Exercise Advice – No Pain No Gain

Why using it could maim more than your results and why ignoring it will get you nowhere

By Coach Izzy

If you have been seeking exercise advice for awhile, chances are you have heard of “No Pain, No Gain.” I’m sure you have also heard fervent and equally valid arguments from both sides of the fence. Some embrace it as the only and absolute way to train while others warn you about its obsoleteness and how it should be avoided at all costs.

In reality both sides are correct but fail to realize they are addressing different stages of immersion. They also neglect to analyze what it really means and instead, focus on the emotional content.

The phrase “No Pain, No Gain” has been so abused, misapplied and misunderstood; it has lost its validity in the eyes of the professional health community. After decades of being used as the justification to inflict physical abuse  without regard to physical readiness , even the jocular mention will maim the credibility of whoever brings it up. Such condemnation does not discriminate the highly experienced Strength Coach who knows how and when to apply it from the overeager instructor who will take nothing less than full hurting.

The misuse has also extended to those who exercise on their own and cannot quite grasp the ramifications.  Through their own actions, and even with good intentions, these individuals give themselves the unwelcome gift of injuries, both acute and overuse. Some do it to such extent they change their lives NOT for the better. This is what I call turning “Health & Fitness” into an irony.

Many cannot even tell the difference between the discomfort arising from a challenge and the pain ensuing when body structures are getting compromised. Sadly, this combination of factors has relegated a phrase meant to communicate the pride of meeting a smart challenge to the pile of overrated gym lingo and outdated fitness approaches.

It is Mind Over Body

But You Have to Be Ready

What “No Pain No Gain” involves is the mindset needed to overcome our own personal barriers when the only thing getting in the way of our progress is our own attitude. It never meant “tear yourself apart or “Design your program to maximize the abuse to yourself or others.”  Those are misinterpretations still subsisting to our very day.  Many whose only desire was to start a fitness program to improve their health and bodies find themselves the recipients of corporeal punishment with no explanation other than it is the only way to train. The sole purpose of the punisher to inflict as much physical pain as possible to make an impression and satisfy a credo.  I know because these casualties end up on my treatment table with more frequency than I would like to see.

Now, this does not mean easy workouts are the way to go and challenging workouts are overrated. That is not my intention at all. It was never mentioned or implied that taking it easy produces the best results. One look at those who spend their time “working out” while reading and watching TV will tell you how giving no effort to your training gives you no results in return. It was also never implied that challenging training only hurts people. Truly fit individuals who excel in their physical activities and enjoy great health will tell you it takes effort, sweat, and discomfort.

The message here is both comfortable workouts and challenging workouts although opposite, are part of the same spectrum. Everything has its time and place.

But Why?

You want results, do you not?

For a body to change, it has to be challenged, and challenging the body to entice the change is nobody’s idea of fun. Well, there may be some exceptions there from folks who get their kicks from pain, but they are rare. Getting a new personal best, overcoming a perennial adversary, reaching a pinnacle, they all involve physical discomfort and the mental toughness to overcome it. That is why very few reach the top and others only dream about it.

There is no denying it. You want results, you want to change, you want to look your best and be your best, you will eventually have to challenge your body. But that is not the place of a novice. Those who are freshly entering the world of fitness need not only to build their physical capacity, they also need to build their mental fitness and discover what they can accomplish when they apply themselves.

A challenge becomes unobtainable when it is unrealistic. It becomes unrealistic when it is brought up at the wrong time or circumstances. The fitness enthusiast who has taken the time to get acquainted with his body and develop his mental stamina needs not to be given a challenge. He himself will seek one when his body and mind radiating health and confidence tell him he can do more.

The No Pain No Gain How To

It’s all in the timing

Through good guidance and smart selection, the fitness enthusiast will tackle challenges and realize how much he can do. He knows his “Pain” is the result of his apprehension and unjustified fears. He knows how to listen to his body, focus his mind and looks forward to the “Gain” in the satisfaction of overcoming yet another barrier.

Those who know how to apply “No pain, No gain” identify when it is only insecurity telling the body “quit now” but recognize it, face it, and conquer it. Those who know also accept when a challenge is actually too much and know to let it go and back out. No shame or regret since he knows he will come back more prepared, stronger and succeed. Getting to this stage is a process of self-discovery varying from individual to individual and should never be rushed or belittled.

You should always feel as though you are being guided or invited to the challenge, not forced to it. Remember, you will need to challenge your body to change it, but do not make the mistake of being hasty and messing your health in the process. Do not become another statistical irony in what should be an enjoyable journey of Health and Fitness.

See you on the Exercise Floor!

About The Author


Coach Izzy has been part of the Strength and Conditioning field for over 25 years. He speaks of the advantages of self-sufficiency and the drawbacks of relying on the liner approaches the health world seems fond of.