Milo was a 6th Century BC wrestler who won many athletic festivals in ancient Greece.
The story goes that when Milo was a boy he gained immense strength by lifting a newborn calf and carrying it on his shoulders. The legend says that he returned the next day and carried out the same feat. Milo then continued to do this for 4 years, hoisting the calf onto his shoulders each day as it grew until he was no longer lifting a calf, but a 4 year old bull!
Which I think we can all agree would be extremely impressive!
I’m not saying you need to start carrying farm animals around all day, but this story demonstrates perfectly the principles of progressive overload. All the time the calf was getting bigger and heavier, Milo would have had to get bigger and stronger himself to still be able to lift the bull.
- There are many ways to progressively increase your training, for example, you might:
- Increase the number of sets or reps you perform for an exercise.
- Increase the number of exercises you complete in a workout.
- Increase the weights you are lifting
- Increase the time under tension i.e. using tempo or pauses.
- Use different methods to programme the exercises i.e. supersets, drop sets, giant sets, P.H.A, German volume training etc.
- Decrease the rest period between exercises.
- Use a combination of some or all of the above.
All of the above will achieve the result of progressively overloading the muscles to achieve muscle adaptations and strength gains. What is important for endurance athletes is using the ones that will allow you to build maximal force, develop the speed at which you can apply that force whilst not gaining significant muscle size during the process – something Milo wouldn’t have worried about as a wrestler!
The other key point I take from this story is to avoid overcomplicating your training. Take the following lessons we can learn from Milo;
Focus on volume before we increase the intensity – Milo didn’t start with a bull, he started with the new born calf. When you start lifting weights it is better to focus on form, technique and volume so you can build the capacity to handle much heavier weights later.
Don’t miss workouts – Consistency is key to your training, you don’t need to train every day like Milo, but you can imagine the results if he’d only attempted to pick up the calf once a month!
Increase intensity gradually – Strength gains take time, long term adaptations don’t happen in only a few weeks. The calf that Milo carried on his shoulders will have gained a few lbs every week, yet these gains added up to a significant amount over months and years. You really need to see your strength training as a (very) long term plan.
I hope the little story and analogy of Milo has helped to explain the principles of progressive overload.
Mark Wilson ASCC
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