it’s an “old school” message (i grew up with it), but you didn’t sound like you were bragging; it just seems to be your experience. if that works for you, more power to you — and it does sound like it is working well, congrats! you work hard and you’ve improved your life, and i think that’s awesome. some people get buoyed by triumphing over clear adversity, and pain makes adversity very clear — that sort of works for me in the intellectual realm, where i like hard challenges, so i understand.
but it’s never worked for me physically where painful challenges demoralise me, and it kept me from exercising when i really should have (which i never knew to be anything but painful). “no pain no gain” is a message that scares off a lot of people and can lead to dysfunctional relationships with exercise, and i want to tell those people that it isn’t actually true. not all gain requires pain and not all pain leads to gain.
i could have tried to force my shoulders with the barbell, and squat with horrible form. there was no shortage of people who tried to be encouraging by saying stuff like “if it hurts you know you’re really working it” and “no excuses!”. but i know that when i feel pain, it is a signal that i have pushed too far, and that i need to do something smarter than push through it. so when i did my shoulder rehab i was most definitely not going for pain. it wasn’t easy, my shoulders were aching, and i could feel that i had worked them, but it also was never actively painful. my weightlifting in general has not been painful. and i love it, in part for being pain-free. and it’s working; the best thing about lifting is that progress is so easily measurable.
which probably explains why i’m still doing it months later instead of looking for something else, or falling off the wagon entirely. i’ve even started running (today i ran for 8 out of 30 minutes, a personal best for at least 2 decades), primarily to assess whether my lifting improves cardiovascular fitness (yup!). and for the first time since i can remember i didn’t hate it. my leg muscles have gotten strong enough so my ankles and knees no longer hurt (more proof that so much weight loss talk directed at me was so much bullshit). that made running FUN. i was huffing and puffing like a steam locomotive, but i was not in pain. that was totally amazing. and of course i want to do more of it.
so if “no pain no gain” scares anyone, don’t listen to it. go for painless, slow, steady progress instead. it’ll also get you there; tortoise-style instead of hare. ;)