Sport Relief: How to make yourself exercise, even when you don't want to

Even top sports stars need to motivate themselves to exercise — three women at the top of their game share their secrets to getting going with Deanna O'Connor
Sport Relief: How to make yourself exercise, even when you don't want to

AFLW Irish Player of the Year in April, Sarah Rowe

Would you rather have a euro for every minute you’ve spent making excuses for not doing some exercise, or would you rather have a euro for every time you pulled on those runners and got yourself out the door? 

When you start to add it up, and it looks like you could be Ireland’s winning entry for the procrastination Olympics, then you might need a little help with motivation. 

Luckily, you’re not alone, and even more hearteningly, even some of Ireland’s top sportswomen admit that they have days like the rest of us where they aren’t exactly springing out of bed to go running in the rain.

Never too late to start 

They say it takes 21 days to form a habit, and Lidl have partnered with the 20x20 campaign to celebrate and encourage women in sport, with a new initiative aimed at supporting women across Ireland to create those habits for a lifetime.

The campaign is fronted by 20x20 ambassador Sarah Rowe, who juggles playing county football for Mayo with a career in the Southern Hemisphere playing with Aussie Rules team Collingwood. Spending half the year Down Under has paid off as she was named AFLW Irish Player of the Year in April.

For Sarah, avoiding over-thinking is key to taking action, especially when it comes to getting out of bed to get some exercise in first thing in the morning. 

“I always think to myself, if I procrastinate lying in my bed for another 20 minutes, by the time that 20 minutes passes I could have had it done.” 

Sarah admits, “I’m the type of person who likes to set long-term goals but without the pressure attached to achieving the goals. It’s about setting big goals but ultimately breaking them down into habits that you do every day to attain the big goal.” 

“It could only be 20 minutes out of your day but the impact that has is huge. It’s about how small changes every day can make such a big difference to your life and that’s the way I’d be goal-setting, with the consistent habits you have every day.” 

Although now training has become “an automatic habit” she admits that it wasn’t always this way: “I’m only human, there are days when I have no interest in it.” Keeping an eye on the bigger picture is what keeps her going. “The thought of exercise is worse than actually doing it. When you’ve finished it you feel brilliant.” 

Louise Quinn Photo: INPHO/Morgan Treacy
Louise Quinn Photo: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

You never regret it 

Republic of Ireland and Arsenal footballer Louise Quinn echoes that sentiment, saying, “Even when it doesn’t feel great at the time, afterwards I always think that was by far the best thing I could have done.” 

She advises finding ways to get creative, revealing that over lockdown she fitted in short workouts wherever she could around the house, from hip mobility exercises in the kitchen to weights in the hallway.

Returning home from London to her native Blessington, Co Wicklow, meant Louise could take advantage of the wonderful natural beauty of the mountains right on her doorstep. 

“So many connections have been made through families going out and exercising,” she points out. “I’ve never seen so many families out on bikes before.” 

“I have a newfound love for cycling up mountains whether it’s just to get some lovely views or actually using it for training. I’ve found so many ways to keep myself fit but also really enjoy it and not even think of it as part of training, more just a great new hobby.”

“Sometimes it can be tough but I see the power of exercise and I know how much it can help,” she points out, suggesting turning it into a way to enjoy some scenery to make it more enjoyable. 

“Getting out and going for a walk is a great place to begin. You can make a day out of it, have a hike and have a picnic up at the top.” 

The transition from training with a team to solo workouts was tough and while her family support got her through, she understands how difficult it can be for anyone to keep on track with their exercise routine when they are going it alone: “When it’s just me sometimes I try to make too many excuses. When you have the right people around you who know what you need to do, it keeps you pushed and motivated.” 

 Leona Maguire  Photo: INPHO/Morgan Treacy
 Leona Maguire  Photo: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

It takes two 

As a twin, Cavan-born golfer Leona Maguire is a big fan of having a buddy system too. 

"I was lucky growing up that I had my twin sister Lisa doing everything I was doing so we kept each other motivated. I was lucky, not many people have that.” 

The sisters began playing golf aged 10, when their father encouraged them to join him at their local course, Slieve Russell. The pair, who had been spending hours in the pool at swim training, quickly grew to love what golf had to offer.

“It was a huge contrast to being in a pool for few hours a day—I liked being out in the fresh air and liked the challenge that it was different every day, and that you had a score so you knew exactly what you were doing, and what you had to beat the next day.” 

The skills honed by the sporty sisters saw them recruited to Duke University in North Carolina where they studied (psychology and marketing management) and competed in golf, amassing a lengthy list of accolades. Leona still holds the all-time record for the most weeks at the top of the World Amateur Golf Rankings with an impressive 135-week run.

Now her career takes her all over, living out of a suitcase for 35-40 weeks of the year. 

“It’s one way to see the world. You have to get used to adapting to different places and different cultures and everything that goes along with that, every week.” 

Despite the punishing travel schedule, she still manages to find time to fit in three to four gym sessions every week on top of eight to ten hours golf practice every day, “When Tiger Woods started to become big in golf, he probably revolutionised the way golf was approached and fitness has become a big thing in the last 15 years or so.” 

Her gym routine is invaluable for strengthening her back, hips and knees, both to protect her body from injury and put more power in her swing.

“You’re swinging the club at over 100mph so you need the gym work to sustain that. Obviously the faster you swing it the further it goes.” 

Doing an outdoor sport, Leona has to get up and out in all weathers and advises keeping an eye on the greater goals when you need to dig deep for motivation. 

“Winter in Ireland on a golf course is not always the most pleasant place to be…there are some mornings where you’re putting on five layers of clothes and a beanie and your mittens, you’re not jumping out of bed. 

You just have to look at the bigger picture and you know you’re working towards something bigger. It’s those hours you put in then, that makes it all the more satisfying when you do well.” 

'Lidl Moves for 20x20' is Lidl Ireland's new exercise programme and microsite which was launched as part of their support of the 20x20 campaign's, ‘No Proving. Just Moving.’ initiative. 

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