What makes extreme sports so popular? A psychological and physical premise

The list of extreme sports is long and keeps growing. And there is a huge uptake in the number of enthusiasts signing up for winter-specific as well as all-year-round adventure sports. Why do athletes love these adrenalin-surging activities? What is the drawcard? What makes them so wildly attractive?  

Despite the undeniable risks associated with extreme sports (the protective gear required clearly illustrates this point), athletes continue to engage in them and are seemingly not undeterred by the potential dangers.  

Perhaps, on deeper investigation, a default attraction to the ‘thrill of the ride’ is more natural and innate than you might think. 

We explore the psychology and physicality of thrill-seeking endeavors (aka extreme sports). 

The psychology:

#1 The thrill of the unknown

The exciting and unpredictable nature of all extreme sports – from snowboarding to mountain biking – is an irresistible lure for outdoor adventure seekers. 

Man vs nature is a powerful motivator for embracing the mental challenges associated with all action sports. 

As thrill-seeking athletes push their limits to overcome new obstacles, the adrenaline rush becomes addictive.

#2 Conquering your fears

BASE jumping off a cliff, bridge or building – and freefalling hundreds of meters before deploying a parachute to land you safely on the ground – is the epitome of a fear-conquering pursuit. Ripping down a mountain track at blistering speeds is not a normal pastime for most of us. But overcoming your fears and building confidence are big psychological motivators for taking up an extreme sports pastime

These ‘feel good’ confidence-boosting moments cannot be matched. 

Extreme sports BASE jumping

#3 Connecting with nature 

Mountains, oceans and forests are the settings for most extreme sports. Our relationship with nature is key to positive mental health and reducing our physiological stress responses.

Outdoor meditation or yoga are legitimate pursuits, but alternative action sports top the charts for athletes who seek to tap into the beauty and power of their outdoor surroundings (with skateboards, snowboards, mountain bikes, helmets, ankle braces, wrist guards etc., along for the ride).

The inspirational solace from nature, plus the adrenaline rush, results in feeling centered, focused and on top of the world. 

Ankle braces and protective gear for BMX & Mountain biking extreme sports

“The adrenaline rush increases the acceleration of blood flow to the muscles and brain, relaxes the muscles, and lastly helps with the conversion of glycogen into glucose in the liver. For every extreme sports athlete, this adrenaline rush is never enough since they are always seeking stronger emotions. This kind of feeling cannot be otherwise experienced and many of these extreme sports athletes do not even consider a life without the excitement of these powerful moments.” -National Library of Medicine.

The physicality:

#1 Building strength and resilience

Extreme sports are not for the faint-hearted. High levels of physical fitness and endurance are required for activities such as rock or ice climbing. The power and explosive speeds involved in downhill Mountain Biking demand extreme fitness levels, core strength and stamina

The intense training required for all adventure sports leads to improvements in overall health and fitness. 

Rock climbing extreme sport

#2 Pushing the limits 

Embracing the challenge of testing the limits of one’s body to see how far it can go is another attraction for extreme sports enthusiasts. The sense of accomplishment in pushing boundaries is not only empowering and exhilarating but also contributes to a deeper sense of psychological well-being.  

#3 Flexing your muscles

If you start taking part in an extreme sport, you will quickly realize that there are muscle groups in your body that you never even knew existed! These sports make unique demands, requiring your muscles to work in unusual ways. (This is why  helmets, ankle braces, helmets, and wrist guards are pre-requisite for the prevention of common extreme sports injuries.)

The high physical demands strengthen these all your muscle groups, hone your physical endurance and increase your flexibility. 

When you aim for a high caloric burn to get in the best possible physical shape, then taking up an extreme adventure sport should be next on your bucket list. (Here are 41 options to start with)

Power surfing adventure sport

Participating in extreme sports may not be for everyone. Those in the know, however, will be quick to tell you that when you are snowboarding down a mountain or riding a wave, nothing else seems to matter except being in the moment.  

Fearlessness and an adventurous spirit aside, there is a subconscious desire in all of us to escape the mundane, experience the thrill of the challenge and take part in something life-changing.  

An extreme adventure sport may well be just what you have been looking for. 

So take it slow, pack your protective gear and invite a friend along for the (thrill) ride.