Neil's Law of Reciprocal Pain

by Neil Anderson

The only thing as certain as death and taxes is pain. You're going to have it. From a health and fitness stand point, you only have about TWO choices for how you will receive your pain.

  1. You can take it in small increments on a nearly constant basis (as in exercise, soreness and small injuries).
  2. You can put it off by never exercising and/or eating right, and take it all at once (as in a debilitating disease or heart attack or stroke, etc).

I call this, "Neil's Law of Reciprocal Pain."

Pain comes around. It's like clockwork. You can try to put it off, but doing so just guarantees more of it. "MORE" probably isn't accurate. In truth, you really won't get MORE. You'll just get what's been coming to you - the stuff you have been putting off. Typically you get this all at once, too.

The other day I had an interview with a guy about doing a daily T.V. fitness tip (I didn't get the deal). As we talked, I was telling him some new exercises that he should try. Just about everything I told him to do, (deep push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, thrusters) was met with raised eyebrows and the question, "Aren't those exercises dangerous?"

This, I HATE.

Look, EVERYTHING you could possibly do for exercise is POTENTIALLY dangerous. You could workout with absolutely, impeccably, PERFECT form (whatever that is...) and still get injured and/or sore. It is simply part of the process. It is inevitable. Injuries are the one thing that all fit people have in common.

I absolutely agree that a person should get a minimal amount of training before they begin exercising. I absolutely agree that a person should strive to limit pain and injuries by becoming, at least, minimally educated before exercising. But this shouldn't cost much in terms of time or money. The internet is chocker-block full of useful suggestions on how to get into great shape in the safest, most effective way possible.

If you understand that pain and injuries are part of the process, you are probably better off. In fact, YOU are probably the person who is more likely to succeed at actually getting fit and healthy, because you have not limited yourself to the impossible.

I find that people who are pursuing pain free fitness are only pursuing a (another) lesson in disappointment and/or futility. Pain free fitness results - DO NOT EXIST.

Fitness is about overload. You must overload your body to make it become more fit. If you simply give your body work that is "quite manageable" - it will not change. It doesn't have to. It had plenty of reserve to complete the work you were asking it to do.

To understand how fitness works you have to understand how your body responds to exercise in terms of evolutionary survival. Exercise temporarily weakens your body. This is an emergency situation for your body. Your body hates to be weakened. Your body thinks that if it is standing with a group of others and a saber toothed tiger attacks while it is weaker (like it is after exercise) - it is more likely to be the one who is eaten. BTW, this temporary weakness also lowers your resistance to disease and illness.

Both of these are emergency situations in terms of evolutionary survival. Your bodies' response to this is to build you back up to full strength as soon as possible.

If you temporarily weaken your body consistently, as in exercising daily, your body will build resistance up. It will become stronger so that when you weaken yourself later, you will still have enough energy left over to fight off the saber toothed tigers and/or disease.


People who are "out of shape" don't need much in terms of exercise or intensity to see progress. Exercise for these folks doesn't need to be overly vigorous. It is therefore, inherently safer. Problem is, to get more fit you have to steadily increase overload. At some point, "just doing anything" isn't going to cut it. At some point, you'll have to push the limits of your endurance, strength, power, speed, agility and stamina.

Question is - how far should you push it? This is impossible to know and it is different for everybody. This leaves you with:

1) push too little and get nothing, or

2) push too hard and get some pain.

Neil's Law of Reciprocal Pain states:

Pain is inevitable. You are going to have it. If you are pushing hard enough to get into shape (as you eventually should) you simply need to embrace this fact. Therefore, life only REALLY gives you these two choices:

1) You can have a little pain - under your immediate and direct control - more often throughout your life through comprehensive exercise and active living, or

2) You can eventually have a bunch of pain equal to the cumulative amount that you have avoided - at a later date.

Note: This "later date" is to be decided by fate and is not under your direct control.

I'm a control freak. If I got to have pain anyway (remember, it's inevitable) - I'll take it on MY OWN terms, thank you.