Why The “No Pain, No Gain” Mentality Is Stupid

Yup, I said it… no pain, no gain… it’s stupid.

You see, last week I shared this video on Instagram:

It was the first time I had stepped up to a squat wrack in what seemed ages. Because of my hiatus I started off light… I started off smart. 

But that felt good (easy), so I added a few more pounds. Again, it felt easy enough so after a set of 10 reps, I changed the plates up for a third time.

It was heavy, but not the heaviest I had ever done so I decided to keep the weight there, and pumped out 5 sets of 5 reps with a somewhat short rest period. 

I felt my legs burning and inside my head I was thinking about the soreness I would feel the next day. For a second, the thought crossed my mind that perhaps I should slow down and call it a day. 

I kept going. No pain, no gain, right? Or what’s the other saying… “Sore today, strong tomorrow!”

Yup… I even have the shirt! And that shirt inspired the workout! 

Moving on…

Once the sets where completed, I smiled at my accomplishment, put the plates back in their rightful place and headed over to an open space to finish off my leg workout with some weighted lunge walks.

Something happened at that point that has never happened before…

In the middle of my first rep my legs gave out. I don’t mean they felt weak, I mean they literally gave out. I fell, not so gracefully, to the side and sat there for a second with a look of absolute confusion. 

Luckily there was no one around but boy did I feel stupid.

I took that as my cue, grabbed my water bottle and hobbled out. 

For the next 4 days, I had a hard time walking, sitting, and I don’t even want to talk about going down stairs.

The 15 steps from my front door to the driveway seemed more like this…

It was insane and it was ridiculously stupid on my part. 

As a trainer, I know better. I know the importance of progressing and of recognizing that just because I was able to do 100 pounds easily a few months ago, doesn’t mean I can now. 

But it got me to thinking about the mentality that so many of us hold in respect to our workouts… 

this whole no pain, no gain attitude that we bring to the gym. 

It’s stupid. There I said it. 

No Pain, No Gain…
Or No Pain, No Improvement? 

Sore Muscles After Exercise

I love feeling a workout the day after. I love knowing that my muscles actually had to work and that I challenged my body in a way that will lead to improvements. 

What I don’t love is putting myself (or my clients) on the sidelines. Like I did last week.

What does it prove? What does it prove that I did 50 squats with 95 pounds if I can’t walk for 4 days after? 


Does it do your body good? 

NO! It puts your body in a huge stress zone. 

If you fell running and scrapped up your knees so bad that you could barely bend them, would you go run the next day? Of course not! Because you not only feel the damage, but you can see it. 

Seeing is believing. 

Bloody Knees Are Like Tough Workouts

But get this…

What you’re doing to your body when you workout too hard too fast, is the same thing!

There are just no physical bruises or scrapes to tell you to chill out. So you keep going, you keep pushing ahead and feeling the pain.


But what you’re really doing is denying your body the time it needs to recover. Results come during recovery, not during a workout. 

On the other side of the spectrum,what happens if you do give yourself time to rest? 

I worked my legs so hard, that it wasn’t until Sunday (that’s 4 days) when I could walk without feeling my legs muscles burn. 

That’s 4 days of workouts that had to suffer. What would have happened if I had gradually gotten back into barbell squats? 

I would have felt better after just 48 hours and would have been able to get another workout in, a workout that my body would have appreciated! 

Pain Is Pride


Now, before I move ahead let me stress something. If you haven’t worked out in years, then chances are no matter how slow you try to go you will wake up in pain the next day. I see it all the time. 

But my point with today’s post is this… 

Is the no pain, no gain rule about pride? 

Because it surely isn’t about helping the body get results or to get stronger. 

Someone once told me that exercise is suppose to help improve day to day life. And if you’re not moving better, if you’re in more pain than you’re not, then maybe you’re not doing it right. 

Makes sense. Living a fit lifestyle isn’t about trying to handicap yourself with each strength training session but to help you to avoid that handicap sticker when you get older. 

Lesson learned. 

Instead, I am changing the saying to: 

“Tender today, stronger tomorrow!”

Do you ever push farther than you know you should because you hear the “no pain, no gain” mantra in your head? 

When I am racing this is said over and over again to get me to the finish line. I consider a race of big event the exception to the rule!


