No Pain, No Gain?

No Pain, No Gain?

What exactly does the phrase “No Pain, No Gain” mean?  Its certainly catchy and its thrown around at gyms everywhere.  Does it mean that if you feel pain that you are going to gain muscle? If you don’t feel pain, does that mean you wont get bigger and stronger? Is more pain better? Is all pain a sign of growth or is some pain bad? This video covers all these questions.

Some Basics First

It would help if you understood the following information:

  1. Focus. Unless you know how to focus, you wont be able to generate the intensity required to make gains in strength and mass
  2. Bulking Up And Adding Muscle This is a good overview of what is required to add muscle and gain strength.
  3. Nutrition. I don’t care how hard you workout, if your nutrition sucks you wont gain an ounce of muscle. Many bodybuilders who claim they have “good nutrition”, actually don’t.

Joint Pain

First off, lets clear this up.  “No pain no gain” does NOT apply to joints.  Joint pain is ALWAYS bad – period.  Pain is your bodies alarm system, when it goes off – you better listen to it! If you continue to push hard thru joint pain you will seriously injure yourself and cut your bodybuilding career veeeeeery short.  If you have joint pain, stop whatever it is you are doing which is causing the pain!  Try different angles, different grip positions, or reducing ROM to make the pain stop.  If that doesn’t work, try doing less  weight with higher reps or doing a different exercise completely.  If you still have joint pain, then you need to see a doctor. Now lets talk about muscular pain.

Bad Muscular Pain

Any muscle pain which is sharp, starts suddenly, or occurs as a bolt of pain is ALWAYS bad and is probably the sign that a serious injury has occurred. Tears an separations would cause this kind of pain. This is definitely NOT what we are talking about when we say “No Pain No Gain”! If you have sudden or sharp, lightning bolt like pain in a muscle, stop immediately and have somebody run to get you an big ice pack and ibuprofen to help minimize the injury damage. Then get yourself to a doctor.

Good Muscular Pain

Now lets talk about some kinds of good pain that can be indicators of a successful workout. Before we go into the kinds of good pain, I need to clarify here. There has never been research which proves these types of pain cause muscle growth, in fact, many people have gotten stronger and bigger without ever getting sore. So if you cant get sore while working out, don’t despair. Having said that, in my experience the most intense workouts produce the most soreness and workout intensity seems to correlate with strength and mass gains.

OK, lets talk about the good kinds of pain that we are striving for. The first good pain is the one that occurs at the end of a set. It starts as a slow burn when you are about 3/4 done with your set and the pain slowly increases with each subsequent rep till at the end the pain is quite intense.. This is good pain caused by the lactic acid buildup in your muscles. The reason this pain is good is that its a good indicator that you are pushing yourself hard enough to cause muscle growth.

The other good kind of pain is Delayed Onset Muscular Soreness (DOMS). This delayed muscular soreness is very good and sought after, its what makes bodybuilders take the elevator rather than the stairway for many days after a leg workout – if you have had a killer leg workout you know exactly what I’m talking about.  If you workout with sufficient intensity, you get micro-tears in muscles which the body then has to repair.  During the healing process, these muscles can get very sore.  This soreness is delayed (DOMS) and can take 1-2 days after the workout to appear and can take up to a week to go away depending on the intensity of the workout. DOMS appears to be a good indication of the effectiveness of the workout. That wonderful soreness you feel is your muscles being rebuilt – bigger, faster, stronger! By the way, that soreness should be a constant reminder that you need to pay strict attention to your nutrition to insure that your muscles have a constant supply of all the nutrients and amino acids they need to grow. If you workout hard and then eat potatoes chips for 5 days your workout was a complete waste of time.

So, If you have DOMS, its clear you had a very effective workout but the inverse is not true. If you don’t get DOMS, don’t despair, you might have still had a great and effective workout. Some muscles just don’t seem to get sore and it varies from person to person.  For me, I always can get sore when doing arms, chest, lats, and legs but shoulders and calves never get sore.  By the way, I strongly suggest that you wait till all muscle soreness is gone before you workout that muscle again. The soreness is a sign that the muscle is still being repaired and made stronger, If you workout before the repairs are complete you wont be able to lift with sufficient intensity. If you want to hurry the healing and make the soreness go away so you can work out again, DONT take ibuprofen – that just masks the pain. Studies have shown that stretching does not seem to help the swelling and pain associated with DOMS so that wont work either. Studies HAVE shown that massage does help speed the healing process so if your in a big rush to get rid of the soreness and have lots of money, go for sports massages.

Measuring how good a workout was

So, where are we? If you get DOMS, you know you had a good workout but what if you don’t? How do you know if you had a good workout? Well, you cant use a tape measure because it can take over a year to see measurable amounts of gain and you certainly will not be able to measure any difference in muscle size after one workout. You cant use a scale either. Even if you workout hard 7 days a week with strict nutrition, the most muscle you can hope to add is 5-10lbs a year which is about 8oz a month. There is no way you can measure that small amount of muscle gain given the large daily fluctuations i weight. Heck, I can gain 5lbs in 10min by eating salty fries and drinking a double big gulp. So how DO you tell if your workout was successful? Use a logbook. Every workout, write down the exercise you did, the weight you used and how many reps you did on each set. After a month, check your progress. If you have gone up by at least two reps or are using a heavier weight, then your workouts are successful. If you get stronger, you will get bigger, simple as that. For measuring progress in the long term (more than a year), the scale, caliper and tape measure used together are the best way to track your long term progress.


  • It takes intense workouts to gain strength and muscle
  • If you get DOMS, it is a good indication you had an intense workout
  • If you don’t get sore at all, you still may have had an intense workout
    • take careful workout notes in a logbook. Going up a few reps a month or increasing the weight you are lifting is progress and an indicator that your workouts that you had good workouts.
  • Taking sufficient rest between workouts and having strict nutrition 7 days a week are key to gaining muscle and getting stronger

“No Pain, No Gain” might or might not be true for you.