Want To Succeed? You Must Raise Your Pain Threshold

We all know about it. The uncomfortable state you feel during your sets. The painful verge you must push through to increase the gains from your workout. You don’t really feel it coming during your first few repetitions, but you know it is imminent as you squeeze out a few more contractions.

When it comes it does so indefinitely. You push yourself to complete that last rep, despite the pain and strong need for reprieve for your muscles. You feel proud for completing that final hard set of shoulder presses, but you wonder if you could have done just one more. You wonder if today you were not at your peak performance, or if it was simply avoidance on your part.

We can’t lie to ourselves, and it is better to admit it takes a certain degree of fortitude to keep it going just a bit longer during that moment of struggle. Easier said than done. Your mind wants you to do that one extra rep, for you know it’s best for your muscles to stimulate strength and growth. Your muscles, however, urge you to cease movement, they are selfish and do not share the same intentions. They could care less about being strengthened, all they care about is being provided with nutrients and doing their function of movement as little as possible.

As humans we move toward pleasure and move away from pain. Naturally, in all our endeavors we look for the path of least resistance. We are inherently lazy. It could not be more ideal to succeed with merely minimal effort. Moreover, like all things in life nothing worth having comes easily.

Muscle growth and development, a quality physique and body, is no different.

What you must do

For you to excel with these goals, it is necessary to raise your pain threshold. The point at which you feel so much pain and discomfort that you are pleaded to quit. Where you attempt to rationalize, by telling yourself you’ve already put in a good effort today. You’ve already done two difficult sets. You’ve already had a few solid workouts this week.

To take your training to the next level, this barrier has to be overcome.

To an extent, you start to raise your pain threshold naturally as you gain more experience with weight training. The other day I led a friend of mine through her first workout. She struggled at persisting through the pain. Her sets came up shorter than the point I believe she could have reached. Of course, this is relative to the individuals level of strength and endurance, which would be low for a beginner. However, she was not yet accustomed or well-versed in the intensity required to push to her true limit and exceed her own edge.

Generally, women are not as resilient in the gym as men. However, I’ve seen and trained with some women that have very high pain thresholds, due to time, experience, and exposure to training.

Evidently it’s something that you develop with time, and is a natural byproduct of training, no matter how unpractical the latter may be.

Furthermore, to improve your potential for gains, development, and reach your realistic and ideal physique in a more efficient manner, you have to raise your pain threshold by your own means. You have to consciously focus your effort, and make this your objective.


Most people train to reach X number of repetitions for Y number of sets, at Z number of weight. While this can be productive, it is best to aim to train at an intensity that overwhelms your level of comfort. Don’t worry about how much weight you are lifting, for now. Rather, focus your efforts on how much you are stressing your muscles past the point of ultimate agony and strain. How much and how long you can withstand the pain. How much you can overcome this harsh state, despite the efforts of your physical body to resist.

Training does not only involve and develop physical strength. The mental aspect to training is so often overlooked and is equally a key component.

Training your legs is a great example of a time where you are most exposed to your pain threshold. Lower body training is hard, as you have likely discovered. With that said, it is an excellent opportunity to meet and challenge your limit of pain.

The more you can endure, the more you can feel it at work; the higher you set your threshold. And with a higher threshold, you are able to train at higher intensities that can involve higher levels of strength and endurance. With that, you have a higher potential for development and training success.

Next time you feel the build-up of pain and the threshold soon coming, welcome it with a hunger to exceed. This is an opportunity to take yourself to new heights from a training perspective and increase your boundary for success.

Read More: How To Grow In Times Of Pain


66 thoughts on “Want To Succeed? You Must Raise Your Pain Threshold”

    1. I’ve thought of myself as a poor man’s Franco. What a beast he was in his prime. At age 64 I’m still pushing the iron. I broke all my personal records at ages 59-60, then ran into some aging orthopedic problems. I fought back. When you’re short you fight back or get rolled over in life. I’m about 93-95% of where I was 4 years ago and plan to keep going as long as I can. I love to work out.

