How rugby union gets you fit

Fitness benefits of playing rugby union

Rugby union is one of two forms of rugby football (the other being rugby league), and is played with an oval-shaped ball. It’s a game which requires a combination of skill, speed, stamina, strength, and bravery – the latter of which is due to rugby union’s high-impact nature as a full-on contact sport. Rugby is great for boosting your fitness levels, so here's the guide to starting out in the sport.

Although rugby union players are typically very well built, not everyone who wants to try out the game has to be a hulking giant capable of getting up and down a pitch for the full 80 minutes of a match. Indeed, there are opportunities to get involved in the sport at all sorts of levels and in a number of variations of the game.

Rugby union is generally played by teams containing 15 players, and so is distinct from rugby league, which is played by teams of only 13 players. Variations of rugby union include ‘rugby sevens’ – a quicker game played with only seven players a side, which is rapidly growing in popularity and has beeen regonised as a fully-fledged Olympic Sport as from 2016 – as well as ‘tag rugby’ and ‘touch rugby’, which are non-contact versions of the sport.

Both rugby union and rugby league are quite distinct from many other sports, as the ball can only be passed from player to player in a backwards or sideways direction, not forwards – although the players can run forward with the ball in hand or kick it forward.

Rugby union is firmly established as a popular sport in the UK, as well as in nations such as Australia, New Zealand, France, Ireland, South Africa, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Argentina, Canada and Italy, who are the major powers in the world game. The International Rugby Board has suggested that the sport is played in over 100 countries by both men and women.

The origins of rugby football have been credited to schoolboy William Webb Ellis, who while playing Association Football in a game in 1823 at Rugby School in England, picked up the ball and ran with it. The Rugby World Cup trophy even bears his name to this day.

Health and fitness benefits of playing rugby

The health and fitness benefits of rugby include:

  • Great sport for boosting upper body strength, with strong arms needed for tackling and throwing, and muscular strength required for this contact sport.
  • Develops the leg muscles, with running and scrums needing powerful leg muscles.
  • Improves flexibility, with the feet and hands requiring sudden changes of direction and pace.
  • Improves the body's cardiovascular system with a strong heart and lungs able to deliver oxygen to muscles faster, through the blood stream.

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