I used to be one of them: a trainer and group fitness instructor who bragged about how sore I could make my clients. Then I had an epiphany: What if I could make people stronger without hurting them? It was all about delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) back then – back before I had kids, before I had knee surgery, before I was diagnosed with a compressed disc, before I realized how much I was hurting – It was about deliberately and systematically creating micro-tears in muscle tissue for the sake of stimulating hypertrophy (bigger muscle). The more sore you were, the stronger you would be, right? No pain, no gain!

… but what if your soreness is a developing injury, and you ignore it? This showed up on FIVE fitness pages I follow in one morning on facebook.

If you don’t believe that trainers don’t want to HURT you, here are a few quotes I’ve recently pulled off various personal trainer fan pages that I keep tabs on.

  • “[jane doe] had a special one on one POD with me today :) She is going to hurt tomorrow. Good work everyone!” 
  • “Sometimes you do have to hurt people to help them, not injure or train them incorrectly, but pain and hard work are transforming both physically and mentally.” (I’m so glad he clarified not to injure them, just put them in pain!)
  • A client repeating what her trainer said… “He thought that warming up well and foam rolling after were the best ways to manage muscle soreness, but that if you work hard, you’ll be sore, so deal.” 

Hurting is good work? Just “deal” with soreness? What if pain transforms me in the WRONG direction? I now see three HUGE problems with the pain-method of training: First, it assumes the client has a life they can afford to hobble through in pain. Second, it assumes the client wants BIGGER muscles as well as stronger muscles. Third, it assumes the client is already strong enough to withstand micro-tears in their muscles. Of course, we do our due diligence as trainers and clubs with basic Personal Activity Readiness Questionnaires (PAR-Q’s) but – let’s be honest – that’s just to protect our hind-ends from law suits. Once we don’t see any glaring health issues, we plunk the new client into our “tried and true” routines with perhaps a few minor modifications.

Two things: First, this woman is completely intimidating and unrealistic. Second, this is terrible advice! If you feel pain, you need to STOP!!! Oh, and this move is NOT diastasis-safe!

What about moms? Those women who just carried 20+ pounds of baby, placenta and amniotic fluid under their abs for ten months (a.k.a. those who rely on personal trainers and instructors to have the most accurate and up to date info on core training because they need the most help) will be HARMED more than HELPED by traditional ab exercises. But if they tell a proud, self-assured trainer or group fitness instructor that they need something different, they will get a blank look (true story), a defensive retort about who knows more (true story) or – worse! – a request for the participant to find literature to back herself up (true story) … Shouldn’t the professional go do their own research? For once? Because of the injuries I suffered while trying to “keep up” with the latest and greatest in the fitness industry, I am now passionate about working with a segment of the population who has been injured by fitness trainers and instructors who are undereducated and have run a little too far with the pain principle. There is a myth out there that if we keep people in proper alignment, they won’t get hurt. I have focused on maintaining perfect alignment in everything – wait, don’t crunches take us out of alignment? – I do for years, but that didn’t keep me from pushing too hard and getting injured! And I shudder to think of where the people are who I trained so severely 10 years ago!

When we teach people that “pain is just weakness leaving the body,” we teach them to ignore possible injury. When we teach people to “push through the pain,” we could be pushing them toward an injury. There is totally a place to “feel the burn.” However, with so many Americans already being injured with things we can’t see on the surface like diastasis, slight meniscus weakness or tearing, scar tissue from surgery, and poor nutrition when they come to us for help, shouldn’t our focus be on healing and recovery?  Too many programs and trainers fail to follow the principle of progression and allow people to start small, to listen to their body’s limits, to stay safe…. and people are getting hurt! I have come up with a whole site full of workouts that WILL NOT hurt people. They are safe. They are effective. They are fun. They are relaxing. They let the client progress in baby steps, gain confidence without hurting themselves more. Try three of my SAFE workouts today?


  1. Danny-J

    March 8, 2012 at 11:40 am

    As a trainer, I see this all too often. Its upsetting because the goal of training isn’t always just to kick the clients ass the hardest in an hour, but LISTEN to what THEY want and modify things as necessary to create confidence and build the body at a pace that they can handle.
    While I sometimes tease, that I’m going to make my clients hurt or that they’re gonna feel it, I never go into a session with the intention of just seeing how hard I can push ti they break.
    That is irresponsible and downright unsafe

  2. June Stoyer @OrganicGuru

    March 8, 2012 at 11:51 am

    Most people at some point are injured. The last thing anyone wants to do is to be pushed too far and exacerbate the injury. Working out is supposed to help the body, not harm it. Great post, Bethany!

  3. Wendy Powell
    Wendy Powell

    March 9, 2012 at 2:09 am

    I figure moms’ bodies have been through enough… they’ve DONE the ‘pain’ bit!! As trainers we need to help them heal, then re-connect, then strengthen. Sure – shape, tone & lean fit bodies take work to achieve, but work that respects the body & cares for it.

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  5. Profile wp-user-avatar wp-user-avatar-94 alignnone photo of Morgan Wilson

    March 27, 2013 at 8:25 pm

    I had a trainer get absolutely giddy when I threw up during our first session. he said that was a sign it was working. I didn’t stick with him long after that!

  6. Profile wp-user-avatar wp-user-avatar-94 alignnone photo of rosie_kate

    March 28, 2013 at 10:21 am

    When I was 17 I was in a car accident and ended up doing some physical therapy (for soft tissue injuries due to bad whiplash). I hated every minute of it. The therapist would push me until I was in tears and I would hurt for days afterward. Then just when I started feeling better, it was time for another session. It was only supposed to be a few sessions to learn some stretches and strengthening exercises to do on my own at home, but he kept having me come back, 2-3x per week for weeks and weeks. I finally quit going, even when they called and asked me to schedule an appointment.

    I like fit2b.us a WHOLE lot better. And I’m not a big fan of “working out” so I like that what I learn here I can easily apply to the daily work I do.

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