      1. Good for you, man! I’m about half of your age and have been hitting weights hard since Freshman year in high school. I was short, skinny, had big glasses and am ethnic to boot. It was easy to pick on me at that time. They story sure changed by Senior year! Keep up the good work and never give up. Once the exercise goes, everything goes. Don’t let your age dictate anything you “should” do, only yourself!

      1. Those 70s pioneers still had the best physiques- big and strong, but not to the freakish proportions of todays guys. The guy who won Olympia last yr has the largest shoulders Ive ever seen, and it doesnt look good..

        1. I agree.
          Lighter weight men such as Columbu or Frank Zane wouldn’t earn so much as a sneeze in the Olympia today–and they’re some of my favorites.

        2. Yup – Arnold and co looked good. Ronnie Coleman looks like an overpacked sausage.

  1. This is what I’ve found with crossfit, the ability to endure pain and discomfort is key to improving your scores.

    1. Is cross fit particularly beneficial? I found it to be a good alternative for legs but it seems a bit aerobic to me.

  2. The cover picture is fake. He’s huge yet he’s making such a face as if he’s lifting really heavy weights. Those weights look like 7-10kg max each!

      1. It’s clearly an isolation lift–most likely dumbbell lateral raises (albeit with a bit of cheating)–seemingly 30-35 pounds, so I agree with your estimation more than that of “Ivan Asen II.”
        Poundage, however, does not matter to this man since he is probably interested in bodybuilding. If he can get the contraction and rep range that he’s looking for with 20 pound weights, then great.
        He looks to me like a man who couldn’t care less about the weights that he is lifting–just the affect that his various lifts/poundages have on the quality of his muscular development.

        1. In other words, he’s a girl who wants to snap selfies and look at all the lovely lumps he’s made so that he can now stare at them in the mirror. BARBELL ONLY.

    1. Naw.
      If he’s isolating the lateral head of his delts, then 25-35 lbs is enough to make a man his size scream when he approaches failure at 12-15 reps.
      He’s obviously ‘cheating,’ so your point is taken.

      1. plus he could be on like the 100th rep. i work out at home, but i sometimes think how much of a pussy i might look like at the gym to someone who sees me struggling with 15-pound dumbbells at the end of a strip set at the very end of a hard upper-body workout.

        1. If you’re doing that at the gym, who cares? It’s only YOU that worries what they are thinking. You minus well wear the bright neon color yoga pants and makeup to have people make a move on you with that mindset.

        2. whoa there. calm down, take a deep breath, and stop projecting your weird fantasies about yoga pants and make-up. i didn’t say i cared, just said it’s something that’s crossed my mind.

        3. It’s ok. I’m just busting your chops. Not a direct attack towards you. Just wanted to point out that if one works out at the gym, one should not be concerned about what other people may think. The fact that you get yourself motivated to work out makes you a better person than 90% of the lazy slobs here in America.

      2. If he’s ‘isolating the lateral head of his delts’ then he is a cosmetic faggot. BARBELL ONLY

      3. Absolutely. Do 2 X 12 alternating side and front lifts. The pain in your delts will make you cry like a babe…

    1. Illinois, my home state is in such dire straits that despite being one of the deep bluest states in the country, just elected a Republican businessman governor. Good luck to him, but I think it may be too late.

  3. Stop over thinking shit and just lift the fucking weights. Consistently repeat it for a few years and you’ll look better and be stronger than 99% of the planet. Philosophizing about ”pain thresholds” and whatever else is a waste of time. Shut up, lift, and get on with the rest of your life.

    1. But without the right supplement regime how can I even lift? I hope we get an article soon to finally settle the gloves/straps/bare hand debate.

      1. The debate is now over. You don’t need gloves. Just sit back and watch the weights lift themselves.

    2. As a child I was in a Russian circus, I had relative who was noted for ‘feats of strength’ and he trained me. Back then, first not being a national of Russia was frightening enough, but seeing how strong men are back then compared to what 21st century people say they can do, was scary. The circus was important to people who lived in what was a dead culture, and every one of the performers embraced pain like it was part of their life, no one tried to analyze. I learned many first hand, better to go for the lift and give your best, sometimes get hurt, than to be a chicken and never push yourself.

    3. I strongly recommend against doing that “one extra rep” and pushing through the pain barrier. That is the path to chronic injury. Spoken by one with chronic injuries.

