No pain, no gain

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No pain, no gain (or "No gain without pain") is a proverb, used since the 1980s as an exercise motto that promises greater value rewards for the price of hard and even painful work. Under this conception competitive professionals, such as athletes and artists, are required to endure pain (physical suffering) and stress (mental/emotional suffering) to achieve professional excellence. Medical experts agree that the proverb is wrong for exercise.[1]

Exercise motto[edit]

It came into prominence after 1982 when actress Jane Fonda began to produce a series of aerobics workout videos. In these videos, Fonda would use "No pain, no gain" and "Feel the burn" as catchphrases for the concept of working out past the point of experiencing muscle aches.[2]

It expresses the belief that solid large muscle is the result of training hard. Delayed onset muscle soreness is often used as a measure of the effectiveness of a workout.[3]

In terms of the expression used for development, the discomfort caused may be beneficial in some instances while detrimental in others. Detrimental pain can include joint pain. Beneficial pain usually refers to that resulting from tearing microscopic muscle fibers, which will be rebuilt more densely, making a bigger muscle.

The expression has been adopted in a variety of sports and fitness activities, beginning in 1982 to present day.

David B. Morris wrote in The Scientist in 2005, "'No pain, no gain' is an American modern mini-narrative: it compresses the story of a protagonist who understands that the road to achievement runs only through hardship."[4] The concept has been described as being a modern form of Puritanism.[5]


The ancient Greek poet Hesiod (c. 750-650 BC) expresses this idea in Works and Days where he wrote:

...But before the road of Excellence the immortal gods have placed sweat. And the way to it is long and steep and rough at first. But when one arrives at the summit, then it is easy, even though remaining difficult.[6][7][8][9]

The ancient Greek playwright Sophocles (5th Century BC) expresses this idea in the play Electra (line 945).[7][10][11] This line is translated as: "nothing truly succeeds without pain",[12] "nothing succeeds without toil",[13] "there is no success without hard work",[14] and "Without labour nothing prospers (well)."[15]

A form of this expression is found in the beginning of the second century, written in The Ethics of the Fathers 5:23 (known in Hebrew as Pirkei Avot), which quotes Ben Hei Hei as saying, "According to the pain is the reward."[10][16][17] This is interpreted to be a spiritual lesson; without the pain in doing what God commands, there is no spiritual gain.

In 1577 British poet Nicholas Breton wrote: "They must take pain that look for any gain."[18]

One of the earliest attestations of the phrase comes from the poet Robert Herrick in his "Hesperides". In the 1650 edition, a two-line poem was added:


If little labour, little are our gains:

Man's fate is according to his pains.

— Hesperides 752.[18][19]

A version of the phrase was crafted by Benjamin Franklin, in his persona of Poor Richard (1734), to illustrate the axiom "God helps those who help themselves":

Industry need not wish, as Poor Richard says, and he that lives upon hope will die fasting. There are no gains, without pains...

— as reprinted in his The Way to Wealth (1758)[20]

In the phrase, Franklin's central thesis was that everyone should exercise 45 minutes each day.[21]  

In 1853 R. C. Trench wrote in On Lessons in Proverbs iv: "For the most part they courageously accept the law of labour, No pains, no gains,—No sweat, no sweet, as the appointed law and condition of man's life."[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ New Jersey. Division of Curriculum and Instruction (1970). Elementary Physical Education, Today. Jones & Bartlett Publishers. p. 1167.
  2. ^ "No Pain, No Gain". The American College of Foot & Ankle Orthopedics & Medicine. September 22, 2002. Archived from the original on April 5, 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-24.
  3. ^ "Monday's medical myth: no pain, no gain". 4 March 2013.
  4. ^ David B. Morris (March 28, 2005). "Belief and Narrative". The Scientist. 19 (Sup. 1).
  5. ^ Kilwein, J. H. (1 January 1989). "No Pain, No Gain: A Puritan Legacy". Health Education & Behavior. 16 (1): 9–12. doi:10.1177/109019818901600103. PMID 2703351. S2CID 20573391.
  6. ^ Tennant, John Roger Jr. (2019). Proverbial Plato: Proverbs, Gnômai, and the Reformation of Discourse in Plato's Republic (PDF) (PhD). University of California, eScholarship.
  7. ^ a b Kitchell, Kenneth F. Jr. (2019). They Said It First. Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers. p. 260. ISBN 978-1-61041-258-2.
  8. ^ Nelson, Stephanie (2008). Theogony & Works and Days. MA: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. p. 64. ISBN 978-1-58510-603-5.
  9. ^ For additional translations and analysis, see:
  10. ^ a b Schrift, Rom Y.; Kivetz, Ran; Netzer, Oded (2016). "Complicating decisions: The work ethic heuristic and the construction of effortful decisions" (PDF). Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. 145 (7): 3 / 807–809. doi:10.1037/xge0000171. PMID 27123577.
  11. ^ Raeburn, David, ed. (2008). "Electra". Electra and other plays (PDF). London: Penguin Books. p. 167 (line 945). ISBN 978-0-140-44978-5. ELECTRA: Remember, sister: no pain, no gain
  12. ^ Roisman, Hanna M. (2020). Sophocles' Electra. Oxford University Press. p. 149. ISBN 978-0-19-005359-8. nothing truly (τοι) succeeds without pain
  13. ^ Feldman, Louis (2006). "The Influence Of The Greek Tragedians On Josephus". Judaism and Hellenism Reconsidered. BRILL. p. 433. doi:10.1163/ej.9789004149069.i-930.89. ISBN 978-90-474-0873-4. What is particularly striking is Josephus' citation (War 3. 495, 5.501 , Ant. 3.58) on three occasions of the proverb that great successes never come without risk/ toil, which is very close to the of Electra 945 that nothing succeeds without toil.
  14. ^ Sophocles. Translated by Lloyd-Jones, Hugh. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 1994–1996. p. 255. ISBN 978-0-674-99557-4.
  15. ^
  16. ^ Sources connecting the expression with the passage:
  17. ^ Source for literal translation:
  18. ^ a b c Speake, Jennifer, ed. (2015). Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs. Oxford University Press. p. 228. ISBN 978-0-19-105959-9.
  19. ^ Herrick, Robert (1898). Alfred Pollardi (ed.). The Hesperides & Noble Numbers: Vol. 1 and 2. London: Lawrence & Bullen. Vol. 2, 66 & 320.
  20. ^ Franklin, Terrance (1758). The Way To Wealth. Archived from the original on 2008-03-13. Retrieved 2008-03-24.
  21. ^ Leahy, Robert L. (2018-10-04), "Emotional schemas in therapy", Emotional Schema Therapy, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, pp. 75–78, doi:10.4324/9780203711095-15, ISBN 978-0-203-71109-5, S2CID 150067953