I have a problem with the old “No Pain, No Gain” saying. Pain is almost always a sign you’re damaging something. If your workout hurts, you’re probably doing more harm than good to your body. That saying is responsible for a lot of injury.
Furthermore, it is incredibly counterproductive. I’m sure it’s driven a lot of people away from exercise because they believe it should hurt. If something hurts them, people will stop doing it. I would. Any workout routine that ends up causing pain is dooming itself to extinction.
This extends to soreness. Doing plenty of stretches – before, after, and even during the workout – helps prevent soreness. Stay hydrated too. But if you end up sore the next day you are negatively impacting your life. When I’m sore I’m less capable of doing anything physical, which defeats the whole purpose! Sometimes it’s hard even to do basic movements like walking. This is unacceptable. Soreness means I’ve been overdoing it. I should scale back the weight or the reps.*
Not that working out should be easy. It should be hard. It should be a LOT of work. By the time I’m done I’m breathing very hard and covered in sweat. Generally my blood sugar is exhausted, my head is kinda fuzzy, and I can’t have coherent conversations until I’ve eaten something. I’m useless for any sort of physical activity for over an hour. Since exercise was originally an alcohol-replacement for me, this high is a feature. :)
But even if it wasn’t, it’s still worth the loss of productive hours, because it makes the rest of my life even more productive/enjoyable. It’s like sleep. I hate losing a third of my life to this awful catatonic state. But when I try to reclaim even an hour per day from sleep my entire life spirals into horrible awfulness, full of depression and absolutely lacking in any sort of productivity. It is, overall, much better to invest those hours in sleep so I can be effective during my waking hours. Exercise has the same effect, except it demands far fewer hours per week.
But hard work is not the same as pain. Hard work, yes. Pain, no. If your workout causes you actual pain, scale it back. Reduce the weights, or the reps, or the duration. It shouldn’t hurt.
*I have heard that when you first start working out you’ll be sore the first couple weeks regardless of what you do. It’s been long enough for me that I don’t recall my first few weeks anymore. :/ This might just be something that needs to be pushed through.