Five Fitness Phrases That Need To Go

No Pain No Gain

Encouraging and motivating fitness clients with the “right” words go with the territory of being a health and fitness professional. While there are many inspiring quotes and fitness phrases we can toss at our clients during a session, there are some messages that – may have been well-intended at their inception – carry a less than inspirational tone. What we say to (and about) our clients should be meaningful and positively influence their individual processes of success and goal achievement.

Forbidden Fitness Phrase

“No pain, no gain”

While this fitness phrase was meant to share the message that some soreness (and slight discomfort) during and after exercise is a normal response to physical training, it can imply that unless the body is hurting or destroyed, one isn’t making progress towards a meaningful goal. This isn’t true. As a body becomes more trained and more fit, the frequency with which someone will experience soreness reduces, but he or she can still be making physical gains and achieving fitness goals.

“Eat less, move more”

At first glance, this fitness phrase oversimplifies the science of weight loss and weight management. Its original interpretation was meant to highlight a need for reducing caloric intake and increasing caloric expenditure in order to promote weight loss. These two things are true – we need to be mindful of over-consuming calories and spending too much time being sedentary – the combination of which leads to a variety of hypokinetic diseases. However, weight loss is not necessarily a solitary goal, but the outcome of implementing thoughtful and positive behavior change into one’s lifestyle. In other words: healthy weight management.

“Strong is the new skinny”

Being skinny does not equal being healthy. And being strong is not always visibly apparent. A state of health should not be defined by physical appearance. This would be like using BMI alone to determine someone’s health risk. Everybody is different and this phrase tends to place a greater perceived value or emphasis on how a client’s body looks versus how a client’s body feels. Health, fitness, and general wellness are measured by more than physical measurements and are related to metabolic fitness (fasting blood glucose, organ function, inflammation markers, blood lipid profiles, etc.), energy level, sleep quality, life enjoyment, stress level, and nutritional balance.

“Go hard or go home”

This is similar to “train insane or remain the same”. Not every workout is meant to (or should) be high intensity or extremely difficult. If every workout were, progress may be stunted as the body is unlikely to fully recover before the next intense bout of exercise. This phrase is likely meant to encourage individuals to work hard to make gains, but it can also shame those who simply aren’t physically able to work out at a high intensity (those suffering from disease, injury, or who are new to exercise) or simply don’t enjoy that level of intensity. Certainly, it is recommended that most healthy and capable people engage in moderate exercise several times a week.

“Fitness is 30% Gym, 70% Nutrition”

Everyone has their own version of this fitness phrase it seems: 20/80 and 10/90 splits are often quoted. It’s true, achieving performance gains and fitness goals require sound, solid, and balanced nutrition practices. However, there really isn’t a “fixed” percentage related to either side of this combination. Body composition and physical fitness are impacted by multiple factors – not just exercise and food. Genetics, current health status (meaning if a person is battling some injury or illness – chronic or acute), muscle mass, behaviors, sleep, etc. Fitness can’t be effectively (or accurately) defined by two factors – however influential each of them is.

Choosing words carefully and/or explaining the likely well-intended meaning behind a played-out phrase is part of the responsibility of an effective personal trainer. What fitness phrases have you heard that may have a different impact than the original meaning?




Dr. Erin Nitschke, NFPT-CPT, NSCA-CPT, ACE Health Coach, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Therapeutic Exercise Specialist, and Pn1 is a health and human performance college professor, fitness blogger, mother, and passionate fitness professional. She has over 15 years of experience in the fitness industry and college instruction. Erin believes in the power of a holistic approach to healthy living. She loves encouraging her clients and students to develop body harmony by teaching focused skill development and lifestyle balance. Erin is also the Director of Educational Partnerships & Programs for the NFPT. Erin is an editorial author for ACE, IDEA, The Sheridan Press, and the Casper Star Tribune. Visit her personal blog at