We all want to get better. It’s why we train. Progress is one of our most powerful motivators. It’s engrained in our cultural fiber. We are a country of improvers:
- Columbus wanted a better route to the East Indies. Boom. America.
- Jefferson wanted a better relationship between taxation and representation. Boom. Independence.
- Arnold wanted better front delt development. Boom. The Arnold Press.
We get better. It’s what we do. Turning this lens towards our health and fitness, the question is simple: what is the fastest, most effective plan for us to get strong, shredded, sexy, and healthy?
Let’s get that question answered, shall we? But first, a story:
The Legend of Milo of Croton
Milo was an Ancient Greek wrestler with super-human strength (Grandpa?) Legend has it that one day, a calf was born near Milo’s home. Milo decided to pick up this calf baby and carry it on his shoulders. Everyday Milo would return to the calf baby and carry it around. But here’s the thing about calf babies – they grow. So as the calf grew, Milo got stronger. One day at a time. One week at a time. One year at a time. Eventually, Milo was carrying a bull.
(A photo from Milo’s Instagram account.)
It’s a legend that is famous amongst strength coaches for the obvious moral singificance: humble beginnings + small, seemingly unnoticeable progression = 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 improve. Isn’t that beautiful? We are adaptation machines, just add the perfect amount of stress. We call this The Law of Progress Overload. But this isn’t ‘Nam, there are rules:
The 5 Rules of Progressive Overload
1. Progressive Overload starts, ends, and is always comprised of perfect form.
Don’t load dysfunction.
– Gray Cook
If we can’t move excellently, why make exercise harder?
Step 1) Move excellently
Step 2) Move frequently
Step 3) Move intensely
Just like Milo, baby.
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, I highly recommend that to be your first progression. Who 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 should be a part of the plan.
- If you’re interested in getting stronger, progressive intensity training (adding more weight) would be a beautiful thing.
- If you’re interested in getting strong, shredded, and sexy, you should be playing with a few different variables including intensity, density, volume, and frequency of training.
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 gains. That’s why newbies get to 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 make progress. This is the science and art of program design – adjusting acute training variables in order to make progress, ad infinitum.
4. Progressive Overload Will Never Happen In a Linear Fashion
It’s simply not how the human body adapts. While we have some helpful guidelines – we can add 2.5% to upper body lifts and 5% to lower body lifts per week – these are only guidelines. The body is a fluid ecosystem. We should be more concerned with trend lines than single data points. It’s why I hate when clients want to weigh themselves every day. It’s like measuring a trip to the moon in millimeters. You’re making life too complicated.
5. Progressive Overload Requires a Plan
Milo’s plan was simple: find calf baby. Pick up calf baby. Carry calf baby. Return tomorrow.
But we’ve come along way in our understanding of human physiological development since 540 BC. Modern programing needs to take into consideration The Law of Progressive Overload. It needs to be divided into meso-phases that manipulate acute training variables towards a specific goal. It needs to be entertaining enough to keep us interested, aggressive enough to keep us challenged, and analytical enough to keep us smartered. That’s right. Smartered. Because it’s also helpful if it’s fun…who the hell wants to be bored? Not an easy task.
Which brings us full circle to our original question: What is the fastest, most effective plan for us to get strong, shredded, sexy, and healthy?
I’m glad you asked. Cause I’ve spend the last year working on it. It’s easily the coolest thing I’ve ever created.
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