“No Pain, No Gain”. Calling out the BS

by | Oct 9, 2020

Have you ever stopped to think that all those “fitness motivation” quotes they throw around aren’t really all that motivating?

Maybe it’s just me… or maybe you’ve just never really considered it before.
I feel like a lot of those catch phrases are actually pretty mean.  Like, they are said in an effort to make us work harder, but do they actually motivate us – in the sense that hearing them makes us enjoy the exercise?  I really don’t think so – I think they just make us dread it even more!
Welcome to the first in a series of deconstructing fitness motivation.  Over the next several weeks, we’ll break down some of these over-used “motivational quotes” and explore how they are really affecting our relationship to exercise.

First up, old faithful – NO PAIN, NO GAIN

This one is usually barked at us when we’re in the middle of a set of burpees or other intense interval where we want to die.  Or, we say this to ourselves when we’re wanting to “cheat” on our diet and have to convince ourselves to stay on track if we expect to achieve our goal.

Basically what’s being said here is – you’ve gotta suffer to get any sort of positive result.

How backwards is that!!  How can you feel good about achieving something if it was nothing but hell getting there?

It leads to the thinking – “it’s normal and ok if this hurts – that’s how you get better”.

OMG!!  Ladies- seriously! Give your head a shake!

EXERCISE SHOULD NEVER HURT!!!  I cannot believe how widespread the belief is that we must “push through the pain”  to get results.

Pain is not normal during exercise!  Pain is a red flag from your body that it’s in trouble.  Pushing through pain is guaranteed to land you an injury, maybe even a chronic one that you’re stuck with for life.

And if you’re injured, you’re going to have to stop exercising.  And what happens then – no gain.

Therefore PAIN=NO GAIN.  


Now, I know that often when this phrase is used we’re not referring to actual pain but rather just “challenge”.  And yes that’s different.  It can be fun to try new things and push ourselves outside of our comfort zone – but it still shouldn’t be equated with suffering or torture.

Let me ask it this way.  What exactly are you trying to gain??  Unless you’re an athlete training for a specific competition, why do you need to exercise or deprive yourself to the point of pain?  (I would argue that even athletes shouldn’t experience pain during a training session).

For most of the women I see,  their main goal is weight loss or changing their body in some way, and they’ve been taught that the only way to do that is by working their ass off.  I have to agree on that point.  You do have to work your ass off in order to lose a large amount of weight.  This has to do with the  set point  theory.  Our body has a range of about 20 lbs that it can fluctuate inside of  but really resists going outside of it.  This is why 95% of people who lose weight will gain it back within 1-5 years.  It’s simply impossible to maintain a weight that’s far below our set point without consistent caloric restriction or extreme exercise.

Continuing to chase body goals will keep you on the cycle of painful extreme exercise and food restriction.   Enduring pain to hopefully see gains.  Stopping and starting.  Battling willpower and struggling to feel motivated.

All pain.  No gain.

So why do it?  Why put yourself through the torture of exercise and restricted eating if it’s only going to land you injured or rebounding.

How about we change the dialogue to “NO PAIN, LONG TERM GAIN”.

If exercise were fun instead of drudgery.  If it felt good to move and resulted in feeling strong, energized and vibrant, wouldn’t you WANT to do that, regardless of how your body looked?  And if you liked what you were doing and felt excited to move everyday, can you see how that might result in some long lasting positive change?

I’d way rather consistent, steady, fun fitness over short bursts of hardcore punishment followed by going off the rails…  What about you?