The proverb “no pain, no gain” has been used regularly since the 1980s but has been in existence in one form or another dating back to the second century. The phrase suggests that someone needs to suffer in order to achieve their goals. It also implies that the greater the suffering, the greater the reward.
Explore the saying 'No pain, no gain'
Meaning of “No pain, no gain”
“No pain, no gain” is used to suggest that one cannot achieve something without suffering for it. It’s through the “pain” that one gets the “gain.” Depending on the context, the phrase can be used seriously or more lightheartedly. For instance, it’s going to have a different effect if it’s used to describe one’s effort to lose weight than if it’s used to describe someone’s risky financial venture.
When To Use “No pain, no gain”
It’s possible to use “no pain, no gain” in a wide variety of situations and when speaking about everything from exercise to relationship struggles. One might use the phrase in order to remind a friend that despite the stress they’re under, or the sacrifices they’ve had to make, that their hard work is going to pay off. Despite the phrase’s good-natured intentions, it’s possible that it can come off as frivolous or un-empathetic. For example, if someone brushes off another’s concerns with “no pain, no gain” without really listening to what they’re going through.
- Remember what Jane Fonda says, no pain, no gain.
- You can get through this, no pain, no gain.
- I kept telling myself “no pain, no gain” and that helped me finish my workout.
- She told me “no pain, no gain” right when I thought I was going to quit and it didn’t help at all.
- I’m tired of hearing people say “no pain, no gain.” Some pain isn’t worth the gain.
Why Do Writers Use “No pain, no gain?”
Writers use “no pain, no gain” in the same way and for the same reasons that one might use it in everyday speech. It’s easy to imagine the phrase appearing in a piece of dialogue between two people, one of whom is suffering under the burden of work or family stress. In order to lighten the mood while also encouraging their friend, the other might use “no pain, no gain” as a way of suggesting that if they persevere through hardship that there will be “gains” on the other side. It should be noted that this phrase is incredibly well-known and well used. While it’s still effective, it does not have the same impact it used to due to its overuse.
“No pain, no gain” is thought to date back to the second century. It can be found in a quote from The Ethics of the Fathers, or in Hebrew, Pirkei Avot. The line reads:
Rabbi Ben Hei Hei says, “According to the pain is the gain.”
This line was meant as a piece of spiritual advice meant to encourage believers to endure pain in order to what God commands of them. If they do, then there’s a spiritual gain, and if they don’t, then they’ll suffer a loss.
There is another good example from ‘Hesperides,’ a poem from 1650 by Robert Herrick. The lines read:
If little labour, little are our gains:
Man’s fate is according to his pains.
Here, the phrase is taken out of a purely religious context and used to describe the broader struggles “man” goes through on a daily basis. If those struggles are “little” then so too will be the “gains.” One’s fate, Herrick asserts, is determined by hard they’re willing to work and suffer.
The phrase was popularized in much more recent years, by the actress Jane Fonda in a series of exercise workout videos. She used this phrase, as well as “Feel the burn,” and others to encourage participants to work as hard as they could. Herrick used the phrase to describe life gains and life struggles and Fonda focused it on physical gains in the realm of one’s health. Both required pain and sacrifice to achieve them. Since Fonda used it in the early 80s, it’s been adopted by a variety of different sport and exercise-based programs.
Related Idioms and Proverbs
- “A blessing in disguise.”
- “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”
- “By the skin of your teeth.”
- “Don’t cry over split milk.”