No Pain, No Gain? The Truth About Exercise and Results

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The comedian Emo Phillips said, “At my lemonade stand I used to give the first glass away free and charge five dollars for the second glass. The refill contained the antidote.” There’s a huge correlation between the genius of Emo’s sales method, which I am certain resulted in huge lemonade sales, and how most exercise programs are sold today. I, of all people should know this since I had the dubious honor of being the personality selling fitness via both infomercial and QVC. And, although I didn’t use Emo’s slick sale method, others did. Trust me on this, the Emo method of selling fitness is alive and well!

As it pertains to selling an exercise solution, the Emo method goes something like this; “Buy XYZ for a quick and easy way to blast away those love handles!” In other words, “Come and get your FREE ice cold lemonade.” Then, unwittingly, before you can wipe away the fresh lemon juice from your lips, you hear, “Oh, by the way, though tasty, that glass was poisonous… I do have the antidote, but it will cost you!”

When P.T. Barnum famously said, in the late 1800s,”There is a sucker born every minute,” he was nearly 100 years shy of the onslaught of the over-the-top ridiculously sensational fitness advertising that reached its crescendo in the 21st century. Certainly if Barnum were alive today he would have said, “There’s a sucker born every second.”

If you Google “quick and easy exercise,” you’ll find over 18 million links. That’s a lot of free lemonade! Clearly people are still looking for the holy grail of exercise:  The quick and easy, no sweat, little effort exercise program… that delivers huge results. Billions of dollars are spent yearly, convincing the gullible that the magic-fitness-formula has finally arrived, and you can buy it today for three easy payments of only $19.95!

But wait, there’s more

If you’re one of those still looking for this elusive new body miracle, I understand. As someone who has consulted and lectured on health and fitness now for over 20-years, I’ve seen my share of those who desperately want the gain without the pain, the payoff without the perspiration, the bikini body without the blood sweat and tears. But trust me, that’s not how it works. If you do take the free lemonade, you’ll pay big time for the antidote!

Do you really believe for a second that the buxom blond with the beautiful biceps and the washboard abs got that body using the machine she’s sitting on? Come on now, you know better than that. Generally speaking, when you see a body to die for, you’re seeing a body that someone nearly died for. It’s usually a combination of rigorous nutrition and exercise, and it didn’t happen overnight.

Over the last year or so there have been several TV specials where magicians reveal the secret behind how a particular magic act is performed. There was a big deal made out of this by certain magicians not wanting the public to see how it’s done. When I’m lecturing on fitness, and I tell the audience in no uncertain terms that fun and easy fitness is a myth, and that when it comes to exercise, no-pain usually means no-gain, I feel like the magician taking the heat from his colleagues for revealing the big secret. “Dave, what are you doing? Don’t you know that if you tell people the truth− that fun and easy exercise is not effective─ nobody will want to exercise?”

Bill Curry, NFL great and collegiate head football coach, has a favorite saying, “There are only two pains in life, the pain of discipline, and the pain of regret.” I love that perspective. He’s absolutely right. Anything worth anything in this life takes discipline. If you set a worthwhile goal, and by discipline and perseverance you reach that goal, it’s a sure bet it was painful getting there.

You see, pain is a multifaceted word. Something can be painful without actually hurting you. Look carefully at each of the following words, all of which appear in the dictionary definitions of the word pain; distress, suffering, laborious, troublesome, penalty, anguish, excruciating. It’s true that nothing comes from nothing.

There’s an old illustration that I’ve used over the years to explain the value of pressure, stress and hard work. If you take a bar of steel that’s worth $10, and turn it into a horseshoe game it’s worth $30. Take the same bar of steel and make pocket knife blades, and it’s now worth over $2,000. Take that same bar of steel and make it into springs for watches, and it’s worth over $300,000. In other words, the more that bar of steel is pounded, heated, stretched, twisted, and pounded some more, the higher the value. It works exactly the same way with the human body, only substitute higher value with in greater shape physically.

Back in the day

When I played professional football I was in the greatest shape of my life. Trust me, it was painful! Was it worth it? You bet it was. Then a funny thing happened. I stepped out of pro ball and into a sedentary job. That was fine by me; I was ready to sit down! But my body began to change. My clothes didn’t fit the same anymore− in fact some didn’t fit at all! This was because I was still eating like an NFL offensive lineman, and was no longer exercising−convinced I had already exercised enough for several lifetimes.

I discovered that many of my neighbors and friends where struggling with the same problem, also wanting to lose weight and get back in shape. But I found there was a huge disconnect when it came to their ideas about realistically what it would take to accomplish that. Most of them were falling right into the free lemonade trap, and buying into the hype of quick and easy fitness. Most had purchased the latest fad machine or exercise program, only to quit two weeks later because (A) it was much harder than they thought it would be, or (B) they could not see results worthy of their efforts thus far.

Mickey Rooney used to say, “Always get married early in the morning. That way, if it doesn’t work out, you haven’t wasted a whole day.” Most people’s commitment to reaching their fitness goals are sadly very close to Mickey’s commitment to marriage.

In my subdivision, after the first of every year, it appears that the whole neighborhood is preparing for the Olympic Games. Then three weeks later reality sets in and the streets are empty. They realize it isn’t going to be pain free, and it’s going to take much longer than they thought. So they do what every gullible body-beautiful-wannabe does, they replace their running shoes with their slippers and exercise their index finger searching Google for “quick and easy exercise.”

You CAN handle the truth

The one thing I had going for me as an ex professional athlete, over my naive neighbors, was that I knew the truth about how the human body works when it comes to exercise and results. If you want to lose fat, shape your body and regain your strength and stamina, you’re going to have to grunt, groan, and grimace every step of the long hard road — that is, if you really want to reach your goals.

The good news is that most exercise programs really do work. The bad news is that they only work if you really, really work hard at giving it all you’ve got, and never give up. It’s never easy. The FREE lemonade is poison, and the antidote is costly. No guts no glory; no sweat, no swimming suit; no breathing hard, no hard body; no pain, no gain!

Image credit: M. Rasoulov

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