THINK tug of war is just a fun game played at the summer fair?

Then think again.

It's a serious sport, requiring gruesome training and dedication, with competitions available up to international level.

And unusually, it's one where women and men can compete with against each other.

What's more, York has a talented ladies' team, which has just competed in the European championships and has its eyes on the world champs next year.

Rachel Lewis is the anchor of that squad – literally at the back of the line with the rope tied around her waist.

The object of the sport is to haul the opposition a certain distance, usually about three metres. In competition, teams take on each other, scoring points for every win.

Tug of war was once a thriving pursuit across York and the wider UK, with most pubs and social clubs fielding teams, says Rachel. Today, York has just one club.

Rachel said she first tried tug of war as a teenager, and never looked back. "Friends at school said: 'you look pretty strong, do you want to try tug of war?'. I liked it straight away and have been doing it ever since," says Rachel, who is now aged 32.

She trains every Tuesday night at 7pm with fellow members of the York Tug of War Club at Murton – behind the Murton Arms pub.

There are currently 15 in the squad, including eight women – and they are looking for more members.

"It's a very friendly sport and really welcoming. We want as many people to do it as possible," says Rachel.

People of all ages, sizes and backgrounds take part, she says. Teams can be single-sexed or mixed.

In York, the women's squad took part in the national and European championships, winning places in two different team weight categories: 520kg and 560kg.

In the European event, the York ladies squad represented England in the 560kg competition and came fifth out of eight. "That was a good result," says Rachel. "One of the teams were the reigning world champions."

Teams are picked according to a total weight limit, which means people can be of different sizes.

The average weight for a female member is between 10 and 11 stone (65 to 70 kg), although some have been as light as seven stone (45kg).

"Strong legs are the key – less so for the arms – and you need to have a good core," says Rachel, who goes running, attends boot camp and works with kettlebells to keep in shape.

"I enjoy the training – it is different to anything else and provides a good all-round workout.

"We do lots of squats and lunges to get the legs going – it can be a bit hard to get the jeans to fit after lots of training – thank God for stretch jeans!"

Rachel says many members tend to have a summer and winter wardrobe, as weight can fluctuate according to the training schedule.

The season runs from April to September, with competitions taking place most Sundays. The York team travel all over England to pull against other teams. They have a mixed team too – which includes Rachel's partner, Ben Loades. They met four years ago through tug of war.

"Men and women train together and compete together," she says. Within the tug of war world, there are lots of couples who met through the sport.

"There are not a lot of sports that have mixed teams. In tug of war, everybody brings something different to the mix."

Anyone interested is always welcome to attend one of the training sessions and have a go, she adds.

"You can contact us on Facebook [York Tug of War] or come and see us training. We normally have enough kit so you can jump on and see how you feel!"