But first, we speak of legends.
MILO OF CROTON
Milo was an ancient Greek wrestler with super-human strength (Grandpa?). But this strength was not given, it was earned. As the legend goes, one day a calf was born near Milo’s home. Young Milo decided to pick up this calf baby and carry it on his shoulders. This was his routine. Everyday Milo would return to the calf baby and carry it around. But here’s the thing about calf babies – they grow. Each day the calf baby got a little bigger and each day as Milo returned to carry it around, he got a little stronger. Weeks turned to years and eventually Milo was carrying a bull.
It’s a legend often told by strength coaches for the obvious moral significance: humble beginnings + small, incremental progress = legendary results.
Stress the body too little and it will wither. Stress the body too much and it will break. But stress the body just right and it will adapt. Isn’t that beautiful? We are adaptation machines – just add the right amount of stress. We call this The Law of Progress Overload and like all laws, there are rules:
THE 5 RULES OF PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD
1. PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD STARTS, ENDS, AND IS ALWAYS COMPRISED OF CORRECT FORM.
I define technique as the safest and strongest strategy to accomplish a specific task. This inherently makes it an insurance policy against injury. As the task becomes more difficult, technique becomes more important. But we can’t wait until we’re maxing out to care about technique. Because proper technique is a practice, every training session is an opportunity to reinforce good form.
2. PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD COMES IN MANY SHAPES AND SIZES.
The Law of Progressive Overload isn’t just about weight (what we commonly refer to as intensity). It can also be about range of motion, volume, distance, speed, work, density, relative load, or frequency. “There are many ways to skin a tiger,” as they say. *Don’t skin tigers.
Each progression brings with it a corresponding training goal:
- If you don’t have a full range of motion in your squat, mobility would be a logical progression to explore. (Nobody wants to be strong in a partial range of motion…unless, of course, that is your sport.)
- If you’re interested in running a marathon, progressive distance training is a must.
- If you’re interested in getting stronger, progressive intensity training (adding more weight) would be a beautiful thing.
- If you’re interested in gaining muscle mass, progressive volume training will be helpful.
- If you do a lot of group fitness classes, progressive frequency training might be a logical option.
3. PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD GETS HARDER AND HARDER TO ACCOMPLISH (SEE ALSO: THE LAW OF DIMINISHING RETURNS).
The closer we get to our genetic potential, the harder it is to make progress. That’s why newbies can make more progress in the gym than anybody else (those lucky ducks.) The more progress we make, the more variables we must manipulate in order to continue to develop. This is the science and art of program design – adjusting acute training variables in order to keep getting better, tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.
4. PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD WILL NEVER HAPPEN IN A LINEAR FASHION
While perfectly linear progress reports would be nice, this is not how the human body adapts. The body is a fluid ecosystem with countless inputs. This is why we should be more concerned with trend lines than single data points.
That said, there are some helpful guidelines to establish expectations week after week. For example, in the weight room, you can expect to add 2.5% to upper body lifts and 5% to lower body lifts per week – but again, these are only guidelines. Ultimately our weights are determined by the program and what we are capable of that day. It’s also why I never recommend runners add more than 10% to their weekly mileage. Too much, too soon = too many problems.
5. PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD REQUIRES A PLAN
Milo’s plan was simple: find calf baby, pick up calf baby, carry calf baby, return tomorrow. But since 540 BC we’ve come along way in our understanding of the development of human physiological. Modern programing needs to take into consideration The Law of Progressive Overload. It should to be divided into phases that manipulate acute training variables towards a specific goal. It should be directly aligned with your goals and then must be executed with enthusiasm. And that’s exactly the type of training we’re all about. Smart, thoughtful, progressive, and effective.
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Love and muscles,
Rob & Mel