Jane Fonda popularized the phrase “no pain, no gain” in her exercise videos of the 1980s. But we all know Fonda nicked it from Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard.
“There are no Gains without Pains,” runs just one of a thousand aphorisms in Franklin’s 1758 essay, “The Way to Wealth.”
And Ben pinched it from seventeenth century poet Robert Herrick: “If little labour, little are our gains/Man’s fortunes are according to his pains” (Hesperides 752). Did Herrick filch it from even further back?
This is from St. Ignatius’ letter to Polycarp, written around the turn of the first century: “Where there is more toil, there is great gain” (Polycarp, 1.1). That’s from the Loeb edition. Other translations give it this way: “where the labour is great, the gain is all the more.”
It’s interesting that while Ignatius’ point was spiritual, his toil-and-gain notion extends from a sports analogy. Just before he mentions it, he invokes the idea of “a perfect athlete.” Jane would have been happy.