The myth behind "No Pain, No Gain"

Jan 13, 2010

Question of the Month:
I was in the gym the other day and I overheard a guy talking about his “No Pain, No Gain” weightlifting philosophy.  Do I need to adopt this attitude for my own workouts to see results?

This is a long held exercise myth that is not supported by exercise principles.  Variations of the saying “No Pain, No Gain” have been in existence since the second century.  Originally, the saying related to philosophies of life.  One of the earliest known variations was used as a spiritual message relating to the pain of doing what God commands, and the gain one receives from doing so.  Another variation was used by Benjamin Franklin to relay the benefits associated with hard work.  Later, this phrase became a maxim for athletes and coaches relating wins or losses to the pain experienced during workouts and practices.  The saying “No Pain, No Gain” may be pertinent as a philosophy of life, but for exercise it could not be farther from the truth.

Pain during exercise is an indication that something is wrong.  Pain is characterized by intense discomfort, distress or suffering.  If you experience these symptoms during an exercise bout, you may have experienced an injury and are likely doing further damage to your body.  Given that pain is an indication of potential injury, it is important to mention soreness.  There is a relevant and distinct difference between pain and soreness.  Acute muscle soreness is a sensation of intense fatigue that usually occurs during the latter stages of an exercise or the immediate recovery period after the exercise.  Delayed muscle soreness experienced a day or two after an intense exercise bout is a normal part of exercise.  This soreness is the essence of weight training and a function of the body healing itself.  As the body heals, the muscle fibers become larger and stronger.  

Given the long-standing history of the adage “No Pain, No Gain,” it is understandable how difficult it can be to relinquish this belief.  We all want to push the boundaries of our capabilities, but be smart and listen to what your body is telling you.

Anthony G. Barnes is the club owner at Anytime Fitness in Chester and holds a degree in Sports Medicine and Exercise Science.  To submit a question for future articles, please contact the author at



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