David Flatman: Summer's here, so it's time to start worrying about relaxation

From the Front Row: I hold my breath as I walk past cake shops, in case there are calories in the air that will implant themselves in my midriff

There are many adjustments for the retiring rugby player to make. He must quickly get used to working full days, being unavailable for midweek breakfast with friends and wearing clothes that aren't budget, branded items, made of polyester. But not every adjustment is so difficult. At last he can stay up late watching B-movies, choose the garlic bread with cheese and book a holiday without ensuring there is a gym close by.

While there are always a few very lucky players who could bathe nightly in salted butter and still remain lean and mean, most of us have minor eating disorders. By this I mean that with every mouthful of naughty food comes a minute but perceptible drip of guilt. And this often goes for periods of physical stillness, too. A lazy fortnight by the pool sounds divine but I do not think many professional players could achieve it. There is fear that others are lying less dormant, not ordering cold lager with their lunch. True relaxation is rare.

I suppose this defines an elite athlete. Wise people often remind us that we are only competing against ourselves but I always scoff at the noble-sounding notion. You see, pretty much every time I have played a game of rugby there have been loads of blokes playing back. So we are in fact competing with others all the time. Even over a summer break.

What I have found useful in recent years is to regard the off-season differently. To remain sane, there has to be a true "down" period with no training or thought given to carbohydrate intake and saturated fat. Invariably, as this year, I arrange for this period to be two weeks long. But I know I won't last. This is not because I am a fitness fanatic – my coaches will attest to this – but because after a week I will start feeling fat. And, thanks to Mother Nature, I will be right. If I lived in Alaska I would be revered as the man so well insulated that he could visit the shops in nothing but a Tarzan thong.

You see, I have a knack of finding fat everywhere. I hold my breath as I walk past cake shops, in case there are calories in the air that will permeate my skin and implant themselves in my midriff. Keeping all this in check has taken a lot of work. And I am by no means the worst case, so for many rugby men this summer's respite will be lived out with the constant, quiet fear of those first few days of fitness testing and that first appointment with the angry man with the callipers.

Yet the summer break remains a wonderful time. OK, so for 10 or 15 years we cannot ever quite relax completely but this, for me, is a small price to pay. We are a blessed few and we are very lucky that our ultimate goal – running out to play for great clubs with our mates – motivates us in an instant.

I am sure that in the horrible midst of a nasty fitness session, every player at every level uses visualisation to get them through. Some dream of that first huge hit, some dream of scoring tries, some just dream of the session ending.

Naturally, without ever having to think about it, the only vision I have needed in a very long time is one of me pulling on my sacred Bath jersey – the same one worn by Chilcott and Hilton – and feeling desperate to do it justice while I have the chance.

Pudding, sir? Better not.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us