Something punishing is extremely physically difficult to do. On a very hot, humid day, even a 5K is a punishing race to run.

Anything that exhausts you because it's so demanding can be described with the adjective punishing. A punishing hike leaves you gasping and applying bandages to your blisters. A punishing argument with your family is more mentally arduous. Sometimes, punishing things weaken or debilitate: "The lack of snow had a punishing result for the ski industry." Rarely, punishing also means "leading to punishment."

Definitions of punishing

adj characterized by effort to the point of exhaustion; especially physical effort

“set a punishing pace”
arduous, backbreaking, grueling, gruelling, hard, heavy, laborious, operose, toilsome
requiring great physical effort

adj resulting in punishment

“the king imposed a punishing tax”

Sign up, it's free!

Whether you're a student, an educator, or a lifelong learner, Vocabulary.com can put you on the path to systematic vocabulary improvement.