The Return of No Pain, No Gain - Fitness Week on BTR


Marathon photo taken from WikiMedia Commons

Last October I decided, day-of, to run a half-marathon with no training and what would turn out to be a 13 mile-long wedgie. I don’t say this to brag, because I’m a horrendous, historically injury-prone runner with physiological issues that make running a less natural activity for me than attracting women, but rather I share this information to attest to man and woman’s capacity to withstand and overcome pain and discomfort through sheer determination (and a bit of targeted stupidity).

When I crossed the finish line after a shameless 50 meter sprint, I walked over to a tree and thought, what the hell did I just do that for? I’m in pain! The rest of the day I moved around weakly but in a silent state of ecstasy: without this pain, there would be no gain!

Somewhere along the line, profiteering physicians and fitness gurus jettisoned the idiomatic nature of the phrase ‘no pain no gain,’ deciding to deride it as a misplaced call for sadomasochistic behavior. Lost to these opportunists who thought they could make a profit off the expanding workweek was the core desire of Americans to perform at an exceptional level – you know, being all that we can be, and stuff.

‘Fun’ exercise enthusiasts pitched a dishonest game, and people paid for it by expecting a day at the gym to be a breeze, calling it quits at the slightest sign of fatigue. What we understand but continually fail to internalize is that fun accompanies the mastery of an activity, which takes up a lot of time. So, we look for excuses.

In 2007 The Guardian cited a study conducted by the American College of Sports Medicine (ASCM) stating that so-called ‘lifestyle activities,’ such as walking the dog and doing housework, were not even close to being sufficient replacements for the rigorous exercising needed to be considered healthy. For a while we Americans latched onto the 30-minute-a-day workout, shooting it into our daily routines in between bags of corn chips, but as companies demand more and more time from their employees, work anxiety tends to overrule any hope to escape into healthier routines like eating well and exercising.

It all comes down to the principles of motivation. Over the past few decades, sports psychologists have relied heavily on the differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations to provide a more effective understanding to why we exercise. Deriving satisfaction from the activity itself is known as an intrinsically motivated behavior, while an extrinsically motivated behavior is one that offers a reward unrelated to the activity, such as recognition, fame, or prize money.

The study’s administrator suggested that “to the extent that one exercises for intrinsic reasons, one is more likely to feel energized, confident, and satisfied in one’s activity, whereas extrinsic, body-related reasons may not facilitate these results.”

A 2009 Journal of Happiness Studies experiment found that people were more likely to regard their hardest workouts that gave them initial discomfort as more pleasant, worthwhile experiences at the end of the day, proving that in at least this case happiness is a sort of chemical privilege requiring strain (and a bit of forgetfulness).

However, this is not to say that throbbing and stabbing pains are preferred states during a workout – quite the contrary actually. DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness, describes the tiresome feeling of strained muscles. Micro-tears within the tissues take place, causing swelling and discomfort but eventually leading to muscle growth and durability.

Tony Horton, a now world-renowned fitness guru who used to train people like Annie Lennox and Billy Idol while working as a production assistant in Hollywood, has become the voice of the new wave of high-intensity workouts in America.

On his blog, Horton had this to say about his hugely popular (and politically active) workout program P90X:

“Boredom, plateaus and injury are the enemy and the only way to combat them is through Variety. If you’re struggling it’s working. Swallow some humble pie and get busy.”

P90X is, according to Horton, still the number one most popular work out program after seven years because of how rewarding it is to consistently overcome each arduous workout.

Any workout is voided without the proper eating habits, though, and as if you needed the reminder, eating healthy is very, very expensive. As if price weren’t enough of a barrier to access, government subsidies helping companies like Monsanto push their super corn and hormonal cows into every product available are not doing any good American family any favors.

If America could only channel its vigorous eating and debt-building habits into exercise and self-betterment, we might not be such easy prey for gluttonous pharmaceutical companies to pick and prod at all the side effects of our sedentary life choices. The pains you take to push against the forces working against you will pay off, one way or another.

Article Written By: Jakob Schnaidt