No Pain No Gain

“No Pain No Gain” – Why I hate this phrase and you should too

“No pain no gain” the smiling gym trainer says patronisingly as I groan under the strain of another rep and obviously want to give up. ‘Do you really expect to see ANY improvement if you wimp out so easily??’is underneath this motivational remark.

No pain no gain is so well dug into our health and exercise culture that it’s hard to see a clear alternative. We’re encouraged to push hard if we are going to get any improvement at all from our exercise or other efforts. How can you get the results you want if you won’t put in the work? If you let a bit of pain put you off you ain’t gonna get nowhere man!


One problem with no pain no gain is that it takes you much closer to the point of injury and so increases the risks of exercise or activity. It’s normal to push a bit when you’re exercising, to get a bit more out of yourself But pushing strongly can make it more likely you’ll get a muscle tear, tendon injury or an joint or ligament strain.

You can get good results from your training without pushing yourself that hard. Top athletes train hard but for them the possibility of injury is too great to risk it. It would ruin their preparations for an important event so they never push too strongly. Just hard enough to get the gains they’re looking for.


No pain no gain is even less useful and more risky when you’re recovering from an injury or operation. You are unfit and your muscle strength is reduced as well as its capacity to cope with training stresses. You can put out relatively little effort and get good increases in training strength and endurance.

This is where a good physiotherapist or other therapist can guide you. How much force to put through your tissues at each point of your recovery is the crucial decision. That way you can improve at the fastest speed with the least chance of setbacks.


If you push while you are still healing you are much more likely to reinjure as your tissues aren’t ready yet for normal exercise stresses. Soft tissue healing is complete sometime between six and twelve weeks but the tissues don’t return to normality for longer.

Once scarring is complete the tissue goes through a period of remodelling. The scarring that occurs after injury means the damaged tissue cannot be exactly as it was. However the stresses we put on our healing tissues mean they remodel to a similar type and strength of tissue.

Putting the right level of stresses on the tissues as they heal is the key skill. Mostly we just do this naturally unless we’re encouraged too much by someone who doesn’t understand the tissue healing process.

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