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PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD RESISTANCE TRAINING

MILO OF CROTON

Milo lived in the town of Croton, in southern Italy in the 6th Century BC. Croton was noted for its great Olympic athletes and Milo was the most famous of all.

He was primarily famous for his skill as a wrestler. He won 32 wrestling competitions, which included 6 Olympic wins.

Milo’s training strategy included the following:

  • Be innovative, even if others laugh at you
  • Start small and be consistent
  • Progress slowly to bigger challenges
  • View setbacks as tests of character
  • Revise your plan when you reach plateaus, but don’t give up

Milo decided to place a small calf on his shoulders and carry it around. This was initially quite easy. But Milo continued to do this every day for 4 years.

By that time, the calf was a big ox and Milo had gained enormous strength.

This is the essence of progressive overload resistance training. Milo is shown below:

MODERN APPLICATIONS

From Wikipedia, “Progressive overload is a method of strength training that advocates for the gradual increase of the stress placed upon the musculoskeletal and nervous system. The principle of progressive overload suggests that the continual increase in the total workload during training sessions will stimulate muscle growth and strength gains”.

For muscles to grow, strength to be increased or performance to be enhanced, we must introduce new levels of tension to our bodies.

If we lift the same weight for the same number of repetitions, we will give our muscles no reason to grow further. There would have been no reason for our bodies to adapt and grow. This is not altogether a useless endeavor, since maintaining strength levels is a worthy goal.

There are several ways to progressively overload:

  • Using more weight
  • Doing more reps or sets
  • Lifting more slowly
  • Decreasing rest time between sets
  • Training more often (though this would apply to working out 3 days per week instead of 2, never to working the same body part on consecutive days)
  • Moving to a more difficult form of the same movement

Please note: It is not necessary to make increases every time that we work out. Our bodies don’t adapt that quickly. In my experience, it has always been easy to recognize when changes are due: resistance becomes too easy or we feel that we can do more reps.

A hypothetical example:

  • We begin doing dumbbell curls with 10 lbs. for 8 reps, each arm
  • After a few days, we extend this to 10 reps
  • Then to 12 reps
  • Soon it is time to go to 15 lbs for 8 reps
  • Then 10 reps, then 12, then 20 lbs.

Progressive overload also benefits our cardio exercise. As we increase intensity by going farther or faster, we enhance our heart’s capability to pump nutrients to our muscles.

WHAT ABOUT THOSE WHO CANNOT LIFT HEAVY WEIGHTS (OR BULLS)?

A study was done by Wake Forest University, my alma mater, to compare the benefits of cardio training vs. resistance training. A group of older adults was tested. The objective was to slim down and yet maintain muscle tone.

Most of these adults were predisposed to prefer walking over “pumping iron”. 249 seniors (over 60) were tested for 18 months. These were not athletes. They were generally overweight and sedentary.

:Here are the findings:

  • Total fat loss was much greater when calorie restriction was accompanied by either walking or resistance exercise. Diet alone showed an average loss of 10 lbs. Diet with walking – loss of 16 lbs. Diet with weight training – loss of 17 lbs.
  • Muscle mass loss was 4 lbs. for diet with walking, 2 lbs. with diet with resistance exercise.

Resistance exercise was shown to be slightly better for weight loss (surprisingly) and much better for muscle maintenance. Preservation of muscle mass for older adults is especially important to avoid physical disability. It was even found that walking / dieting caused a greater loss of lean muscle than dieting alone.

This tells me the following:

  • We should never underestimate the value of weight training at any age. We can always find small dumbbells or low impact resistance cords or bands.
  • It is best to include all 3 – diet, cardio and resistance.

Here is a “starter” set of dumbbells

An adjustable dumbbell

Exercise bands with handles

KEEPING SCORE

It is important to stay motivated in our fitness journey by seeing our results as we progress. In my opinion, the most sophisticated way to do this is by using the FitTrack Dara scale.

This is a scale that gives you 17 body composition measurements as you step on the scale with your bare feet. Four electrodes send information from your feet, through your legs and into your abdomen.

Track your weight, body fat ratio, hydration level, muscle mass, bone mass, protein rate, fat mass, weight without fat and much more.

Learn more here

CONCLUDING

Progressive overload is the basis of exercise programs for power lifters, bodybuilders, athletes and those who simply want to stay in shape.

My needs have changed as I have aged, as have my capabilities, but the fundamentals of resistance training are the same.

The Wake Forest study was an eye-opener to those who may have never fully understood the value of weight training to prevent the loss of lean muscle mass as we age. The amount of weight that we use is only a factor of our needs at any time and resistance increases generally are surprisingly fast.

Please leave me any comments or questions in the “Comments” section below. Or email me, richard@myworkoutathome.com

Be well and stay safe!

Richard

2 Comments

  1. In every gym I had belonged to, there has always been three main areas: cardio (treadmills, elliptical machines, etc), aerobics (yoga, pilates, instructed classes) and weight lifting (large area with lifting machines). As I am always a fan of the ellipse machine, adding aerobics or instructed classes has never been my choice. However, as I get older I am quite aware of the importance of muscle building. 

    Weight lifting can be used as a way to build muscle. I usually add a bit to my exercise routine. With this Pandemic, I have been able to keep my weight by dieting and exercising, but I can see the difference already after months of not lifting at all, due to the gyms being closed. The older I get the more I realize the importance of muscle building. I find the progressive overload theory interesting; resistance training is what I need to focus on.

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