No Pain, No Gain?


One of the most common misconceptions I see as a coach is the “no pain, no gain” attitude. I’ll admit that I fall into this trap myself from time to time and need to simply remind myself of a few simple things. Today I want to see if I can help people re-frame their mindset as it leans towards this idea in training and I specifically want to focus on if muscle soreness is an indicator of a good workout.

Soreness is only a positive when recovery is made a priority.

“I’m so sore I can barely get my hand above my head. I must have killed it in the gym yesterday!” Yes, you did probably kill it yesterday if you can’t even perform basic things like lifting your arm up and that workout may have produced great results, but are you recovering enough to make up the deficit? Think about muscle soreness like digging a ditch. You walk outside and dig a 4×4 hole in your yard because you want to plant something there. Once the hole is created you then begin filling it in with the plant/item you have intended to fill that hole with. But what if you don’t fill it back up? Well you just wasted a bit of time and energy without much to show for it. Recovery is the intentional filling in of the hole you have created from training. Make sure your soreness has a goal behind it before randomly attaining it.

Is your goal to be sore or to see progress? 

I can bet that your goal is progress. Sure, soreness can feel like progress but is it actually leading to results? I work with people one on one every week who are constantly hitting bigger numbers, moving better, and achieving better times on their workouts all while never being so sore that they can’t perform. A simple way to know if you are on track is to ask your coach. Sometimes asking how you should feel is a great way to know if you are on track. Some days your coach may give you the green light to push and soreness may be a good indicator that you hit the intended stimulus but 9/10 times it probably shouldn’t be.

Does your soreness impact your day to day life?

One time I was talking to a friend of mine who mentioned that he hadn’t been working out like he used to and when I asked why he replied “I don’t have time to be incredibly sore and have a 40 hour a week job.” I couldn’t have loved this answer more because he was right. While I firmly believe that a good training program would allow him to have the best of both worlds my friend had his priorities in line and knew what he needed to put first. You should do the same. Your family, friends, and life outside of the gym come first and every single thing you do inside of the gym should benefit the time you spend outside of it. If it isn’t benefiting you then ask your coach where you can improve to make the necessary changes. Maybe your nutrition is lacking of your sleep is down. Maybe you need a more individualized approach that meets the exact needs of your life outside of the gym. Never be afraid to ask for the things that will benefit you as that is exactly what fitness should do. Fitness should always line up with your life.

focus on consistency

Remember that 300 good workouts will get you much farther than 50 incredible ones and 50 terrible ones. Work to always stay consistent in your exercise. If you can build consistency then you will be able to increase intensity. Don’t do it the other way around because the reality is that that never works.

Overall I think soreness is a tool to be used. I don’t use a saw to hang my pictures on the wall or help put together a bed frame because they don’t match the given task and would honestly make a much bigger mess for me, but when the appropriate task arrives you can benefit greatly from using a saw. Think of soreness in the same light. Does the workout call for an effort that would leave you sore? Awesome! Give it your all! Did the coach who is leading your class prescribe you “stay steady” and “work at 70% effort” for the day? Give it the appropriate work and you will see a remarkable amount of progress to your goals.