In addition to being a military hero, Milo of Croton1 was the most famous wrestler of the ancient world, winning the Olympic crown on six different occasions. Over time, his name became equated with extraordinary strength. We’re even told he would arrive at the Olympic games carrying a full-grown ox on his shoulders.

Carrying around a full-grown ox seems incredible, but his method for developing this ability was quite simple. As the story goes, he would start by carrying a small calf on his shoulders day after day. And as the calf slowly grew, he would continue carrying it daily. After four years of doing this, he eventually would be carrying a full-size ox.

Whether or not this is historically true is not nearly as interesting to me as how strikingly it illustrates the concept of progressive overload. As the calf grew daily, Milo was progressively carrying more and more. But because this increase in weight was so gradual, his body also had time to adapt and grow.

The key was going slow and sticking with it. The increments were small enough that his body had a chance to adapt to the challenge without getting hurt. And he stuck with it long enough to see how all those small adaptations could add up to something significant —if given enough time.

Similarly, if you continue to push yourself regularly–even in areas outside of strength or fitness–you can continue to grow. You may never carry an ox, but you can still see extraordinary growth in different areas of your life. Taking small steps day after day may not look or feel like much in the moment. But if you stick with it, there’s no telling how far this kind of slow and gradual growth could go.

  1. See Britannica and Wikipedia articles for more information. ↩︎