Anybody who has even remotely dabbled in fitness or has been bombed with “inspirational” quotes via social media has heard the thunderous cry of “No Pain No Gain.”
Indeed, many fitness trainees and trainers adopt this mantra into their fitness methodologies almost as sacred as a family crest or coat of arms to display as their identity as they beat the fitness war drum for the gym herd to follow.
But, is there any merit to this popular and overused phrase?
No there is not and you are doing yourself or those you may influence a disservice by practicing and preaching a “No Pain No Gain” mentality.
Dare To Question A Questionable Principle
Let’s look at this phrase rationally in the absence of some overzealous, under skilled and perhaps well meaning trainer or fitness enthusiast barking this phrase at you like it’s some sacred commandment. After all, these characters may be so one dimensional that they have no other means to motivate you or themselves except to repeat unsubstantiated hype and played out sayings!
Those who spew and adopt the “No Pain No Gain” phrase would have you buy into the premise that one cannot experience any meaningful fitness gains without first subjecting and pushing your body through pain which will most likely lead to injury. Does this sound like a sane or factual premise to adopt or bellow to the heavens?
It’s not, so lets stop promoting and celebrating this fallacy.
Now if you really wanted to help folks advance their fitness and health in a sustainable, sane and safe manner, just tweak the No Pain No Gain phrase a bit to reflect how, in reality, the body makes fitness gains and positively adapts to stress (not pain) imposed upon it.
The “No Pain No Gain” phrase should be revised to say No Adaptive Challenge No Gain. This means putting just enough of a challenge on the body to adapt to an improved state whether that means getting stronger, firing up the metabolism, promoting the production of beneficial hormones, etc.
You need just enough challenge to stimulate the body to make positive changes to deal with what has been imposed upon it without demolishing your body, fitness progress and well being. Too much and all you are doing is tearing yourself down and you will just accumulate a laundry list of ever increasing and intensifying ailments.
A big fitness tip that most refuse to follow is that you need to treat most workouts as a practice session and not go full bore, fireball forward all the time. Yes, you need to ramp up the intensity at times applicable to your own fitness level, but not to the point of experiencing pain or with as much frequency as many seem to advocate.
Folks have a hard time wrapping their head around this concept as it is so foreign to them. This goes against every over hyped and counterproductive notions ingrained in their heads that you need to totally run your body into the ground until you are a puking, quivering mess in order to experience results and get fit.
Think of your body similar to a machine used frequently like an automobile comprised of many interrelated systems.
If you run your car to its limits and beyond constantly until the wheels fall off, it will experience total systems failure and will need a lot of work and repair to get back to acceptable or optimum performance. Your body is no different except that it is the most amazing organic piece of precision engineering created in our known universe that needs basic, common sense maintenance.
Once you start overloading the body’s Central Nervous System by training too hard, too frequently and with constant red zone intensity while ignoring pain signals, it will simply throw in the towel, cry uncle and literally break down. Once in this state, you invite all kinds of illness as your immune system becomes seriously compromised. You become way more prone to injury and your mood, mental health and cognitive functions get shot to hell!
Understand What Pain Is
Pain is a distinct panic signal generated by your body telling you something is wrong. Pushing through that pain never makes anything right! You need to stop and figure out what’s wrong, re-evaluate your training and proceed with caution going forward.
Pain is something that should not be ignored and it certainly shouldn’t be embraced in your training as some type of marker to reinforce a flawed belief that you are improving somehow.
Know the difference between experiencing pain and some muscle soreness. A little muscle soreness is normal especially if you are a new fitness trainee which will recede as your body adapts to the new activity imposed upon it and you are not participating in a crazy fitness program or one above your fitness level or “pay grade.”
Experiencing pain with your training should give you immediate pause with the activity causing it. Pushing through pain will get you a one way ticket on the injury train which has only two destinations – Sideline City and Frustration Junction.
You won’t enjoy either of those destinations. And once injured, all your great fitness intentions, goals and momentum will hit the skids until your body heals – unless you crazily push yourself further and do something beyond repair. It sounds insane to go down this path folks, but I have seen it happen more times than I care to recall.
What Is Your Pain Trying To Tell You?
The reasons can be many, but here are some recipes for pain I have experienced or witnessed over the long haul:
You have a movement dysfunction or imbalance
Poor mobility and you move like a stiff zombie or rusty Tin Woodsman
Haven’t fully recovered from a previous injury
Your training is too intense and/or too frequent
Your exercise selections are sub par
You think training recovery days are for mere mortals and saps, not superheroes like yourself.
Your training programming is haphazard and put together with no rhyme or reason
Your personal trainer or group fitness instructors are inexperienced, inept or haven’t a clue about fitness program design.
You train above your fitness level
You don’t train for your typical age group
You train using bad form reinforcing bad movement patterns
You train through fatigue and exhaustion
You don’t warm up or cool down properly especially during intense training sessions
You don’t have rational or realistic expectations about your fitness progress or goals and rush to failure – literally and figuratively
Regardless of the reason you drive your body into pain, it is your body telling you something is not right and that if you keep pushing through it you are headed in a disastrous direction which can lead to serious injury, derail all your fitness progress and put you on the sidelines.
