Pain Is NOT Weakness Leaving The Body

If you’re a dancer, or honestly any sort of athlete then you’ve probably heard the phrase “Pain is weakness leaving your body.” It’s a commonly repeated phrase which supposes that pain is a natural part of training and perseverance through pain is how you become stronger. The problem is that not a single part of this statement is either true or accurate. 

What Is Pain?

Pain is the body’s response to “noxious” or harmful stimuli. The stimuli occurs in the body and this triggers nerves to send signals to the brain that are then interpreted as pain. Pain can vary from mild to intolerable and the same amount of noxious stimuli can be experienced as a different level of pain to different people. In this way pain is subjective. We each experience pain differently. 

But this is not to say that pain is something we should ignore. That’s a misconception. The reason we experience the sensation of pain is because it is a defense mechanism. It’s our body’s way of letting our brain know that something is being damaged. We evolved to experience pain so that we can know when an injury is occurring and take action to prevent it.  

Listen To Your Pain.

Pain is a very instructive tool when training. Because it allows us to know when something is being damaged, we should be listening to our pain so that we can modify how we do things so as to accomplish our training goals WITHOUT pain. In this way, short lived pain is the body’s way of saying “This isn’t working, try something different.” In the same sense, long term pain is the body’s way of saying “Something’s wrong and we need to fix it.”

And here is where the phase “pain is weakness leaving your body” is so harmful to dancers and athletes. By suggesting that pain is something to be endured so as to get stronger, what we are really telling our performing artist is that you should continue to cause damage to your body in the hopes that you will become stronger for it, and that’s simply not what’s going to happen. Instead, the dancer will likely create bad habits that lead to pain and as a result injur themselves and then re-injure themselves because they believe that pain is something to be pushed through. 

So How Do We Fix This?

The answer is simply a matter of changing our perspective. We need to understand that pain is  our body’s warning system and that when we encounter pain it’s a sign that something isn’t right and we need to change something about our approach to training. Additionally, if we are experiencing long term pain or pain that keeps coming back, we need to get rid of this highly toxic notion that pain makes us stronger. Instead we need to seek out care and make sure that we are getting treatment for our injuries so that we can dance long and healthy careers. 

Let’s Change the Phrase!

So if pain is NOT weakness leaving the body, what is? When we train we want to get stronger, it’s why we train. But pushing through pain is only going to harm us in the end. So instead of seeing pain as a weakness leaving the body, we should see things like soreness and fatigue, which get better with each successive workout, as weakness leaving the body. Feeling tired and a little sore after a workout, only to be able to come back the next time and do more and push farther before that same sense of tiredness and soreness comes on is a great way of gauging your progress while training. We like soreness and fatigue as long as it gets better with each workout. We don’t like living in pain!