3 Things Milo of Croton Knew About Strength Training
Many years ago there was a man with incredible strength and unmatched athleticism who strolled through the hills of northern Italy. This man was Milo of Croton and was certainly the most successful athlete of his day.
Milo of Croton was a six time Ancient Olympic Games victor in Greece. He won the boys wrestling title and then proceeded to win five men’s wrestling titles. That was just the start. Milo then went on to crush his opponents winning seven crowns at the Pythian Games at Delphi, ten at the Isthmian Games and nine at the Nemean Games.
To cap it off, Milo was also a Periodonikēs, which is considered a “grand slam” title given to the winner of all four festivals in the same competitive cycle. Milo did this five times. His dominance in the sport spanned over 24 years. Impressive, right?
How did Milo train and prepare to achieve such dominance?
The story remains that Milo built his strength with a simple strategy; a timeless approach in fact. His method still stands today as a core principle in strength training: progressive overload.
One day a calf was born near Milo’s home. In preparation for his athletic career and the Olympics, Milo decided to lift the small calf onto his shoulders. He did the same thing the next day. Milo continued this practice for four years, shouldering the calf as it grew larger and larger until one day he was then lifting a bull onto his shoulders.
“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” – Confucius
Similarly, health and fitness is simple, but we insist on making it complicated. Being in this industry for nearly a decade now, I’ve seen this first hand. It seems that everyone is arguing and making their claims on complex training methodologies and nutrition protocols. I think a lot of it is wasted energy. Nitpicking the details when the fundamentals are what need to be preached.
That’s why the story of Milo is such a great example of how keeping things simple and focusing on the fundamentals is the best approach for long term gains.
3 Fundamentals of Strength Training
Fundamental #1 – Start small
On the first day, Milo didn’t attempt to pick up a 4 year old bull. It wouldn’t have been possible for him. He started by picking up a newborn calf. Given his athletic background I’m assuming this was easy for him.
This principle applies to you and me as well. Don’t walk into the gym and load 100kg and try to perform a snatch for the first time. Don’t walk into a complex diet that has you overhaul your whole eating pattern at once. Start with something that is easy.
Starting small is so important. When you start small it allows you to build confidence and momentum.
A few examples could be:
- Do 20 push ups every day for 2 weeks.
- Set a time cap on how long you can be at the gym. Give yourself 5 minutes to do as much work as you can then leave.
- Perform 3 sets of deadlifts 3 times a week.
These all sound ridiculously easy. But that’s the point. Otherwise, if it was to intimidating you probably wouldn’t attempt anything.
Fundamental #2 – Be consistent
Milo shouldered the calf every day. He stayed consistent. This was the only way he could build up the strength needed to one day shoulder a bull. If he had tried to lift the bull every 8 months, instead of every day, the calf would have grown faster than his strength development leaving him unable to lift it.
Many of you try to lift the bull every 8 months. Once in a while you get super motivated to exercise and attempt to take on more than you can handle. You lift too much. You burn out. You cause injury. Then the motivation fizzles out and you’re back at square one.
That’s why starting small is so important. When you start small it allows you to build confidence and momentum. When you start small and put forth habits that you confidently feel you can sustain, it makes it a lot easier to be consistent. This is a key ingredient to long term strength gains.
Fundamental #3 – Have a purpose
Milo had a goal. His mind was set that he wanted to compete in the Olympics. This fueled his training. He shouldered the calf every day because he had a purpose to do so.
This is easy to identify in individuals because you can tell when somebody is focused with their strength training. I can walk into a gym, and without exchanging any words identify the people who have a purpose in the weight room.
The point is that having a purpose makes it easy to train. It gives you a target. Without it, you’re like a ship without a sail; allowing the winds to take you where it pleases.
You don’t have to be training for the Olympics to have a purpose in the gym, either. Maybe it’s a wedding. Maybe you want to be able to surf when you’re 60. Maybe it’s a photo-shoot. Maybe you want to feel sexy again. Maybe you want to tap into your inner athlete.
Regardless of what it is for you, it’s imperative that you hunt down your purpose.