The Myth of "No Pain, No Gain"

While the exact origin of the phrase “no pain, no gain” is a little unclear, it was popularized by Jane Fonda who brought it to the forefront of our vernacular in the early 80’s. But just like Member’s Only jackets and the side ponytail, some things are better left to a bygone era and have very little relevance today.


Sure, everything is cyclical and I am not fooling myself into thinking that I won’t see a side ponytail worn in an un-ironic way, but hopefully the misconception that you have to experience pain in your workouts to be assured that you’re making progress will continue to be debunked.

We do, however, continue to see the message played out on popular shows like The Biggest Loser where there always seems to be a trainer yelling in the face of someone who looks like they are quite possibly on the verge of puking (if not death) to “go harder, don’t quit, how bad do you want this?”

As a personal trainer, I am constantly educating my clients on the fact that excessive muscle soreness does not indicate an effective workout. Some clients believe they didn’t get their fitness goals met simply because they are not too sore to stand up or walk down stairs. But, you may be happy to know that there is an actual term for the soreness you experience a day or so after a workout, and the term isn’t “gain.”

It’s actually called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS. While the timeframe can vary wildly from person to person, typically the soreness will begin to set in around 6-8 hours after a workout and will peak at around 48 hours. The latest research suggests that the exact reasons for DOMS is not entirely understood, but that it “appears to be a product of inflammation caused by microscopic tears in the connective tissue elements that sensitize nociceptors and thereby heighten the sensations of pain.”

Right? But, what does that even mean?

Basically, it means, muscle damage. And while muscle damage is one of the contributing factors for muscle hypertrophy (a fancy word word for “gainz”) it is not the only component involved in building muscle and is, in fact, not necessary.

Moreover, it can even inhibit your progress. Severe soreness is going to have a negative impact on your performance in your next workout. Also, you may not even make it to your next workout if you are too sore. Pain is usually not a very good motivator to keep doing something.

I always say that your pursuit of health and fitness should make you feel better, not worse. It should improve your daily life by helping you move easier, have more energy, flexibility and the ability to pursue the things you love to do with joy.

If your workouts are leaving you stranded on the sidelines while your friends are out playing tennis and riding bikes, you may want to take a closer look at your training program; leg warmers, side ponytail and all.

Posted on July 12, 2015 .