How to Build Muscle: Strength Lessons from Milo of Croton
1. Start too light: Focus on volume before intensity.
Did Milo try to lift a full-grown bull on day one? Of course not. He began with a newborn calf. Given his wrestling prowess, it is very likely that this was a weight that was easy for him.
It works the same way for you and me. When you begin strength training, you should start by lifting something easy. It is only by focusing on volume, repetition, and easy weights in the beginning that you build the capacity to handle heavier weights later on.
2. Don’t miss workouts.
Milo’s strategy wouldn’t have worked very well if he tried to pick up the bull on its birthday each year. The calf would have grown too much and Milo would have grown too little. And yet, this is exactly the strategy many of us employ. Once or twice per year, often around the New Year, people will try to “pick up a bull” by getting incredibly motivated and exercising like never before—only to fizzle out a few weeks later.
A more useful strategy is to start with something incredibly small, an exercise that is so easy you can’t say no to it, and then repeat and improve slowly. If you want to make progress, you have to make a reasonable, sustained effort.
As an example, when I started my pushup habit, I began with a number that was very small and easy to do. Because the workout didn’t intimidate me, I was more likely to follow through each day and not miss workouts. In short, do things you can sustain.
3. Increase in very small ways.
Every day, Milo’s calf grew just a little bit. An ounce here, a pound there. And yet, these tiny gains added up to a very significant weight in a relatively short amount of time.
It works the same way in the gym. Do you think you could squat one more pound this week than you could last week? Most people probably could. And if you added just one pound per week for two years, you could be squatting 100 pounds more than you are today. How many people do you know that are squatting 100 pounds more today than they were two years ago? I don’t know many.
Tiny gains add up fast. Average speed can take you far if you just keep walking. The weight on the bar should grow like a calf in a field: slowly, gradually, reasonably.