The Best Sports for Building Muscle in 2024

Jun 05, 2024

A man boxing to build muscle

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Trying to build muscle can be challenging. While going to the gym and lifting heavy weights can be the traditional strategy, it’s not the right fit for everyone. Sometimes, we’re looking for something more involved and engaging to help us build muscle while doing something fun. Finding a sport to play can be the perfect way to help you build muscle while doing something you enjoy. Here are some of the best sports for building muscle. 

1. Boxing – Best for Upper Body and Core Strength

Boxing is known for being a violent and competitive sport. It’s also one of the best muscular strength sports. People forget that simple pad work or shadow boxing is a form of boxing that engages your core unlike any other sport. You can tone your arms, build up your endurance and practice great cardio with weekly boxing sessions. You could join a nearby boxing gym or get your punching bag to use at home. 

+ A full-body workout - High possibility of muscle strain
+ Improves self-confidence and self-discipline - Requires a trainer
+ A form of self-defense

2. Gymnastics – Best for Strength Training and Flexibility Work

One sport that is often overlooked for building muscle is gymnastics. If you’ve ever been to a competition or seen Olympic gymnasts, you know just how strong, coordinated and agile gymnasts need to be. Many events involve holding up your body weight and staying in positions integral to building muscle. It’s also an excellent sport for those who aren’t looking to invest too much money in equipment — you’ll likely be able to find a local gym where you can exercise. 

+ Helps improve bone density - High injury risk
+ Improves self-confidence and self-discipline

3. Swimming – Best for Weight Loss

Swimmer doing a butterfly stroke

This sport is one of the low-impact sports for muscular strength, making it great for those recovering from injuries or those who are elderly. It works nearly every body part to help you develop muscle and build strength. Swimming is easy to start, too — hardly any equipment is needed. Just find a pool or another swimming area and start doing laps. You’ll be surprised how good of a workout it is. 

Several swimming workouts can help you build muscle. For instance, you can do jump squats to build leg muscles. Get into the pool, put your weight on your heels and squat until your shoulders are underwater. Perform 20 reps per set before swimming.

+ Provides a full-body workout - Requires pool access
+ Improves cardiovascular strength - High risk of shoulder injuries without proper training

4. Bouldering – Best for Endurance Work and Mental Focus

One of the main reasons people don’t lift weights is because they find it too boring — some people may need something more mentally stimulating than simply lifting something heavy. If this sounds like you, you may be looking for an activity that allows you to be strategic and forces you to use your brain while also being active. 

Bouldering is a muscular strength sport that engages you mentally and physically. It’s a form or rock climbing that can be done indoors on artificial rock walls or outside on actual cliffs. It’s climbing a piece of rock that requires intense but shorter moves than traditional rock climbing. 

Spend 10 minutes climbing and you can engage your arms, core and back all at once. However, you’ll also try to pick out the best way forward, finding various handholds and footholds and thinking about traversing different areas. 

+ Builds upper body and grip strength - High risk of hand and elbow injuries
+ Helps improve mental focus - Needs access to outdoor boulders
+ Helps improve core stability

5. Rowing – Best for Achieving a Lean Physique

Rowing machines are extremely common nowadays, and for good reason — they’re one of the best exercises to build muscle. But you don’t have to spend all of your time on a machine — with a kayak, you can spend real time out on the water, enjoying the scenery, getting some fresh air and building muscle at the same time. 

It’s one of the sports that build muscle for your upper body, making it ideal for improving your core and amping up your shoulder muscles.

+ Builds back, arms, shoulders and leg muscles - Potential for back injuries 
+ Helps improve heart health - Needs access to rowing machine

6. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) – Best for Muscular Endurance

Two men practicing mixed martial arts

MMA has become increasingly popular in recent years. Many people are now realizing just how good of a workout it is. It’s more than just a great workout, though — MMA involves a lot of strategy and technique to beat your opponent. If you’re looking for a muscular strength sport that will push you to your limits, then MMA could be the sport for you. 

+ Teaches self-defense skills - Requires proper supervision
+ Improves overall fitness - Risk of various body injuries during sparring

7. CrossFit – Best for Functional Strength

CrossFit has gained popularity in the past years because it combines elements of weightlifting, cardio and gymnastics. Daily workouts use a mix of barbell and kettlebell movements, plyometrics, strongman, calisthenics and machine conditioning. These workouts, also known as workouts of the day or WODs, are implemented to push individuals out of their comfort zones.

Although CrossFit started as a fitness program, it is now considered a sport. Individuals compete against each other and more competitions are being held worldwide. However, CrossFit still typically requires trainers and gym memberships to participate. Monthly memberships can cost around $186 per month, with higher prices in metropolitan areas.

+ Provides a variety of exercises - Not ideal if muscle building is a priority
+ Presents new and fun challenges daily - Monthly membership costs
+ More accessible for all ages and skill levels

8. Weightlifting – Best for Overall Muscle Mass

Just like its name suggests, it refers to the actual activity of lifting weights. It’s a form of exercise in which your muscles contract against an external resistance, boosting your body’s tone, mass, strength and endurance. Weightlifting is the most popular sport that builds muscle with the right dedication.

Different types will allow you to build athletic muscle:

  • Bodybuilding: This is the most popular sport. It involves working out specific muscle groups to boost muscle aesthetics and size.
  • Powerlifting: Its primary focus is strength, and it includes three lifts: squat, deadlift, and bench press. Powerlifters often look out of shape and much stronger than bodybuilders because they can push more weight.
  • Circuit training: In this method, you must perform weightlifting exercises one after the other with minimal rest to enhance cardiovascular fitness and various muscle groups.
  • Olympic lifting: It’s characterized by two iconic lifts: the clean and jerk and snatch. This sport is a test of strength, flexibility, coordination and speed.
+ Ideal for individuals whose primary goal is to build muscle mass - High risk of injuries, tearing muscles or overtraining without proper form
+ Can boost body composition, aesthetics and metabolism - Can set unrealistic expectations
+ Improves strength and bone density - Imbalanced muscle development

9. Rock Climbing – Best for Upper Body and Grip Strength

A man in a rock climbing gym

Rock climbing requires you to use multiple muscle groups simultaneously, making it one of the most excellent sports for muscular strength. Engage in intense climbing training and expect to lose body fat and gain muscle mass. While climbers aren’t seen with bulky and excessive muscles like weightlifters do, many athletes have toned and lean bodies. This muscular strength sport may be ideal if you want an all-around sport that doesn’t require you to bulk up.

+ Improves upper body strength - Potential falls and finger injuries without proper safety gear
+ Offers physical and mental challenges
+ Boosts your grip strength and core stability

What’s the Best Sport for Building Muscle? 

All the sports on the list are great options for building muscle. Much of it will depend on what sports you enjoy — you may want to try a couple of sessions to see which will fit you. Then, once you find the right muscle-building sport, you can dive in and start bulking up while doing something you enjoy. 

Originally posted Jul 26, 2022 – Updated June 5, 2024

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Jack Shaw is a senior writer at Modded. Jack is an avid enthusiast for keeping up with personal health and enjoying nature. He has over five years of experience writing in the men's lifestyle niche, and has written extensively on topics of fitness, exploring the outdoors and men's interests. His writings have been featured in SportsEd TV, Love Inc., and Offroad Xtreme among many more publications.