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The Gymophobe's Guide to Exercise

That rugby involves at least some degree of exercise is implicit in its status as sport. That I started playing while hating the idea of physical exertion with every fibre of my being is perhaps, then, a little odd.

Getting in shape and staying that way – or even coming close to finding the motivation for it – has always been a difficult task for a girl who drinks more wine than water and has a more-than-casual relationship with miniature caramel shortbread bites. The choice between an early start for a run and a lie in with half a pack of crumpets was an indisputably easy one. Though I swam frequently as a child, my interest in sport died at the start of secondary school when netball turned from a fun game to a clique I couldn’t get into, and I ended up spending summer P.E. games of rounders sunbathing in the non-existent sun (read: I lay down a lot and pretended to field).

It was with this rather peculiar mind-set that I seemed to think joining a university sports team would be a good idea. Though I started a regime of running the summer before I joined in a desperate attempt at fitness, this predictably ended in me lying on my bedroom floor resembling a warm tomato and watching my life flash before my eyes as I contemplated my existence.

Even the first few gentle welcoming training sessions were enough to let me know that I had not – nor had ever – worked hard enough. Indeed, much of the time after sessions would be spent in concern for muscles that I was never even aware I had. And yet, within a few weeks, and certainly by my first match, I had come to the conclusion that this wasn’t real exercise. My logic: it was simply far too enjoyable. Sure, I was out of breath, I was shattered beyond belief and every muscle in my body was screaming at me, but never before had I found something that made this irrelevant – more than that, was worth the pain.

I began to learn something new about exercise as well, that I had had completely wrong this whole time. Exercise isn’t necessarily about getting slim, it’s about getting healthy. For many years, the former had been largely unachievable, mostly owing to my penchant for eating everything in sight, but also thanks to my disenchantment with exercise and its inability to give me rippling abs after one sit up. Yet now - though my food baby bump has been reduced over the last year, we are still on good terms – slimming down isn’t the focus of my workouts. More than that, I’m actually upset if I see my thighs getting smaller – that’s now muscle strength lost in a scrum or a ruck. I joined the gym, but not with an aim focused on my body image, but so that I could be stronger and better for my team. In doing so, I learned – to some concern – that the old adage is true: exercise is addictive. Heaven help the poor soul who comes across my utter grumpiness when I haven’t been to the gym in a while.

I met my friend for a breakfast date the other week, having not seen her for a while, and was greeted with her telling me that I looked “healthy and strong,” possibly the greatest and most affirming things anyone could say. Rugby not only taught me how to enjoy exercise – quite frankly a miracle – but also gave me a valid reason to be fitter, stronger and better. Though two-years-ago me would probably be horrified at my disturbingly healthy attitude to exercise, at least I can be satisfied in knowing I’d easily beat her in a race to and fight over the last slice of cake.

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