“No pain. No gain!”

That idea and even the word combination are traceable for hundreds of years. Coaches have chanted it in some form for decades.

In the last few weeks I’ve repeated the phrase in my mind numerous times.

High school coaches instilled the idea in us during track workouts. Usually the words came at the point when our legs had begun to feel like lead. Maybe it helped us push ourselves to take one more stride and then push to take another.

Not stopping involved a combination of pride, determination and prodding.

Worse than the workouts before track season were the wind sprints in a gym that steamed with our sweat at the end of basketball practice.

We ran up the court, slapped the wall and sprinted down the court only to here the shout, “Again!” followed by a whistle. Every afternoon brought pain, but in coming days the gains showed.

During the pain we would just think about how good a Coke would taste when we could finally walk across the railroad bridge on jellied legs to the bakery.

Later in basic training I wondered if drill sergeants were related to coaches as they pushed us through pain.

As much as I disliked the men in the Smokey the Bear hats, they were right. Pushing past pain gradually brought gains of strength and stamina.

Since the Army, I’ve seldom driven myself that hard for exercise that wasn’t part of a game. Balls, bats and racquets made running worthwhile. The thrill of competition masked the pain.

Unfortunately, over the last few years the only ball I’ve hit with frequency is a little white one, and I’ve ridden after it rather than run.

Maybe the lack of exercise combined with too many hours at a computer brought on my back problems. The agony of pinched nerves finally goaded me into physical therapy.

Those sessions include painful-looking instruments that, at first, made me think of the Tower of London.

Traction seems a lot like the rack that Henry VIII sent his perceived enemies to endure, but traction has brought far more relief than discomfort.

The little electrode patches technicians attach to necks and backs seem like something Henry’s henchmen would have made use of if they had them. Indeed the current can make you twitch uncomfortably if too much juice is applied, but in the hands of a professional, they loosen knotted muscles.

I’m not keen on dry needles stuck into trigger points, but the experience didn’t drive me into any false confessions. I prefer to endure deep acupressure applied to painful spots by skilled fingers. Its gains outweigh the pain.

Most of physical therapy has involved exercise, often on machines that hadn’t been thought of when I ran track.

Still, when the muscles working the machines seem to have reached their limits, the same refrain echoes in my brain.

“No pain. No gain!