Joe Stankowski
Photo Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/sjlocke
Fall sports season is kicking into gear, but you’ve committed to doing more than just watching sports on TV. You want to play ’em. Moreover, you want to participate in the ones that will actually be good for you. So which fall sports offer the best cardio workout?
There are countless pastimes to choose from -- everything from archery to wallyball. For our purposes, though, we’ve narrowed down the field (pun intended) to three top contenders, and from there, we’ll declare the best.
Contender No. 1: Soccer
While many red, white and blue-blooded Americans used this year’s World Cup as an excuse to go out and celebrate, most still don’t accept soccer as a real sport beyond the youth level. But the 6.39 billion people outside the U.S. do take the game seriously. Very seriously.
One of the great things about soccer is that it requires next to no equipment to play -- all you need is a ball and a couple of sticks to mark the perimeters of the goal. It also requires very little skill to get a good workout.
Now, before all you Cristiano Ronaldo fans start sending hate mail, we’re not saying soccer requires no skill. We’re saying anyone can run around for 90 minutes on a soccer field for the sake of a good workout -- and possibly have a little fun in the process!
As for the workout, soccer demands an hour and a half of starting, stopping, direction changing, sliding and jumping in the middle of an open field, all while you maneuver a ball with your feet (or at least try to). The near constant movement of soccer challenges your aerobic system, but the occasional bursts of speed can really push your anaerobic threshold to the max.
Note: If there’s one position you don’t want to play when a good cardio workout is your goal, it’s goalie. Sure, your heart rate will occasionally spike when you’re trying to stop a 1-pound, 70-mph bullet coming at you and the net. But you can get the same heart-pounding effect when you realize you just accidentally tipped over your friend’s 50-inch plasma TV.
Contender No. 2: Football
A typical game consists of approximately 125 plays, each lasting an average of seven seconds and distributed over four 15-minute quarters. Even if you play on both sides of the ball, you’ll still only get about 14 minutes of work before the final second ticks off the clock.
So why, then, is football such a good cardio workout?
For starters, wearing a helmet and shoulder pads adds close to 30 pounds to your weight load. Throw in highly intense, short blasts of activity requiring power and quick reaction time while simultaneously trying to avoid being tossed aside by one or more of the 11 adrenaline- and testosterone-fueled opponents, and you’ve got yourself some cardio!
Contender No. 3: Basketball
Take a constant action sport like soccer, make the playing field a lot smaller, toss in some aggressive physical contact like football, add a small steel rim at each end of the playing court, and what do you get?
Well, yeah, basketball obviously. But more important, you get a nice blend of the types of cardio workouts you’d get from soccer or football. Additionally, basketball can be played indoors or out, any time of year.
Even if you don’t boast the kind of ball-handling skills worthy of an hour-long circus-like ESPN press conference (cough ... LeBron ... cough), you can still get your cardio workout in by being Johnny Hustle and setting picks, going after rebounds and boxing out your opponent in the paint.
The Winner: Football
Basketball and soccer fans might be surprised when we say football is best for your heart. While the plays are relatively short, the sheer intensity of the game requires you to work your muscle fibers to the max -- all of which require oxygen. How does that oxygen get to your muscles? Via your cardiovascular system, of course!
With only 30 seconds or so of rest between each play, a gridiron workout may just be the ultimate in interval training.
Joe Stankowski is a former power lifter/strongman competitor. “Mighty” Joe Stankowski co-authored The Power of Champions , created the weight-loss support group This Workout Doesn’t Suck and is the caffeine-inspired blogger behind MorningCupOfJoe.com.