Milo of Croton, according to a Greek tale, is said to have walked with a new born calf on his shoulder every single day till it finally turned into a fully grown bull. There can’t be a better example to date the antiquity of physical development via the principle of adaptation and progressive overload. As the calf grew each day, so did his strength. Let’s say that the weight of the calf at birth was 30kgs.
When Milo lifted it for the first time, it was a stress on his body which his body hadn’t experienced before. The body tries to adapt to this stress as quickly as possible. This adaptation to stress is ingrained in our genome, and it is nothing but our body’s survival instincts. It doesn’t want to be taken down, so the moment there’s a new stress on the body, the body adapts to it till the stress is no longer a stress. Next time, if Milo would have lifted a calf of 30kgs only, his body would have felt no stress, hence no need for adaptation.
But that wasn’t the case there, next day the calf would have grown a little more than the last day, so a new stress was put on Milo’s body, his body now finds a new reason to grow; his body adapts to this new stress again by getting stronger and adding the requisite amount of muscle mass. Every single day the calf would get a little bigger than last time putting a new stress on Milo’s body, giving it a reason to grow. This adding of new stress is known as ‘Progressive Overload’.
One of the first experiences that we have had with progressive overload was in school. In class one, we had few subjects to learn, we were given a full year to get adapted to the stress of the subjects that were new to our nascent brains, there would be a test at the end of the year which would check if our brains have got adapted to the stress put on the it during the year. If we passed the test, that meant that we got adapted to the stress put on us during the year, now we would get promoted to the next class; that’s Progression. In the next class, we would get subject matter that would be slightly more of a stress on the brain than what it was last year; that’s Overload. This is how Adaptation, Progression and Overloading principle was applied on us for our growth throughout our educational years, that too, without us realizing that!
This is exactly how training should be. A friend of mine, recently, while talking to me on the topic of fitness said that he has been training his body every single day from the last five years. That caught my curiosity immediately, and I asked what do you do? The reply was as a rather dampener. He said that he has been walking for 30 minutes every single day for the last 5 years. In his mind he has been training but physiologically, his body would have gotten adapted to the stress of walking for 30 minutes, maybe in the first few days or weeks of him starting this activity. After that, it was a routine work for his body, and there was no further adaptation and subsequent growth in his fitness. In effect, for the last 4 years and maybe 11 months, he has been doing nothing to improve his physical fitness!
So, those of you who think walking is the best medicine, it is only for the first few days of your starting the activity of walking, that’s helpful. After that, it must turn into brisk walking, which in turn, must turn into jogging in sometime, which in turn must turn into running, and then finally into full blown sprints. Or else, you would just be wasting your precious time!
The same applies with weight training. In one of my lectures, a student asked me, “So, what would happen, if I train with 50 kg in my deadlifts for the rest of life?” By now, you would have guessed my reply to him. For the first few sessions, it would be a stress warranting adaptation, after which absolutely nothing will happen to his body.
As they say, a river will go stale if it doesn’t flow. Similarly, your body will remain the same, if you don’t progress. The way to progressively overload is very simple – aim to do one more repetition than what you did last time in every session, and after a few sessions of increment in reps, add in some weight, then get back to increasing reps. Keep repeating this process for life. Of course, there will come a time when you just can’t improve any further, but that time is certainly NOT NOW!!
Till then, Keep Progressing, Keep Growing, and Keep Training!
Vivek Singh Rajput
K11 Academy of Fitness Sciences
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