double progression

Transform Your Strength Training with Progressive Overload & Double Progression

Transform Your Strength Training with Progressive Overload & Double Progression

The Myth and Science of Strength: Lessons from Milo of Croton

In the 6th century BCE, a legendary wrestler named Milo from the Greek city of Croton became famous for his remarkable strength and size. According to legend, Milo's extraordinary power came from an unusual training method: he lifted a calf onto his shoulders every day. As the calf grew, so did Milo’s strength. Eventually, the calf matured into a full-grown bull, and Milo, once a skinny boy, transformed into a powerful man capable of carrying the massive animal. This tale highlights the ancient roots of a training principle we now call "Progressive Overload."

Progressive Overload is a foundational concept in strength training. By gradually increasing the weight and the demands placed on your muscular-skeletal system, you can enhance muscle size, strength, and endurance. The theory suggests that as you continually challenge your muscles with heavier weights or more repetitions, they adapt and grow stronger.

So, does this mean you just need to keep adding weight and reps to become as strong as Milo?

Not exactly.

If muscle growth were as simple as continuously lifting heavier weights, we'd all possess superhuman strength by now. The reality is more complex, requiring a deeper understanding and a strategic approach.

My Early Days of Strength Training

Back in the 8th grade, I was a typical skinny, athletic kid. Despite my involvement in sports and the occasional set of push-ups, I had never lifted weights. That changed the following summer when I joined a gym with my oldest brother. I quickly fell in love with lifting and spent every day that summer working out.

At first, I didn’t have a structured training program. I simply increased the weights and workload daily. In three short months, I went from a scrawny kid to a muscular teen, often accused of taking steroids. Those early gains remain some of my fondest memories. However, such rapid progress usually occurs only once or twice in a lifter’s career due to the law of diminishing returns.

The Law of Diminishing Returns

The law of diminishing returns is an economic principle that also applies to fitness and strength training. It states that as you continue to invest effort into a particular activity, the additional gains you achieve from each extra unit of effort will eventually decrease.

In the context of strength training, this means that beginners often experience rapid improvements in strength and muscle growth when they first start training. However, as they continue to train over time, the rate of improvement slows down, even if they continue to work hard. Essentially, the more advanced you become, the harder you have to work for smaller gains. This concept underscores the importance of continually adjusting and varying your training program to continue making progress.

While beginners often see quick results, progress becomes more sporadic over time. Lifters frequently encounter plateaus and periods of stagnation. The key to overcoming these challenges is implementing a method called “double progression.”

The Power of Double Progression

It’s unrealistic to expect to lift heavier weights every single workout. However, you can often manage to squeeze out additional reps at the same weight. This is where the double progression model shines. It provides small, incremental victories that might be missed if you focused solely on increasing weight.

For example, if an exercise program calls for 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps, start with a weight that is challenging for 10 reps. Continue to use that weight until you can perform 3 sets of 10 reps. Once you achieve this, increase the weight and start the cycle again at 3 sets of 8 reps. 

squatting on a slant board

To help you understand better, let's say you are squatting 135 pounds for 3 sets of 10 reps in week 1. The following week, you would increase the weight to 145 pounds. If you can only complete 3 sets of 8 reps at 145 pounds that week, you would stay at that weight until you can complete all 3 sets of 10 reps.

If you increase your set volume to 4 sets, then you would have to complete all 4 sets at 10 reps before increasing weight. This process allows for continual progress without the pressure of constantly upping the weights.

Patience and Consistency: The True Virtues

We all wish that gaining muscle and strength could be as easy as microwaving a meal from Trader Joe’s. (Who doesn’t love their quick and delicious Chicken Masala?) Unfortunately, real progress in strength training is the opposite of instant gratification. The two main limiting factors to increasing strength and muscle mass are effort and consistency.

The antidote is high effort paired with a well-structured training program based on principles like progressive overload and double progression. Remember, lasting progress requires patience, dedication, and a willingness to embrace the journey, just as Milo did centuries ago. With time and perseverance, your strength and muscle gains will reflect your hard work and commitment.

If you have hit a strength plateau, and you need help getting back on track then check out our 90 Day Knee Program.

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