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Have you ever heard of Milos of Croton? No, he’s not some character from Game of Thrones! But his story is one worth reading nonetheless, and it’s the best example of how to progress in the gym.
How the legend goes
2,500 years ago in Greece, Milos became the greatest wrestler of his time, and according to legend, had superhuman strength. The legend tells us that he developed that strength by picking up a baby calf and carrying it on his shoulder up a hill. Every morning, Milos would go out to the field, pick the calf up, and carry it. He did this every day for four years. And over that time, the calf grew into a full-sized bull. But guess what else happened? Milos and his body grew as well. It had to. His body needed to adapt so that he could continue hoisting the calf every morning and carrying it on his shoulder.
What Milos did is the same thing you need to do when it comes to lifting weights. You need to provide your body with something heavy, something worth adapting to. Do that and, over time, you’ll become stronger. This is something known as progressive overload. The calf Milos hoisted every morning, grew in weight. And that increase in weight challenged Milos’s body to adapt and change over time.
What is progressive overload?
In its simplest form, progressive overload is nothing more than lifting a little more weight than you did the previous week (and when I say a little, I mean as little as 2.5Kg - 5Kg) or by doing a few extra reps than your previous session.
But here’s the catch: your body won’t always adapt at the same rate each week. Some weeks you won’t be able to add more weight. If you were to add 2.5Kg to your bench press every week, that would result in a 130Kg increase by the end of the year! So, adding more weight isn’t always possible. And that’s okay.
As I said, progressive overload isn’t only about lifting more weight week after week. Let me explain. Say you’re performing a dumbbell bench press. This week you lift 20Kg and perform 3 sets of 8 reps. But next week, you decide to add one more set. So you do 4 sets of 8 reps using the same weight. That’s 8 more reps than last week. You didn’t lift more weight, but you still did more reps. And that too is progressive overload; your body is doing more than it did before.
But what happens if you can’t lift more weight or reps one week? There’s another way you can practice progressive overload. Example: let’s say your final rep of an exercise the week prior wasn’t smooth; you lifted the weight, but your form wasn’t great. You didn’t quite look like you were having a seizure, but you didn’t quite NOT look like you were having one either! And, most importantly, you know there is no way you can lift more weight or reps the next week. So the next week you return to do the same weight and sets/reps. But this time you decide to focus on making each rep smooth. Your focus isn’t on weight or reps alone. But your focus is on performing the technique of the exercise better than last week. That’s progressive overload as well.
So, sum this up, progressive overload (which matters) usually boils down to you focusing on one of three things every time you step in the gym:
Consistency - the key
But do you want to know the most important lesson you can take away from Milos? Consistency matters above all. Milos didn’t go out there and choose to only pick the calf up on Wednesdays. He might have done great with that for a week or two, but eventually, the calf’s weight would be too mighty for Milos to lift. And isn’t that kind of how getting healthy and fit goes for most people? People attempt to cram it all in over a 30-day period with fad diets or “cleanses.” But what about day 31? Do they (or you) fizzle out after that?
Consistency compounds. It’s not linear, at some point it becomes exponential. Look, hitting the gym every once and a while isn’t going to get you to where you want to be. Milos showed up every day to lift that calf, and he grew in strength and muscularity as the calf grew. You don’t need to lift every day. You don’t even need to go to the gym every day. But if you went consistently 3 times a week for a year — that’s 144 days of the year, less than 40% of the year — your body and health would be completely different.
So, let’s say you struggle to consistently hit the gym. Like you want to go 3-4 times a week but find that you can barely make two. Don’t berate yourself for being a failure and eventually say, “F*ck it! If I can’t make it three times, why even go at all?”
If your car was out of fuel, you wouldn’t say “I don’t have €50 to fill it, so I’m not going to put any in at all.” You would take out your €10 or €20 and settle with that for the time being. Is the tank full? No. But is it better than staying put and not moving at all? Of course! Exercise is the same. 3-4x per week is optimal, but 2 sessions are still better than 1 and 30 minutes is better than nothing at all.
Every week, aim to do more than your previous session. While adding weight is always a nice way to progress, you can do more reps or clean up your technique. If you couple this with being consistent, you're in the process of building a winning formula for your fitness journey.
If you would like some support along the way of your journey, I created a free Facebook Group - Lean 4 Life Lifters where young professionals unite to keep each other accountable, share motivation, ask questions about working out, and much much more.
You can join Lean 4 Life Lifters here now. This group has always been—and always will be—completely free. It’s the type of group I wish I had 5 years ago. And it’s the type of group that I have a feeling you’ll benefit from now.
Come join my free Facebook group now.
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