November is special for rugby fans. The Autumn Internationals hit the UK – big teams from the Southern Hemisphere head north in search of sporting glory, with Argentina taking on the Barbarians in the Final Challenge at Twickenham on December 3. That’s five weeks of massive Saturday fixtures with rugby’s finest taking the field.
If you’ve got even half an interest in athleticism, watching elite rugby players in action is amphetamine for the eye. Power, speed, strength and agility – the best rugby players have it in truckloads. Nor is it a game for the faint of heart. It takes guts to bring down an eighteen stone human battering ram in full flight.
Although we’re not all cut out for Grand Slams – and you might be more badminton than Barbarian – there’s a lot about body conditioning – improving your overall strength, speed and endurance – we can learn from rugby’s demigods.
First let’s strip away a few myths. Contrary to cliché, there’s stacks more to rugby than big blokes knocking the hell out of each other. Elite rugby players bring a spread of physical and mental qualities to the field. Ball skills, intelligence, agility, good eyes to read a game – all essential for the best players. But there’s no getting away from it: good rugby players are strong. Rucking, scrummaging and mauling – the stronger the better. So let’s focus on strength.
Health talk has largely focussed on shedding pounds and getting moving. Almost anything at all if it burns calories and counts as exercise. And we’re not knocking that. But the benefits of building strength are increasingly getting noticed. Research says that age-related muscle-loss is linked to mortality – independent of cardio-fitness. Put simply, if you keep strong you’ll likely live longer. Strength also makes daily living easier – and you’re much less likely to get injured if you step out of your physical comfort zone.
So here are a couple of strength exercises rugby players love to hate:
What’s not to like about squats?
First off they’re simple. Start in a standing position, feet hip-width apart. Bend your knees until your bum gets as close to your heels as possible, then stand up. Voila.
Second they’re efficient. Squats are a compound exercise – they work a bunch of different muscle groups. They’ll strengthen all your leg muscles – quads, hamstring and calves – plus abs and core. They also improve flexibility and strengthen knees, hips and ankles.
So get squatting.
Man or woman – and yes more and more women are playing rugby – you’re going to want to improve your upper body strength. From fending off opponents, to humping the weekly shop, upper body strength is essential. And the good news is you can vary the weights – from half a kilo to five hundred.
If you don’t know how to bench press and you’ve just joined a gym, make sure you ask the instructor. But here’s a few tips for a good press:
· Lie flat on your back on the bench.
· Grip the bar just wider than your shoulders.
· Lower the bar gently to your chest as you breathe in.
· Push up and breathe out – keeping the movement in the same track with each rep.
Old and familiar as the hills, sit-ups are still a great way to strengthen your abs, core and back. Like squats they can be done just about anywhere with no kit at all. And this is how you do them:
· Lie flat on your back with your head, neck and shoulders relaxed. Put your hands behind your head, or touch your temples with your fingertips, elbows pointing out. Bend your knees with feet flat on the floor.
· Breathe out and slowly raise your shoulders, head and neck until you’re between 30 and 40 degrees off the floor. Clench your abs and hold for a couple of seconds. Breathe in while lowering yourself slowly back to the floor. Repeat.
Rugby training can be a brilliant way to improve strength, speed and fitness. If you’re new to body conditioning and strength training try Body Pump, a choreographed class using weights and repetition to strengthen, tone and shape your body. Find a class near you