  4. When I turned 30 I dumped all isolation exercises.
    That’s a good start. They seem to hurt more than compound lifts for no real strength gains

    1. Interesting.
      Are you into strength training, bodybuilding, or a little bit of both?
      If you are a bodybuilder yet have not noticed any diminution in the quality and size of the muscles typically ‘isolated’ by bodybuilders, then I’d be very interested in hearing about your experience.
      These isolated [bodybuilding] muscles being: bis [curl variations], tris [extensions/skull-crushers/press-downs/kickbacks and others], quads [extensions/hacks], hams [curls/wide-foot presses], pecs [fly variations/pullovers], delts [dumbbell/cable lateral variations], traps [shrug variations], lats [straight-arm pull-downs], calves, lower-back/core, neck and forearms.
      I predictably get dinged-up while training, but the reason that your comment struck me was that [after thinking about it] I could basically find the origin for each ding/injury in some ‘isolation’ lift.
      The question is: have you made considerable bodybuilding gains–post-30–without any isolation lifts or injury?

      1. I’ll clarify that I’m no pro in either. Boxing is my thing, pads and sparring. I had a bodybuilding period in my 20s and compared to then, yes my definition and size has certainly diminished. Definition was always a struggle because I haven’t got the right genes. Plus isolation exercises seem to hurt my joints more.
        In answer to your question, I don’t look as good as when I was 27, but I am stronger. Much stronger
        Depends what you’re after. I like having power, but have no need to impress women anymore, if you get me. I bench, deadlift and squat. And once or twice a week pullies for my back. That’s it for weights. I haven’t had bicep curls on the plan for 4 years.
        In my personal experiences, unless you’re a dedicated bodybuilder, most men I know phase out isolation exercises as they get older. But I don’t know if my experiences are typical

        1. Its the same for me. I havent been working out quite as long (5 years). But when I started working out at the gym I did a lot of isolation exercises, like one hour biceps and 6 different exercises. And now i realise what a waste of time that was. For like my 2 last years i almost only focus on basic. Squats, deadlifts, benchpresses, militarypress, chins/pullups. Because the isolation movements are bullshit unless you are on roids. There is no need to do 14reps bicepscurls when you can do like 6-7 sets of chins/pullups (the biceps is going to get more soar from this than from regular bicepscurls).
          Example, when you train back and do it correctly, deadlifts, chins, barbell rows. The biceps and core is going to work out aswell, but if you just focus on the isolations.. you are working only the muscle in focus.
          Same thing when you train chest. If you do heavy benchpress 5-6set and 6-8-10reps. The triceps are going to do a lot of work and there is no need to do triceps-isolation-exercises after that.
          I do like 3-4 for exercises for each musclegroup, bigger musclegroups gets 4 basic exercises. Chest = 4sets benchpres, 4sets incline dumbbell, 4 sets of whatever exercise you think its nice. The basic execersises work out more muscles and are better than isolations. Bodybuilders only focus on basic exercises and then in the end of the workout they throw in some isolations because of the roids.

        2. I think isolation is for the protein shake/twelve egg whites in the morning crowd. Good luck with your kidneys there. I have done it all, never could handle the protein loading for more than a month so I never got too puffed up. But I was always a bit strong, I guess. I absolutely loathe isolation exercises now and I dinked around with them for 15 years. Compound lifts are real weightlifting. Sitting there and trying to inflame some strip of muscle somewhere and hoping it stays water-filled/swollen just so you can stare at it in the mirror is….less than admirable, imo. I was going to throw something far more derogatory in there. BARBELL ONLY!!!!!

        3. The very high protein diet didn’t react too well with me either.
          My wife didn’t appreciate the toilet being a nuclear fall out area

        4. A short answer is something like the 5×5 system. But the longer answer is compound movements are almost always better.
          I started lifting when I hit 40. I smoked and weighed 250. 3 years later I weight 220 and bench 250.
          Compound movements are key for balanced development. One thing I would recommend though is getting a personal trainer for a good few sessions to optimize your technique, especially if you’re doing deadlifts and the like, where bad form can lead to bad injuries.
          Also you’ll really get the attention of the 22 year old girls when you can chin-up better than the kiddies.

