No Pain, No Gain Needs to Make a Comeback

Rain Bennett


Chapel Hill, North Carolina, United States

Calisthenics, Bodyweight Exercise


Just as I was about to prepare my first meal of the day, I get a call from a frantic client.



“Dude! I just fell and completely screwed up my wrist! It’s so bad.”

“Jeez. What were you doing?”


“Michael, you’re 50.”



I’ve been working with this client over the past few months. He came to me because he struggles to put on weight and wanted to start building strength and muscle mass. As a 50 year old musician, he didn’t have a history with fitness. I realized that it was critical to build his foundation and some body-awareness first.


Michael is the type of guy who likes to try different hobbies and fully immerse himself into them, with not much attention given to anything else during the hobby’s lifespan. This is both a strength and a tragic flaw for him.


After building up some basic core strength and focusing on his posterior chain, I added in basic calisthenics—push ups, pull ups, and dips. More slowly than he wanted (they all want it immediately, don’t they?), but as surely as I knew he would, he started to gain strength and muscle growth. He didn’t believe it for weeks, but I saw it.


Then, almost overnight, his strength and mobility made significant gains, as well as his self-esteem. Yet almost just as quickly, he suffered a sidelining wrist injury, due to a second hobby he’d recently picked up, skateboarding.


Practice What You Preach

I’m not one to knock trying new things just because a person is aging. I landed my first back tuck at age 32. But he had never skated in his life and was out there with the kids trying to hit jumps. More importantly, it took away from his initial goal, and he was an emotional wreck. We spent a lot more time on core and legs, but he couldn’t do any upper body work. In the mirror, his muscles faded away just as fast as his confidence did. My job shifted more into the “therapist” role of personal training.




As fate would have it, I suffered a wrist injury at the same time. It initially happened boxing, but was compounded by many muscle ups, and moving my furniture into a new house —we’ll simply call it an overuse injury. It was not as severe as Michael's and I probably could have toughed it out, but I saw it as an opportunity to practice what I preach, for once.


It was not easy. My muscle ups had been getting super clean, and I really wanted to be able to play with the athletes I was hosting at a competition in Sacramento in a few weeks. But instead of being stubborn, I took two weeks off, completely off, from strength training. I used it as an opportunity to focus on areas I’d been neglecting—my speed and cardio endurance (sparring for the first time in 10 years showed me how out of shape I was).


I spent two weeks playing soccer and cycling. It was tough at first, my capacity being at around 30 minutes of maximum output. But each day I started to go faster and longer and that holiday weight I gained started to shed. At the end of the two weeks, I peaked with a 7v7 soccer tournament, playing two straight hours of soccer (pro matches are 90 minutes). It was tough, but at 35 I was outlasting the 18 year olds and I felt good about that.


After a Sunday of rest, Monday came and it was time to get back to work. I was worried that I had lost the progress on my muscle up, straddle planche, and front lever. But as I grabbed the bar and pulled, not only did I not lose my strength, I felt lighter and therefore stronger. I floated straight up and over the bar with ease. It was clear that my rest had allowed me to grow.


No Pain, No Gain

Coincidentally during this period of time, I’d been reading Principles by Ray Dalio, legendary investor and founder of the largest hedge fund in the world. In the book, he talks about first, second, and third-order consequences. He says, “People who overweigh the first-order consequences of their decisions and ignore the effects that the second and subsequent-order consequences will have on their goals rarely reach their goals." The similarities to my client’s (and my) situation were clear.


The first-order consequence of his injury was that he hated life on the sideline. He was depressed and only focusing on the fact that he couldn’t continue moving forward as quickly as he wanted. He was overweighing it. I spoke to him every day to get him out of this mindstate. I wanted him to focus on the second order-consequence of the injury which was that he would heal and be able to stay stronger in the long run, instead of “working through it” and potentially damaging his wrist more seriously.


Like me, he saw improvements in his weaker areas during this time. His posture got better, he figured out how to activate his core, and he completely stopped complaining about the pain in his lower back (a previous problem area). He thought we were just biding time with any exercises we could until his wrist healed, but I knew that strengthening these areas would then lead to the third-order consequence—he would have a stronger core and be able to control his body much more, making his exercises have better form and be more effective. Not only would his body properly heal so he could have longevity, but he would actually come back stronger. I experienced the same thing when I built up my endurance and lost extra weight.


The old adage “no pain, no gain” is nearly accepted as myth nowadays. But maybe, just maybe, a little pain can help you gain. As Dalio says, “pain gives you direction,” and if used to stay focused on your long term goals, and not the first-order consequences, I’d say that is a gain. After all, the real goal in almost anything should be longevity and lasting results.


This can be best summed up best by my friend Dan John, who says that the keys to success in the “Three F’s” (fitness, finance and … um … relationships) is the same: you need to give attention to them a little bit, often, and over the long haul.

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