Well, yes and no!
It’s true that making any change in your lifestyle, be it exercise, diet, sleep, etc., is going to come with a certain amount of discomfort. Getting people to modify their lifestyle, even slightly, is met with resistance. Once they commit to making a change, there is a tendency to go overboard and make massive changes. This usually results in massive failures as well.
The human animal is adverse to pain. As a matter of fact, people will go to extreme lengths to avoid even the slightest amount of pain. It’s both fascinating and pitiful to watch...
In the case of working out, if you introduce a beginner, or even a seasoned athlete, to extreme workouts, they are not going to react well. I know that this concept does appeal to some people; all you have to do is look at the success of your mainstream CrossFit gyms for an example of that. But the majority of other people who are looking to workout are going to be put off by the intensity and aftereffects of that sort of program.
So, what is the answer to the "no pain, no gain" conundrum?
The answer lies in finding an exercise program that will constantly challenge you to do a little more than your last workout and that you will stick with. The missing element in most people’s approach to working out is consistency!
Consistency is the most important element, and it makes any program effective. If you can do something, regardless of the discipline, consistently, you will get amazing results.
It’s the all-or-nothing, no pain, no gain mentality that will lead most people to abandon even a good program. Look, you don’t have to have the perfect program to get results, and this encompasses exercise, diet, sleep, etc.; you just need to do something that you can challenge yourself with and do it consistently. That means you can do it week after week, month after month, year after year, and decade after decade.
I know from personal experience and working with clients for over twenty years that the intensity, volume, and density of your workouts will change over the decades. But if you choose wisely, what you are doing won’t.
Remember, your body will not let you keep it in constant pain. It will rebel, and the results are not going to be fun. But if you can nudge it along, get it to work a little bit harder, do a little bit more, maybe just do one more rep, your body won’t fight back. Instead, it will adapt to the new demands and allow you to move forward at a reasonable pace that will keep you motivated and ready to meet the demands of any new challenge.