  • It’s awesome that you got in back into barbell squats, not so great about the pushing yourself too hard thing but still! I think there is something about the excitement of trying something new or something you haven’t done in a while that makes you kind of forget about the whole pacing yourself thing.

  • No pain, no gain. Just not too much pain, or you’ll set yourself back. It’s all about balance and training JUST enough to make improvements, but not too much that you hinder your training.

  • Sheena

    It’s hard not to do as much as you can, we’re competitive by nature even if we’re competing against ourselves 🙂 My calves are telling me right now I may have overdone it… I forgot to be mindful of my body during my workout!

  • Oh man, I couldn’t agree more. I hurt myself far too often for making stupid decisions while working out!

    • Isn’t it annoying when you have that “I knew better than this” moment!?

  • I agree that a goal race IS the exception to the rule- but, if you plan and train properly for a goal race, you always take a few days off after it anyway. In fact, the whole time I trained for a marathon, my goal was to finish my training runs feeling like I had a little left in the tank- because I knew I wasn’t running the full 26.2 in training. Plus, I know I have to work out the next day (or the day after).

    The first time I did CrossFit back in Florence… it was ugly. Probably like you and the squats. I went home and it was hard to lift my arms to wash my hair in the shower. I had to flop into my chair at work and it was also hard to sit on the toilet and get up off the toilet… sometimes I think peer pressure of a workout can make us do craziness that we wouldn’t ordinarily do either.

    Looks like the rest and recovery did well for you today, you were killing it on the track. I really enjoyed the 200s, gotta do more of those!

    • Yes races are the exception, and always followed by plenty of rest! Love rest days! When it hurts to wash your hair… that’s def a sign! Can’t wait for sprints next week!

  • A lot of this post reigns true with me. I am usually the girl at the squat rack piling up the weight until I shake. Recently though, I’ve incorporated more rest days because I actually felt like I was holding onto more fat than anything after all these wild workouts and honestly it has been helping tremendously in the weight loss department.

    • I feel you! It’s funny how results show up when you actually rest!

  • Kim

    I like your final thoughts about racing – I agree – racing is all about the pain!!!
    I’m rarely sore and I know that when I am really sore it is usually because I made a poor choice and pushed harder than I should have.

    • Yes, racing is all about the no pain, no gain. If it feels “good” then you’re not running hard enough!

  • When I got shinsplints in the months leading up to a major dance competition, my boyfriend goes “Big deal. Just push through them- that’s what we did in football.” I scoffed at the idea, but stupidly (out of pride), that’s what I did.

    So, like an idiot, I pushed through 3-4 months worth of intense dance classes thinking “well, if I don’t jump too high, if I wear dance sneakers instead of dance shoes, if I wear compression cuffs… I’m bound to work through it, right?” … well, boy, was I wrong. I could barely walk by two weeks before the competition and I had to stop dancing for the 2 weeks leading up to the competition. Otherwise, I probably could barely have made it up on stage.

    It was lame.

    Pain= no gain. Pain= pain. Listen to your body. Treat it right.

    • oh man! that sucks. In college, I pushed through the pain of shin splints too and ended up with stress fractures! I was lame too!

  • Kimi P

    Oh yeah. I am done with pain from working out, too! My first day back at boot camp (in 5 months) I participated in a wall sit exercise to see who could last the longest. I did (yay me) but I was in terrible pain for 4 days. It was pride that did it. I love the workout soreness i get from exercising but am not pushing myself anymore. Great post.

  • I always push myself, I ignore the pain, even if I am downright hurt, I just force myself to do it and I can REST LATER. Prob not the BEST APPROACH but, I’m a keep on going! LOL!

    And I totally want to climb those mountains steps!

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  • Sean

    I love this article. I myself train 3 days a week with light weights and more reps. And my muscles have never been more defined in my life. No pain, no gain are for those who are egocentric and just trying to show off at the gym. In the long run, they are going to regret going heavier and heavier. Most guys in my gym keep increasing weights and they look at me like I’m weird since I just stick to the lighter weights. Oh well. What can I say? I guess I’m one of those men who are not egocentric.

    • good for you! Isn’t it nice to break away from “norm” and do what works for you!

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