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No pain, plenty of gain: Why taking it easy can be the key to getting fitter – and happier

By Joel Snape

06 Mar 2023 · 7 min read

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There is something about the easy memorability of motivational quotes such as “no pain no gain” that makes them feel instinctively right_._ This could be partly because, as at least one psychological study suggests, we believe things more readily when they rhyme. It also makes a sort of intuitive sense to those of us who, even if we do exercise, are not as fast, muscular or lean as we’d like. There must be something we’re getting wrong; is it our unwillingness to endure pain, or the discomfort of extreme effort? But how true is the adage, and is it possible to make gains without feeling the burn?

“In fitness, the answer is always: ‘It depends,’” says Zack Cahill, a senior trainer at Evolve Fitness in London. “What is the goal? What are you trying to achieve in the workout?” For aerobic exercise such as longer runs, the slower and longer you go, the better. So, if you’re planning on tackling your first 5k – or even a marathon – it’s fine to take your training sessions at a modest pace at which you could still hold a (slightly out-of-breath) conversation. “Most training for endurance events should be done to build a strong aerobic engine, which means easy runs,” says strength and endurance coach Beatrice Schaer.

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