Rugby Stretches and Flexibility Exercises
Rugby stretching exercises to improve your performance and do away with rugby injuries for good.
by Brad Walker | First Published February 24, 2009 | Updated July 13, 2017
The origin of rugby can be traced to 1823 when William Webb Ellis, a student at the Rugby school, first picked up the ball and ran with it during a game of football. It is also said that it developed in Scandinavia from a Viking game called Knappan. Another theory is that it originated from the 6th century Roman sport of Harpastrum.
Running with the ball was not made legal until 1841. By 1860, most schools had adopted the rules used at the Rugby school. In 1871, the Rugby Football Union was formed to standardize the rules and remove some of the violence from the game.
From 1895 to 1908, major rule revisions took place and the formation of the Rugby League changed the game. The Northern Union split from the Union due to disputes over payments to players. True professionalism was not allowed into the sport until August of 1995, almost 100 years after the split.
Rugby is a game with a good deal of running, and a lot of hard hitting. The minimal, if any, protective equipment worn by players makes it a very violent sport, as well. Because of this, players must be in good physical condition to compete. They must have good cardiovascular conditioning to run the field and must have good musculature to protect their bones and joints. Speed and agility are also important to outrun and out-maneuver other players.
Rugby players require a strong base, with strong legs and hips. During a rugby scrum the leg and hip drive is important. A strong neck to protect the spine during hits is also important. A strong core is essential for balance and protection of the ribs and internal organs.
Playing rugby taxes all of the muscles, but the major muscles used in play include:
- The muscles of the upper legs and hips; the quadriceps, hamstrings, and the gluteals and the calf muscles; the gastrocnemius and soleus.
- The muscles of the neck and the trapezius.
- The core muscles; the rectus abdominus, obliques, and the spinal erectors.
- The muscles of the shoulder girdle; the deltoids, latissimus dorsi, and the pectorals.
A good strength and conditioning program is important to a rugby player to ensure protection for the bones and joints, and to make the muscles strong enough to continue to play at their optimum level. Good overall conditioning, including endurance and flexibility will also keep the rugby player healthy and “in the scrum.”
Most Common Rugby Injuries
Rugby’s hard hitting, violent nature is a setting for injury. Rugby players wear very little, if any, protective equipment and their body is exposed to all of those hard hits. Many injuries occur in scrum during Union play.
Studies have shown that injuries are the most common reason for players to quit playing rugby. Successive injuries over time can lead to long term effects. Injuries common to rugby include muscle strains, knee sprains, contusions, hip dislocations, and facial injury.
- Muscle Strain: When competing in rugby, or practicing for competition, the muscles are stressed and stretched repeatedly. A hard driving scrum or a move to evade a defender can place the muscles at risk of tearing. When the muscle tears it becomes weaker, pain and tenderness set in, and some slight swelling and bruising may occur. A minor strain will respond to ice, rest, and NSAIDs with a return to full activity within 1 to 2 weeks. A complete rupture of the muscle will require immobilization, and possible surgical intervention, requiring a much longer recovery time.
- Knee Sprain: Any of the ligaments in the knee are subject to sprain in a hard hitting rugby game. The most common sprains include the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and the medial collateral ligament (MCL.) The ACL is often torn when the foot and lower leg are planted but the upper leg rotates. The MCL is commonly sprained by contact from another player on the outside of the knee. The severity of the sprain is determined by the amount of tearing present in the ligament, with the worst being a complete rupture. Minor sprains may take 2 to 3 weeks for recovery, while a complete tear may take 8 weeks. Ice, immobilization, and NSAIDs will help with recovery.
- Bruises and Contusions: As with any contact sport, bruises and contusions are very common in rugby. Players are being impacted from many directions and the hard hitting results in blood vessels under the skin rupturing and causing swelling, pain, discoloration, and tenderness. Most contusions can be treated with ice and NSAIDs. Deeper contusions in the muscle tissue may require rest and a gradual return to activity as tolerated. Repeated impact with an area that is already bruised may cause damage to the healing tissue, so protection of a contused area is important.
- Hip Dislocation: When the knee and hip are flexed and an impact from behind the knee occurs the hip joint may become dislocated. A direct blow to the hip may also result in a fracture/dislocation of the hip. When the femoral head becomes dislodged from the hip, stability is lost in the hip and the leg is unable to support weight. A hip dislocation is extremely painful and a medical emergency. The hips should be immobilized and the patient transported for medical evaluation. Recovery from a hip dislocation depends on the extent of damage. If the ligaments are torn or a fracture occurs in either hip or femur then the recovery time will be extended.
- Facial Injury: Facial injuries in rugby can include a broken nose, dislodged teeth, and facial fractures. Due to the lack of a full cage helmet (as used in American Football), the face is exposed to blunt force trauma during hits. This trauma can result in a separation of the cartilage of the nose (broken nose), a tooth being knocked loose, or a fracture to one or more of the bones of the face. Treatment for facial trauma includes removal from the activity, controlling of any bleeding, and ice for swelling and pain control. If a tooth is dislodged the tooth should be retrieved if possible and taken with the player for possible reattachment. Return to activity should only occur after the injury has completely healed, and protective measures should be taken to avoid future injury to that area.
Injury Prevention Strategies
A rugby player must have a lot of natural protective layering (musculature) and be strong enough to withstand the high impact of the game.
- Practicing the game to become proficient at avoiding the hardest hits and knowing how to position the body when delivering a blow, or taking one, will help the player avoid some of the injuries in rugby.
- Playing in official games with referees and officials, under sanctioned rules, will also help to keep the rugby player safe.
- Use of the minimal protective equipment allowed will help shield the body from some of the usual trauma encountered in a game or practice.
- Strength training to build protective muscle tissue over the bones and joints will help keep the body strong for games and speed recovery should an injury occur.
- Flexibility is key when the body is twisted and contorted at different angles during tackles or when avoiding a defender.
The Top 3 Rugby Stretches
Stretching is one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving athletic performance, preventing sports injury and properly rehabilitating sprain and strain injury. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as stretching won’t be effective. Below are 3 very beneficial stretches for rugby; obviously there are a lot more, but these are a great place to start. Please make special note of the instructions below each stretch.
Reaching-up Shoulder Stretch: Place one hand behind your back and then reach up between your shoulder blades.
Lying Knee Roll-over Stretch: While lying on your back, bend your knees and let them fall to one side. Keep your arms out to the side and let your back and hips rotate with your knees.
Kneeling Quad Stretch: Kneel on one foot and the other knee. If needed, hold on to something to keep your balance and then push your hips forward.
10 Free Stretching Routines
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About the Author: Brad is often referred to as the "Stretch Coach" and has even been called the Stretching Guru. Magazines such as Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Swimming & Fitness, and Triathlon Sports have all featured his work. Amazon has listed his books on five Best-Seller lists. Google cites over 100,000 references to him and his work on the internet. And satisfied customers from 122 countries have sent 100's of testimonials. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.