02nd December, 2022
Nearly 2,500 years ago, there was a man of incredible strength and athleticism roaming the hills of southern Italy. His name was Milo of Croton.
He was a six-time wrestling champion at the Ancient Olympic Games in Greece. In 540 BC, he won the boys wrestling category and then proceeded to win the men’s competition at the next five Olympic Games in a row. He also dominated the Pythian Games (7-time winner), Isthmian Games (10-time winner), and Nemean Games (9-time winner).
In the rare event that an athlete won not only the Olympic title, but also all three other games in one cycle, they were awarded the title of Periodonikes, a grand slam winner. Milo won this grand slam five times.
Now for the important question: What can Milo’s incredible strength teach us.
The answer is covered in a story about how Milo developed his strength.
It is said that Milo built his incredible strength through a simple, but profound strategy.
One day, a newborn calf was born near Milo’s home. The wrestler decided to lift the small animal up and carry it on his shoulders around the town.
The next day, he returned and did the same. Milo continued this strategy for the next four years, hoisting the calf onto his shoulders each day as it grew, until he was no longer lifting a calf, but a four-year-old bull.
The core principles of strength training and how to build muscle are encapsulated in this tale.
We fill our life with unnecessary complexity and thousands of experts sharing conflicting ideas. If there is anything I’ve learned, it’s that mastering the fundamentals is more valuable than worrying about the details.
As an example, let’s discuss three of the core principles of training that are hidden in the story of Milo of Croton and the bull.
1. Start too light: Focus on volume before intensity.
Did Milo try to lift a full-grown bull on day one? Of course not. He began with a newborn calf. Given his wrestling prowess, it is very likely that this was a weight that was easy for him.
It works the same way for you and me. When you begin something, you should start by lifting something easy. Repeat it daily & increase it bit by bit.
Start walking & increase by a few steps daily.
2. Don’t miss workouts.
Milo’s strategy wouldn’t have worked very well if he tried to pick up the bull on its birthday each year. The calf would have grown too much and Milo would have grown too little. And yet, this is exactly the strategy many of us employ. Once or twice per year, often around the New Year, people will try to “pick up a bull” by getting incredibly motivated and exercising like never before—only to fizzle out a few weeks later.
A more useful strategy is to start with something incredibly small, an exercise that is so easy you can’t say no to it, and then repeat and improve slowly. If you want to make progress, you have to make a reasonable, sustained effort.
In short, do things you can sustain.
3. Increase in very small ways.
Every day, Milo’s calf grew just a little bit. An ounce here, a pound there. And yet, these tiny gains added up to a very significant weight in a relatively short amount of time.
It works the same way in life.
Tiny gains add up fast. Small savings & investments lead to a huge corpus. Average speed can take you far if you just keep walking.
The weight on the bar should grow like a calf in a field: slowly, gradually, reasonably.
Think big, start small, be consistent, be persistent, progressively increase your load & soon you will find the strength to achieve the impossible & stay blessed forever.