Aspects of the mental representation of the body in Italian male rugby players

To gain insights on body image (BI) and body satisfaction/dissatisfaction (BS) in high level rugby players, to 47 male athletes aged 23.4 ± 3.54 years, two questionnaires were administered: a figurine test for BI and a Likert-type scale for BS containing a body part statisfaction scale.

Subjects were asked to report vital and curricular data, together with height and weight. Because of the wide use of their bodies, it was hypothesized that they were lesser biased than average Italians. They were subdivided into two groups A=Excellence, n=30, and B=League, n=17.

This on the basis of the level of performance reached, after a thorough scrutiny of their curricula. Significant differences between the two subgroups emerged for curricular data, weight and body mass index. In both BI data are congruent with their complexion and, for BS, the degree of satisfaction with the various body parts was quite high. Comparisons carried out with data available in literature for Italians and with a cohort of speleologists, confirm the hypothesis that the wide use of the body for working or leisure purposes exerts a positive influence on BI and BS.
Keywords: Body image, body satisfaction, rugby players

Some aspects of the so called self-referent thought, such as body image (BI) and the satisfaction/dissatisfaction of the body (BS) are complex and elusive, as the individual’s mental capacity to represent her/his own body is rearranged diachronically.

The picture that an individual has in mind includes the size, shape and form of her/his body, plus the feelings associated to these characteristics. They are the result of a complex past and present organization in which learning, memory and experience converge thanks to the integration of a set of sensorial, motor and affective components to form a “body unit”.

Sensorial representations, mainly optical and kinesthetic are also involved, together with the clues belonging to the social environment surrounding the subjects. The latter not only furnishes symbolic meanings, but also aesthetic and physical values: for example to form a coherent BI a complex physiological and psychological organization is required (Viviani et al. 1997).

In sports studies the athletic BI or ABI is often considered. It is, according to Greenleaf & McGreer (2006), the internal image that a subject involved in a sporting activity has in mind regarding her/his own body with respect of a particular athletic context. For rugby players data on BI and BS are lacking, only a study reported female BS (Russel 2004).

The criteria permitting a correct evaluation of athletes usually are: age, sex and level of performance. Rugby is a group activity of contact, with different levels: amateur, semi professional and professional (Gabbett 2005). It is historically considered as being an interval or intermittent sport. In it, intensive efforts of 5 to 15 seconds duration occur, but there are less than 40 seconds recovery between each bout of high intensity activity (Maud & Schultz 1984; Morton 1978; Cahill et al. 2013; Jones et al. 2015).

All the levels of performance require particular physiological and anthropometric characteristics (O’Connor 1996; Casagrande & Viviani 1993; Crewther et al 2012; Sedeaud et al 2012; Smart, Hopkins & Gill 2013). In athletes involved in rugby VO2max levels and muscular power tend to increase with practice, while skinfolds tend to reduce.

This could reverse in case of withdrawal or during a quite long period of recovery (Gabbett 2005). A wide school of thought believes that an individual requisite like a high level of anaerobic condition will permit a better performance. In effect, the varied movement patterns of rugby include hundreds of intermittent changes per session and sport-specific actions such as shots, tackles, passes.

Plus high intensity runs, sprints and turns. Apparently, concurrent training (combining aerobic and anaerobic training) is effective, however, to increase VO2max, high intensity training and continuous endurance training are required (Milanović, Sporiš & Weston 2015).

This appears to be fundamental for a sustained intermittent activity, and could be also useful during recovery, in order to compensate fatigue and keeping the subsequent performance in sprint. However, to gain further clarification on physical conditioning in rugby, the Posthumus & Durandt’s pdf (2009) is quite exhaustive.

According to Suárez-Moreno Arrones & Nuñez (2011) more research is needed in order to gain insights on the performance of rugby players.
The present investigation is part of a wider collection of data on subjects widely using their bodies for professional and/or leisure purposes. Data are collected in the idea that their BI and BS score better than those found inside the average population.