The Physiology of Rugby Players
8 minute read · Issue Number 77 · July 16th, 2021
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Rugby is (in my humble opinion) the most physically demanding sport out there due to its intense gameplay and the extensive amount of contact between players.
In today’s STB, we’ll study the physiological requirements for rugby players to succeed in the sport.
Rugby is a high-intensity collision-based sport played by over 7 million players across 199 countries, most popularly in Australia, New Zealand, France, Russia, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and South Africa.
The game is huge; it generates millions of dollars per year, and winning major international competitions is the ultimate goal for national teams.
Compared to other sports, Rugby carries a higher risk of injury due to the dynamic physical contact between players. Literally — players tackle and get tackled all the time.
Players must have highly developed speed, reactive agility, muscular strength, power, and aerobic and anaerobic endurance.
Well-developed physical qualities minimize post-match fatigue, lower the risk of injury, and facilitate recovery.
Research has found that significant muscle damage and fatigue occur in the athletes’ bodies after rugby matches. While muscle function and perceptual fatigue generally return to baseline 48 hours after the game, full-body recovery can take up to 5 days postmatch.
These are a few physiological characteristics that help athletes endure the sport:
On average, rugby players have higher body mass and percentage body fat than other team sports players (like soccer).
A higher percentage of body fat may protect the players from impact injuries.
Professional rugby players’ training is REAL – they get to practice about 5-6 times per week with multiple sessions each day.
Research has found that rugby athletes report above-average mean maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 Max) overall – compared to different team sports.
Speed & Sprint Ability
Rugby league players require the ability to move quickly and repeatedly sprint to position themselves in attack and defense.
Rugby requires the ability to generate high levels of power and then recover quickly to make other high-intensity efforts.
Muscular Strength and Power
The capacity to rapidly generate high levels of muscular force is a crucial characteristic of successful rugby league players.
Players tackle, lift, push and pull opponents during a match – all those actions require massive strength and tons of upper and lower-body muscular power.
The Bottom Line
Rugby players require a broad range of physical and technical skills developed through specific training.
The game is so dynamic. For example, a player may need to move quickly off the defensive line, make a cover-defending tackle, and then chase from first marker. Damn – even reading that feels exhausting!
Due to the demanding nature of the sport, coaches incorporate drills that replicate the most intense repeated high-intensity demands of competition to prepare players for the worst-case scenarios expected during match-play.
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