The Proverb of Progressive Overload

There’s a lot of things that fitness has taught me about life, not least of which is that if you want to see results, you have to put in the work. You have to push yourself just beyond your current capabilities so that your body embraces the pain, learns from it and adapts. It’s a grueling yet rewarding cyclical process.

In order to achieve physical improvements — or “gainz” as they have been popularly coined — you must expose your body to specific stimulus to the quality of intensity of which it is not adapted. No pain, no gain (hence the catchy term). There is no magic pill, quick fix or shortcut. You are going to have to sweat.

At times you might not like disrupting your comfortable state of homeostasis, but you’ll feel a hell of a lot more uncomfortable when another year passes and you realize you’ve not (literally and figuratively speaking) grown. In some cases — and certainly in particular professions — discomfort is not even a choice; it is an obligation.

The armed forces, for instance, is perhaps the best embodiment of having the comforter ripped from underneath you and cold water thrown over your head. In actual fact, that’s a regular military morning greeting. Wakey wakey, rise and grind.

This is why when you see army drill instructors force recruits to do extra burpees, run an extra mile, or carry more weight they aren’t doing it to be cruel, — although there is undoubtedly a certain mental test being administered alongside the physical evaluation — they are doing it to produce a physical adaptation.

Life, according to some, is meant to be lived in a certain state of discomfort. They believe that it is the only way we can break beyond our boundaries and charge steadfastly towards a new frontier. It is their opinion that we should be in a constant crisis to become the next best version of ourselves. It’s a philosophy of progressive overload that I’m totally on-board with.

Every day, we should seek to challenge our limitations. Wake up that 5 minutes earlier; add 10lbs on to our next benchpress; make 3 more phone-calls than we did the day before. To each their own trials.

How’s about this one: carry a newborn calf on your shoulders, and keep it up as it grows in to adulthood.

Sounds bizarre, I agree. But this is actually the mythological tale of Milo of Croton who began his primitive strength training by hoisting a newborn calf over his back and repeating the feat daily as it grew to maturity. No bullshit.

What could be your proverbial bull?