No pain, no gain was a very prevalent attitude when I began coaching in the late Sixties and surprisingly it continues to persist today. I personally have never been able to figure out the appeal of this approach. Proper training in the weight room or on the field demands that the athlete be pushed to test their limits. Some workouts are very difficult and other workouts will almost seem easy. This ebb and flow of hard efforts interspersed with easier efforts is essential allow for proper adaptation. I really think the no pain; no gain approach is a direct outgrowth of the fact that historically strength & conditioning was a field driven by football. It was the football strength & conditioning coach who set the tempo for the programs because they were often the head strength coach. The mastodon mentality that pervaded football in the fifties and the sixties served to reinforce the no pain, no gain approach. After all in those days players were not allowed to take their helmets off during practice and not allowed to drink during practice. The whole goal was to make the players tough, so without pain there was no gain!
That should be changing today with the accumulation of knowledge and experience that we have. I do not know about you, but I want my athletes tough on game day. That should be the goal of training. A thoroughly conditioned athlete who is supremely confident in his or her physical preparation will be mentally and physically tough. Physically and psychologically an athlete can only go to the well so many times before it will begin to deplete their reserves. There is no doubt in my mind that a good sport coach or athlete development coach can get athletes to train and perform beyond levels that the athletes ever thought possible. To achieve this does not mean you have to inflict pain. Pushing the envelope is uncomfortable. Athletes in training must get comfortable with a certain level of discomfort.
As coaches we are teachers. It is our job to teach the athletes we work with how to train. Training is more than feeling the burn. In fact when you do feel the burn that is often a sign that the training is incorrect. It does not take a genius to devise a workout that can bury someone, that is not training. Good movements require effort, concentration and intensity. I have found that this is the hardest lesson to get across to today’s athletes. I certainly do not want to discourage an athlete from working hard, but I feel I must teach what training is. Training is cumulative, it is more than one heavy training session, and it is the cumulative effect of many sessions over a period of week’s and months. Keeping each workout in the context of the whole program. It is hard for a young athlete to think about or see the big picture so we as coaches have paint a very clear picture so they can see where they are going and the steps they must take to get there.
Training is not punishment; it is an opportunity to get better. If we can shift our thinking to this approach then the no gain, no gain school has no credibility. The question is: Are you making the athletes better or are you making them tired? If you are just making them tired then I would suggest you look at another approach. Remember willingness to work is a given prerequisite for success, but it must be purposeful, directed and nurtured. There is gain without pain, but it demands patience and a plan well executed.