So please stop whatever movement generates pain and get it checked out by a medical professional. And more importantly change your behavior so as to minimize pursuing a path of painful training.
Your fitness training should be geared toward avoiding pain and making you less prone to injury. While I entertain many fitness points of view, I won’t budge from the eternal validity and wisdom of this statement, friends!
Your Body Won’t Lie To You – Fitness Phonies Will!
Can you think of someone who has never lied to you or mislead you to varying degrees? If you interact with human beings to any extent, the answer is probably no – unless you hang around some ultimate sublime heavenly being or you have an arrangement where some benevolent deity agrees to take your calls.
Your body is one of the few things on this planet that won’t lie to you or bullshit you and looks out for you like a loyal dog – but only if you listen to it! Now, you may consciously ignore the pain signals your body screams at you and force your brain to over ride its well meaning advice for your self preservation and well being – but it will never mislead or lie to you.
Do you really think the chemically infused juice giant at the local gym or that Hollywood – type fitness phony in la la land are looking out for you when they urge you to push through the pain and be part of their banged up dysfunctional fitness herd?
Do you really think these ridiculous characters are smarter than your own body and the constant common sense advice it communicates to you? Don’t count on it! So don’t ignore those pain signals your body is shouting at you. Listen to what it is telling you or suffer the consequences!
Learn From My Fitness Mistakes
I used to train foolishly like this early in my training life and I remember just being a shell of a human being always getting hurt, moody, getting sick too often and making no fitness progress. It was a vicious cycle as I was convinced as a newbie that I had to always train to complete muscle failure or get no results.
Looking back, I was a total buffoon for ignoring all the negative signals my body was desperately trying to communicate to me when I trained in that manner. I totally ignored those desperate cries for help my body was literally shouting at me and demanding I back off the throttle and give it a rest. Not only did I not back off the constant intensity, I actually thought my problem was I needed to push my body even further past its limits in order to get me to some optimum state.
I wish someone would have threw a net over me back then and set me straight about the importance of rest, recovery and knowing when to back off your training if pain was present.
I always seemed to be nursing an injury, felt constantly physically and mentally sapped and beaten down and would get sick a lot for a so called fit and healthy person. The problem was, most of my training peers back then were training the same way so we were all kind of in the same negative dysfunctional fitness support network. This mentality still exists today and is unfortunately championed and promoted by many in the fitness universe.
There is no shortage of people who will spew and parrot back phrases like “No Pain, No Gain” and “Pain Is Weakness Leaving The Body.” While these rallying phrases may look cool on a t-shirt or over shared social media meme, they will lead you down the road to fitness ruin if you actually train like that. Please learn from my early mistakes and tune these phrases out and avoid their messengers also if you value participating in a productive and sustainable fitness program.
Avoid The Pain And Stay In The Game
So whenever pain flares up in your training, just stop the movement as your body isn’t giving you this warning signal just to whistle dixie and be a needless bother. It’s telling you in no uncertain terms that an injury is imminent at some point if you continue.
Don’t push through the pain!
You won’t lose all those wonderful fitness gains if you have to back off a repetition or two, re-evaluate your movement patterns or revise your workout program to compensate for no pain. But if you continue to push through the pain, I guarantee your fitness gains will be in jeopardy when you get sidelined by the injury almost sure to follow!
Here’s a little simple advice to advance your training and keep it sustainable:
Cut back on the hellbent training intensity, ditch the high impact/low value circus stunt exercises, pay attention to what you eat most of the time, allocate more of your training time to mobility exercises and treat most workout sessions like a thoughtful practice – not an insane death march- and watch your fitness and well being take off!
Explore my site for tons of examples of super productive exercises to perform using these essential movements for a successful existence on this planet.
Stay Excited With Exercise, But Be Sane And Rational
Believe me I get it- trainees want to get themselves amped up and excited about fitness and get the quickest results as possible. A lot of well meaning fitness trainers want to get their clients excited and worked into a fitness frenzy as well, but all this excitement needs to be tempered with sensible fitness programming.
We are all motivated and excited about various things in life.
Here’s what excites me:
Moving well and pain free
Demonstrating real world strength with full ranges of motion
Not needing a Doctor’s care for a broken down body
Not needing physical therapy sessions for shot joints and muscles
Being physically and mentally capable to thrive on this wonderful planet
Living a robust and happy life full of activity, fantastic relationships and powerful longevity
I hope your training and lifestyle can lead to you experiencing some of these wonderful things yourself, folks!
And remember, If you push through pain, then I deem your training insane!
Stay Well! Take Action! Be Consistent! Train and Eat Smart! Get Rid of the Drains and Pains in Your Life! Value your loved ones and friends and get out and have some active, safe fun!
“There’s a Sparkle in my Eyes and Iron in my Thighs!”
Seven Stars Fitness