Running on the Taranaki beach

No Pain, No Gain Myth

Facebook is a useful tool for communicating with friends and family and I quite like it. But Facebook, at least my Facebook, is full of what Brian Cox might call ‘woo-woo’. Woo-woo, as far as I can tell from Brian’s usage of the word, means bollocks. It seems some people have a susceptibility towards half-baked platitudes and I see them all the time posted by educated and bright people. Here is an example of some of the woo-woo from my Facebook feed:

A woman has got to love a bad man once or twice in her life to be thankful for a good one.

When two people are meant to be together, they will be together it’s fate.

Life is too short to start your day with broken pieces of yesterday, it will definitely destroy your wonderful today and ruin your great tomorrow!

What’s not illustrated here is how these nauseating sayings are usually superimposed over pictures of fairies, wishing stars (rather than the stellar type), angels, or spiritualistic and mystical landscapes.  Now, I can spot these things from 30 yards and typically breeze past them, politely ignoring whom amongst my Facebook friends posted the offending image, and continue onto the good stuff – of which there is plenty. But sometimes I see something like I did today that said ‘No pain, no gain’…… hmm.

It’s a popular cliché most people will have heard at some point and I’d never really given it much thought before today, but as I considered it my suspicions rose. It’s certainly not true taken outside of it’s intended context, which is exercise. I don’t find growing food painful, yet I benefit tremendously from it and I wake up every morning without a scent of agony and I’m pretty sure that’s to my benefit too! When you think about it, it becomes immediately obvious that we all benefit from many things we don’t invest pain into.

But how about for sport and exercise? The first modern reference I could find was as a catchphrase used in Jane Fonda’s aerobic workout videos produced in 1982, so if it’s applicable anywhere it should be in aerobic sports. Perhaps it depends on what you define as painful; I run a few times a week, and although that’s not easy or restful I certainly wouldn’t call it painful. It has been painful in the past when I’ve got a cold or suffered from stitch, but generally if it’s painful I stop. I use pain as a way of knowing when I’m doing something wrong, not right. If I pick up something hot and it hurts I put it down, if I’m running and it hurts I slow down or stop. According to ‘No pain, no gain’ because I don’t push myself until it hurts I should be stagnant or declining in fitness, but I’m not. At age 26 I’m as fast as I’ve ever been, on the bike, in the pool and on foot. I’m healthy in every way I can measure without ever having felt pain.

What’s more I’ve never had a sports related injury, despite running marathons and cycling and walking across countries, and I think it might have something to do with listening to what my body is telling me rather than ignoring it. I believe that might be the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of a significant and valuable philosophy for physical health which I’m sure someone, somewhere must have published a book on. Perhaps people still parrot ‘No pain, no gain’ 32 years after Jane Fonda used it to sell VHS cassettes because they haven’t yet heard this much better saying; ‘just because it rhymes doesn’t make it true!’.


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