Below is not an exhaustive list, but rather a starting point. If you’re an instructor who has used or continues to use these phrases, I’ve provided some examples of what to say instead to get your intended point across. If you’re a fitness class participant, I’ve also included some tips on how you can reframe these messages into something more positive, if you happen to hear one in class. And if you’re seeing these messages on social media, simply recognizing these sayings can be helpful to prevent the spread of this language and work toward a more inclusive and welcoming fitness environment. We all can continue to do better.
Note: While not on this list, anything that is racist, sexist, homophobic, harmful, hateful, deragatory, fat-phobic, or offensive to any person or group of people has NO place anywhere. Full stop. Just no.
1. “No pain, no gain.”
This is an oldie, not-so-goodie that has been passed down from generations of not only fitness instructors, but also from high school and college sports coaches.
The intention might be there, but this verbal relic misses the mark. Yes, gaining strength, endurance, mobility, speed, skill, mental toughness, or the like does inherently include growth. And this growth can be challenging, and may not always feel great. But, “pain” beyond the expected burning muscles, soreness, breathlessness, and other short-term, achy feelings that accompany exertion may mean that you’ve pushed too far. And that can lead to injury, or make you dread your workout all together, because who wants to feel that all the time?
What to say instead: This is your chance to educate your participants on what they might be feeling and what they should not. Give examples of what is “normal” (“During those walking lunges, your quads might be burning or you might feel an achy soreness tomorrow.”) and what’s not (“You shouldn’t feel sharp pain in your knee.”) Being specific teaches people the signals to look for in their bodies.
If you hear this: Recognize that some discomfort is expected, especially when trying a new type of movement. However, sharp pain, persistent pain, any popping, tingling, numbness, inability to catch your breath, or anything that doesn’t feel right is a sign to stop, rest, take some time off and also to see a professional. No “gain” will come from continuing movement with a pain that is injurious. So when you hear this phrase, try to tell yourself that discomfort can accompany growth, but over-extending beyond your body’s limitations might lead to setbacks and injuries.
2. “You can do anything for 30 seconds.”
First of all, this is hyperbole. In the case of fitness/yoga/movement, it might be true in some circumstances, but could be detrimental in others—say, by continuing on with a move well after your form has declined. I think we can agree that completing something with problematic form is not worth the risk: an injury waiting to happen.