Health and Physical Activity Profile: Rugby Union Players vs. Rowers

A study comparing the health and physical attributes of rugby union players and rowers.

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The purpose of this study is to determine if there is a significant difference in health profiles and physical activity of Rockhampton Grammar rugby union players and rowers.


In this study several test are to be completed along with health profiles.  These tests are the aerobic capacity, resting heart rate, working heart rate, BP, blood glucose and cholesterol, flexibility, strength (chest, back, grip, legs) and body fat percentages.   The aerobic capacity test is used to measure the oxygen intake of an athlete and in this case compare the oxygen requirements of each sport.  Resting and working heart rate measurements are used to assess how many beats per minute the athlete uses in rest and work modes.  The test will show a comparison of each athlete’s heart rates in rest and physical activity modes.  Blood pressure measures are used to assess amount and rate blood being pumped around the body.  Blood glucose and cholesterol tests are used to measure the levels of glucose and cholesterol at rest and during sport.  These three tests are general health tests that will notify us if the athlete is generally health.  Flexibility test are employed to observe the amount of stretch in a persons body.  The comparison of this will show the flexibility requirements of each sport.  Strength tests of the chest, back, grip and legs illustrate the comparison of requirements of each sport with emphasis on muscular strength. 


The gender is of no concern here however, age and subject type are relevant.  It is anticipated that rowers will score high on the strength and endurance tests.  This may seem to be straight forward as rowers require strength and endurance whereas rugby players require power, speed and anaerobic endurance.  Factors which may affect results include personal factors such as height, weight, body shape, culture.  Situational factors include training program, nutrition, sport requirements.  For example, it is unlikely a rugby prop will score as high on flexibility test as a rower.  However, rugby prop would more than likely score higher on strength test than a rower.

Study Reviews

 In a study on the association between quantitative ultrasound, anthropometry and sports participation in college aged athletes it was publicized that for maintenance of overall health participation in vigorous physical activity such as high-impact sport will provide good long term health.  Therefore, rugby players most certainly will maintain good health and enjoy reduced health risks but because rowers aren’t involved in body contact they will have experienced less injuries and have less chronic health influences.  A study conducted demonstrated a comparison between power lifters, Olympic lifters and sprinters in strength and power characteristics.  The study contained a health profile with key factor relating to the research topic being the differences in body fat.  Olympic lifters had the highest mean body fat percentage followed by power lifters and then sprinters.  In this study they conducted 1RM squat test, jumping squat tests and vertical jump test.  The Olympic lifters scored slightly higher than the power lifters and significantly higher than the sprinters.  In the vertical jump test sprinters scored marginally higher than Olympic lifters and both significantly higher than power lifters.  In the jump squat test sprinters achieved significantly higher than Olympic lifters who scored significantly higher than power lifters.  In relation to our study we assume that rowers should have lower BF% than rugby players.  They will probably score similarly in the strength tests and the rowers will rate highly in the flexibility test.  In a recent study of HRMAX and VO2 MAX utilizing free swimming and cycling ergometer the comparison of swimmers and triathletes was attained.  A major finding was that swimmers exhibited an increased HR and VO2 max in swimming while triathletes displayed a higher HR and VO2 max in cycling.  The major conclusion extracted was that swimmers have very specific training adaptations in relation to triathletes.  A similar test between rowers and rugby players’ utilizing the MSFT and a rowing ergometer test could draw similar conclusions with sport specific muscle and physiological adaptations.  It would seem almost certain that rowers will score higher on a rowing test while rugby players will score higher on a running test.  However, this could be a strong case for inclusion of cross-sport training techniques to be implemented.  A recently conducted study looked at the causative factors to performance of medicine ball explosive power test using a contrast of jump (volleyball) and non-jump (wrestling) athletes.  The subjects were trialled on two types of medicine ball throws, vertical jump, 1RM bench press and 1RM leg press.  This study established that the jump athletes scored highly on the power tests; vertical jump, medicine ball throws whereas the non-jump athletes rated highly on the strength tests.  The conclusion is that the type of energy systems required for the sport will have affects on physical activity testing measures conducted.  This can be related to our research topic by investigating which energy systems are necessary for rugby and rowing and then formulating assumptions on probable test results.  For example, rowers use their aerobic energy system more than rugby players and on a VO2 max test they should rate highly compared with their rugby counterparts.  Study organized in Ireland on comparison of the physiological profiles of elite Gaelic footballers, hurlers, and soccer players revealed some interesting facts.  The conclusions found were that soccer players had lower BF% and higher aerobic capacities while Gaelic footballers and hurlers scored highly on strength test and Gaelic footballers also on speed endurance.  Tests performed were the BF%, aerobic capacity, flexibility, upper body strength, upper body strength endurance, abdominal endurance and speed endurance.  The relationship between the test results and the sport requirements such as the last study reviewed stated the nature of soccer requires the players to have endurance and endurance is less demanding by carrying less body fat around the park.  The strength components can be related to the character of Gaelic football and hurling.  In our study it can be seen that the requirements of rugby will probably demand more strength, speed endurance and anaerobic capacity whereas as rowing requires aerobic capacity, strength endurance and minimal body fat.  Observations of previous tests predict that rugby players will generally score higher on the strength tests while rowers will score higher on the aerobic capacity test.  An investigation was carried out looking at the comparisons of cervical muscle strength in Greco-roman, freestyle wrestlers and non-athletes with the wrestlers scoring extensively higher strength scores than the non-athletes.  However, the comparison between the two wrestling groups showed that the Greco-roman wrestlers had a strength advantage over there freestyle counterparts. 

The conclusions drawn stated that neck muscle force measurements could be a useful test among combat sports.  This may not be so relevant to a rowers V rugby players study but if future study were carried out with rugby league and rugby union players we could see the different requirements of each sport and perhaps even settle the dispute of which is the better sport by using a battery of tests to measure physical activity performance such as this test here.  Research was conducted investigating the muscle cross-sectional area and voluntary force production characteristics in elite strength and endurance trained athletes and sprinters.  Tests were performed looked at the muscle-cross sectional area and maximal voluntary isometric force.  From a generated force-time curve the difference of time to produce the same amount of force showed that the sprinters group took the least amount of time followed by the strength and then endurance trained athletes.  What can be salvaged from this study in relation to ours is that the nature of training has affect on what systems are trained what can be altered or introduced into training regimes to engender greater improvement in test performance outcomes.  A study in 1998 examined the physical performance differences between weight-trained sprinters and weight trainers.  The three tests conducted were running speed, isokinetic hip flexor/extensor torque and maximum squat lift.  There was no significant difference found the maximum squat lift or isokinetic torque measure at low-intensity.  However, isokinetic torque measure at high-intensity and running speed showed that weight-trained sprint athletes were significantly better.  Another study conducted evaluated the force-velocity relationship and stretch cycle functioning in sprint and endurance athletes.  In this study sprint athletes showed significantly greater force-velocity measurements than endurance athletes.  These studies prove that unless power elements are implemented into training programs than test performance will be reduced.  In the sports of rugby and rowing there are specific needs for power at particular intervals during there event. 


What can be ascertained from all the reviewed studies is the need for testing of specific energy systems to evaluate their performance levels and whether improvement is required.  Also, sport-specific testing evaluating the energy systems used in a particular sport and only testing these as to see what changes can be made to training programs to achieve maximum performance of athletes in their sport.  In this case rugby union and rowing.   

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