      2. Admetus,
        Read ‘Starting Strength’ by Mark Rippetoe. Isolation lifts are gayer than Freddie Mercury.

      3. A lot of injuries on isolation moves come from trying to move too much weight from point a to b, rather than controlling and really feeling all the muscles work. Also overuse injuries are very common, such as always doing curls or similar motion during the week.
        The more moves put into a program the more consideration is need to prevent overuse IMO.

    2. Absolutely! Unless you are in a wheel chair, what exactly will you ever lift sitting down? Isolation is unnatural and unnecessary. When I do curls (as heavy as possible) I want my ENTIRE body lifting, straining, agonizing, tearing. I want everything from my back and abs down to my to my achilles heel working to get that last rep. (I try not to swing & cheat, try to only move my arms- but basically, its JUST me lifting it.) When I adapted this philosophy, most of my friends looked at me like I had two heads, but now, to a man, they ALL have injuries that I don’t have.We are all in our 40s. btw.

      1. Watch out for a hernia, curling that hard. That’s how I got mine, doing those super hell curls as you described. That outward parabola (?) that the bar travels really put’s some torque on your hernia zone. Just do pullups if that freaks you out. Pullups are in my top four; squat, dead, standing military, pullups. Done.

        1. Absolutely right. If you want killer biceps superset chinups with regular curls.. brutal…

      2. I am a big proponent of compound lifts. But there is some merit to isolation exercises, for preventing injury. For my own example, pressing overtime started to cause elbow pain. To eliminate this I had to perform a significant amount of shoulder and bicep isolation work.

  5. There’s muscle pain and there’s joint pain. Learn the difference. Ignore the first and heed the second.

  6. I used to squeeze every last possible rep out of the set. Being jacked is better, but I don’t want to get on steroids, and natural is enough for me.
    There are always going to be bitches that aren’t impressed no matter what you do. I remember talking to a female campaign worker at a bar after Schwarzenneger got elected governor. The first thing she said to me was she was “disappointed” after she met him in person because he wasn’t 6 ft tall (he’s 5’11”). Mr. Universe disappointed her… physically.
    This bitch was like 5’4″ and over 200 pounds, she looked like a beach ball with human legs.

    1. Mr. Universe?
      Fuck that. The dude was 7-times Mr. Olympia…but point taken.
      Interesting point about his height. You prompted me to look into it further; I had always thought that he was 6 ft.+, but maybe not?

        1. How do you know the somebody is 5’11”? And 6′ is only an inch different. More or less the same.

    2. you should email her this clip; explains perfectly why he was impressive:

        1. thats a pretty fucking amazing comedian. hes the best there is right now.

    3. I heard a similar story of a girl being stunned with disappointment after meeting Sly. She walked back in catatonic, saying “He’s…this…tall…” as she planed her hand at her own shoulder level. Sooooo American female.

  7. Yep. Success and greatness ALWAYS requires you to go through a great amount of struggle, suffering. There is no way around that fact.

  8. I doubt that pain is a good thing to chase when lifting, but lifting will always be uncomfortable. And whether you lift super heavy, do compound or isolation movements depends on your goals. If the goal is to get as strong as possible (which doesn’t guarantee the most desirable change to body look/shape) then by all means, lift really heavy, all the time. Mixing in more isolated movements, focusing on contracting m
    uscles rather than only moving the weight through space, ensuring the best form possible, will allow you to sculpt muscles more. Decide if you’re interested primarily in strength or aesthetics, but make sure you’re the one deciding your goals, rather than having them hijacked by someone else.

  9. I just had the pain discussion the other day. I’ve come to the conclusion the only thing that slows my progress is mechanical failure. I.e. Joints going bad.
    Legs most def push that threshold. Why? Well do you walk around on your hands? Nope. A good leg workout will remind you with every step where you’ve been and where you can go.

  10. Go through the pain to get to the prize.
    After a man spends a few years in the gym (provided he trains hard and pushes past the pain, goes into those forced reps etc.) it’s essentially a whole mindset shift when it comes to endeavours outside of the gym too.
    But yes, stop overthinking things and just lift the damn weights.

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