Posts Tagged ‘overload principle’

“That which does not kill us makes us strong”


Strength training is based on normal biological processes. It is better to understand the principles rather than looking for the “perfect” training program since that is as elusive as a unicorn. The Overload Principle describes a living organism’s reaction to a sub-lethal stress that is beyond the usual stress that an organism is used to. When applied to us who exercise and lift, it simply means when we lift something heavier than what we can easily lift, but not too heavy that it injures us, our bodies adapt when given time to recover. The adaptation process makes our body “overcompensate” a bit to enable it to deal with a very similar stress in the near future. This means we gain a bit of strength after we recover. Our body may be sore for a few days (see related post) but if we do it for a few more training sessions with regular intervals our body will respond. And when we lift the same load again, it may not feel as heavy as it used to be and we are able to do a few more repetitions if we wanted to. If, previously, we were able to lift a certain amount of load “Z” in a certain exercise for “X” repetitions, after a few sessions  of training, we should be able to lift “Z” for more than “X” times. The initial load now becomes “too light” that it does not stimulate further adaptations for strength. To continue becoming stronger, we add a few more kilos to the same lift and repeat the process.


Let’s give an example: Let’s say in the Squat exercise we were able to squat 30 kgs for 10 repetitions for 3 sets with 2 minutes rest between sets. After a day we have sore thighs and butt. We rest for 1 more day, and train with the same exercise, same load, same set-rep-rest combination. The next day we may not be so sore anymore- a sign of positive adaptation. After 2 days rest, we repeat the same exercise with the same load. But on the first set we may notice that it feels easier. So we try 35 kilos and do 2 more sets of 10 reps each set. We feel just a bit sore but we rest for 2 days and train again. This time we do 35kg on the first set but we are more confident that we try 40kg on the 2nd set. We were able to do it well since we are also more confident in our squat technique. So we try 45kg on the 3rd and last set, which we are able to finish with full effort. We repeat this process for a few more weeks and we find ourselves squatting 10kg more than our body weight. We feel good about our hard work. We feel more powerful strides when we run, and our butt is firmer and rounder. We are experiencing signs of positive adaptation. That is an example of the Overload Principle in weight training.


(Read about the General Adaptation Syndrome in order to have a better comprehension of what is the expected reaction when we “overload”).


24009_389657031274_634451274_4381304_2792879_nThe Overload Principle was observed since the ancient times, it is not something new. Biological processes do not need to be discovered in order to occur anyway. Nature will work with or without man’s documentation. Probably the earliest recorded training method that utilized the Overload Principle is about the story of Milo of Croton in early Greek history. Although they did not call it Overload Principle before and probably just called it work. Milo was a champion wrestler during his time. He is known for his superior physical strength which enabled him to defeat his opponents and be the champion. Milo was said to have developed his extraordinary strength from lifting. A story of what he lifted and how he lifted provides us a template on how to approach training. Where Milo lived was a cow that gave birth to a calf. But the calf had a defective leg that prevents it from walking and following the herd in crossing the river to graze on the meadow. Taking pity on the calf, Milo decided to carry it to wards the meadow so it can graze. The calf is able to eat, but it can not walk far nor run. If he left it there, the wolves would feast on it. So Milo had to carry it back to the safety of the pen. Milo had to carry the calf on his back in the morning, probably cross the river, and go up the meadow where he would let it graze. In the afternoon he would carry the calf across the river and back to the manger. He did this every day as the calf was growing. Days passed and Milo dutifully carried the calf which grew and as it grew, Milo’s strength also increased. Time passed until after four years, Milo was carrying a now fully grown bull. Try to estimate the weight of a fully grown bull and you would have an idea of Milo’s strength. Think about it too, and you would have an idea of the effort, perseverance, and dedication that it takes to change from a regular guy or gal, to someone extra ordinary that lifting a fully grown bull is just a daily task.

The take home lesson? Go lift a calf twice a day until it has grown into a bull! Take selfies along the way too! Can’t do that?Well here are the reasons why Milo’s training is a perfect example of the Overload Principle and five things that we can apply to our own training. The story has been digested for you. Absorb the lessons and apply them:

little boy try lift up the barbell in the park

1. Start with a load you can handle. Milo started with a load that is easily manageable- that of a calf. If Milo started carrying a full grown bull from the start, he would have failed miserably. He could have badly strained himself or worst, he could have had a herniated Inter-vertebral Disk which would have ended his athletic career.


2. Gradually increase your load over time. The weight that Milo lifted changed gradually and it was progressive.  The load that he carried gradually increased from a little calf to that of a fully grown bull. The process of adding weight was not rushed since the calf grew just a little bit heavier each day. This gave Milo the chance to recover and adapt by becoming stronger. It also means he did not over-overload because it would not be possible for the calf to gain 20kg in one day. It was a long process too- 4 years. Surely, someone who is impatient and undisciplined will not survive the process.

3. Train consistently and regularly. Milo lifted the calf consistently and regularly, or else the calf would not be able to graze and die.  He did it twice on a daily basis. It is better to train this way. Be patient, be consistent in the long term. stay-consistent

4. Train with sufficient volume. Milo carried his load not just for a few lifts. He carried and walked with the load at least twice a day. This describes his training volume. Mental strength is always required if you are to improve.pull-ups

Consistent-training-equals-results5. Train with enough duration to be able to notice positive changes. Milo was said to have carried the calf for four years until it was a fully grown bull. Training duration was long enough to have observable and lasting results. This also means training has to be progressive through time. This gradual and consistent training changed his body. It undoubtedly increased his confidence too.

6. Train not only for yourself. Others depend on you to be fit and strong. This is not a training technique but is more of a way of looking at thing differently. The calf was actually depending on Milo for its survival. Milo has to lift the calf all the way to the meadow so that it can eat. And at the end of the day he has to carry it back to the pen so that wolves will not kill it. Who knows, he lifted the calf just to help it and along the way, he gained tremendous strength. This did not come easily. He exerted a lot of effort on a daily basis. But he was doing it to help another creature. If he did it only for himself, he might have given up when things did not go smoothly. But he was able to persist because it is not only for him. People now are so self centered that their efforts are directed only for themselves. Why not do something for other people or other creatures without having to be praised for it?

Understanding how our body reacts to training helps us a lot by making us aware of what to expect. They serve as guidelines and templates. The story about Milo can also serve as a reference point. Another thing to consider is that each person would respond to a particular training by following the same natural processes but results can be different. Results vary for each person because the magnitude of response is not the same for each person. Some adapt quickly while some take longer time. Learning about these processes helps us to Train Better, Live Better!