Is “No Pain, No Gain” a Good Motto?

Does working out have to be painful to get results? Is it true there’s no gain without pain? The truth is pain shouldn’t be your guide. If you’re working out and in pain while you’re doing it something’s wrong.

There’s a difference between hard work and the strain of exercise versus actual pain. You don’t need to ever experience pain while working out. You do need to stress the body to get it to adapt and improve its condition. The key is knowing the difference between common stress and strain created by exercise and working out, and pain from something being wrong.

  • Bend over at the waist to stretch your hamstrings what do you feel? Slight discomfort and strain in the hamstrings, right?
  • Slide your back down a wall with your feet about 2 feet out from the wall until your legs are at a 90 degree angle. This is a wall sit. Hold it for several seconds. Do you feel it start to burn in the thighs?
  • Get in a sit up position on the floor. Start doing sit ups until your stomach muscles start to really tighten.

Are these things painful? Is this “no pain, no gain?”

No, it’s called exercise.  When you do calisthenics, weight training or cardiovascular exercise you’re going to produce strain on the body. It’s perfectly normal and natural. You must push the body past its common condition to create a physiological response that produces greater fitness.

When you work out, you’re going to feel discomfort. You’re going to feel some stress. That’s natural.  Some people really don’t like it, but most people get used to it. Getting in good shape is hard work. It’s not easy.  But it doesn’t involve pain. If you’re exercising and reaching a point of fatigue and your form starts to fail, then you’re done with the exercise. There’s no point in going past fatigue into a pain zone.

“No pain, no gain” is something else entirely. It’s not a great guide. Pain is actually a red flag. If you’re exercising and feeling pain in a muscle, tendon or ligament you may have an injury of some type. You hear people talk about pushing through the pain.  This just isn’t smart. If you’re feeling pain and you keep pushing, you can create an injury that can last weeks and months.

You’re better off tracking your progress and looking for improvement. Look to increase the amount of weight your lifting or the number of repetitions you’re performing. Increase your time or intensity of a cardio exercise. Take a more challenging fitness class and work your way up to full exercises.

There are lots of ways to get in better shape without “no pain, no gain” as your guide! Be creative.