You know that feeling at the end of a busy day when you’re tired, but the tiredness indicates that you were productive and accomplished the goals of the day? That’s how I want to feel after a workout, especially the last workout before a rest day.
When I started lifting, I read that you should find ways to reward yourself after workouts with something other than food. I love hopping in the shower after a great workout and feeling like I deserve to be clean, so I decided years ago that my reward is taking shower and putting on clean clothes. I don’t shower on off days because I didn’t earn it. If I wake up feeling dirty, I workout earlier in the day so that I can earn my daily shower. (If you catch me when I want to shower, then I’m crabby because I haven’t worked out yet AND I smell bad too.) Most of the time, this is a great strategy, but some days, I don’t feel like I worked hard enough to shower.
Not every lift will be great. I accept that. The worst kind of mediocre lift is when I don’t feel like I’ve done enough to grow (or shower), despite having completed my programming for the day. There are days that I’ve had a good lift, maybe even hit an accessory PR, and I still don’t feel like I’ve done enough because I don’t feel fatigued or I’m not sweating (especially on chest day). As I’ve become more in-tune with my body, I learned that I do feel at least a little fatigued most of the time, but it’s not always obvious at first. If you workout and never feel fatigued, then it’s time to increase weight or reps or both.
My workout started off as lifting for an hour each day. As I make progress on my “fitness journey,” I started incorporating more exercises such as running, jump rope or a fitness class in addition to a lift. For the last few months, I’ve made a point to stretch and foam roll almost every day before bed. This increased exercise is great while I have the time, but I won't always have this much time. When there’s a day that I only lift, either because I don’t have time or (most often) because I don’t want to do anything else, I get this slimy feeling that I’m not doing enough-- Like I didn't earn a shower. At one point a few months ago, I was regularly working out twice each day. I became used to this and eventually didn't feel like I was doing enough if I only did one workout per day. This is toxic— it’s not sustainable and it makes it difficult to enjoy my regular lift. This type of mindset pops up occasionally with food too. If I’m coming off of a few days where I haven’t eaten enough, I feel guilty eating the amount of food I should eat because I feel like it’s too much. My brain knows that I need the food, but it still feels uncomfortable until I get back into an old routine.
I have a solution for this problem, unlike many of my other recurring issues. The feeling that I’m not doing enough arises when there’s a change in my fitness routine or I haven’t set a specific goal. My default is to do as much as I can. My solution is to stick to a reasonable plan for each day. This means that I know which lift and what cardio (if any), to do each day. Recently, I’ve been dreading cardio, but I still want to be in decent running shape. I used to feel like a failure every day that I didn’t jump rope for at least 15-30 minutes and I kept trying to guilt myself into running. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been running once every four days in addition to my daily lift. As long as I stick to that plan, I can remind myself that I accomplished my goals and that I should take a shower. If I’m lazy and don’t go for a run (which happens a lot) then I’m allowed to call myself lazy and deprive myself of a shower.
I've learned through experience that my hair will be greasy if I don't shower after a lift, even if I don't feel like I earned it, but that my hair will not be greasy after an off day. A lift is a lift and I have to remind myself I deserve a shower.