Milo of Croton

Intriguing Milo the Greek Story Progressive Overload Training #1

Last Updated on October 9, 2022 by Andrew Pirie

Intriguing Milo the Greek Story Progressive Overload Training

When we think about Milo in the Philippines, we may think of this.

milo logo with Rio Dela Cruz
Milo logo with Afro-Haired Rio Dela Cruz

But the real story of Milo of Croton Began in Ancient Greece. In the 6th Century BC, there was a wrestler from the city of Croton in the South of Greece.

Milo the Greek was a six-time athletic victor at the Ancient Olympic Games held every four years; he won the boy’s title and then the men’s title for 20 years.

He also won seven crowns at the Pythian.

 

Milo of Croton: The Strongest Greek that ever lived

Nearly 2,500 years back, the Greek wrestler Milo of Croton was deemed to be the greatest man in the history of mankind. He is a man of remarkable strength and athleticism and has outlined three basic methods for strengthening muscles that can be learned: start very light, never skip exercises and increase training gradually.

Milo was reportedly the best-known wrestler of the day and he was a six-time wrestler champion at the Ancient Olympic Games in Greece. In 590 BC his team won the boy’s wrestling division and then won the men’s competition for five consecutive Olympics.

Personal Life

Croton was an ancient Greek colony in Magna Graecia (southern Italy) that was established circa 710 BC.  Croton led in Olympic titles, physics, and sobriety, and Pythagoras founded his school in Croton in 530 BC. In 510 BC, 100,000 Crotonese troops destroyed the rival city of Sybaris, and Croton sent ships to help the Greeks in the Greco-Persian Wars.

Pausanias said that he was Diotimus’ son. The philosopher Pythagoras, who spent a significant amount of time in or close to Croton, is linked to Milo by ancient writers. Commentators might have mistaken Pythagoras of Samos, an athletic trainer, for the philosopher, but it’s also plausible that they were one and the same person. 

Milo of Croton was said to have saved Pythagoras’s life when a pillar collapsed in a banquet hall. He may have married Myia, a Pythagorean herself, or possibly his daughter. Herodotus says wrestlers accepted money from physician Democedes for the privilege of marrying Milo’s daughter.

 

Athletic Career

Five times, Milo of Croton won the Olympic title of “Periodonikes.” Every four years, the Olympics were staged in ancient Greece.

He spent nearly 24 years competing at a high level. He participated in the Games at Delphi (one as a boy), the Isthmian Games (ten), and the Nemean Games (nine).

In 516 BCE, a young wrestler from Croton who had been practicing the art of akrocheirismos—literally, “highhandedness” or “wrestling at arm’s length”—became the first person to defeat (or tie) Milo of Croton in his quest for a seventh Olympic crown; Milo the Greek suffered from simple weariness.

 

Military Experience

milo of croton in battle
Milo of Croton in battle

The conflict between Croton and the neighboring Sybarite city-state of Sybaris first broke out in 510 BC after Telys, a Sybarite tyrant, exiled Sybaris’ 500 richest residents after seizing their land.

The chance for the Crotoniates to overthrow a strong neighbor arose when the exiled Sybarites sought safety at Croton and Telys demanded their return.

In a description that was published 500 years after the incident, Diodorus Siculus claimed that the philosopher.

The decision to defend the exiled Sybaris residents was decided after Pythagoras, who spent a large portion of his life in Croton, pleaded with the Croton assembly to do so. This worsened the conflict between the two cities, and Milo the Greek led the attack against Sybaris.

 

According to Diodorus (XII, 9):

“One hundred thousand men of Croton were stationed with three hundred thousand Sybarite troops ranged against them. Milo the athlete led them and through his tremendous physical strength first turned the troops lined up against him.”

Diodorus claims that Milo the Greek was in charge of the conflict with the Sybarites. He carried a club like the mythical hero Heracles and wrote his Olympic crowns on a lion’s skin.

 

Feats of Strength

How to Build Muscle Like Milo the Greek

Milo of Croton is claimed to have developed his amazing strength using a straightforward yet effective method. A young calf was born not far from Milo the Greek house one day. The wrestler decided to pick up the tiny creature and carry it on his shoulders. Milo the Greek went back and repeated it the following day. Milo the Greek kept up this tactic for the following four years, raising the calf onto his shoulders every day as it grew until he was lifting a four-year-old bull instead of a calf. This fable of Milo the Greek and the bull perfectly encapsulates the fundamentals of strength training.

 

Milo of Croton was said to have been able to carry a bull up a mountain. What would be the likely weight of a bull in the 6th century BCE Crotonia?

They would have been much more compact. Since the Middle Ages, farm animals have gotten to truly astounding sizes. Essentially, a bull at full maturity would be the size of a calf today. So a calf is born weighing approximately 85 pounds and grows by around 2.5 pounds daily until weaning, when they weigh, on average, about 600 pounds.

These statistics are approximate but near enough to give you a general sense. It’s not impossible if the bull was smaller than typical and at a different stage of maturation. A fully grown bull weighs about 2400 pounds today, so there is a significant disparity.

Milo the Greek: Strength Training: The Core Principles

“When you first start to study a field, it seems like you have to memorize a zillion things. You don’t. What you need is to identify the core principles – generally three to twelve of them – that govern the field. The million things you thought you had to memorize are simply various combinations of the core principles.”
—John T. Reed

Conflicting ideas fill the health and fitness industry with unnecessary complexity and thousands of experts. If anything I’ve learned during ten years of strength training, mastering the fundamentals is more valuable than worrying about the details. For example, let’s discuss three core principles of strength training hidden in Milo the Greek and the bull’s story. Here they are.

 

1. Start too light: Focus on the volume before intensity.

Did Milo the Greek attempt to hoist a mature bull on the first day?

  • No.
  • He started with a young calf.
  • This was likely a weight that was simple for him given his prowess in wrestling.
  • The same principles apply to both you and me.
  • Start by lifting something easy when you start strength training.

 

2. Don’t miss workouts
  • Did Milo the Greek 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 at the beginning that you build the capacity to handle heavier weights later on.
3. Increase in small ways
  • Milo of Croton’s calf gained very little weight each day—an ounce here, a pound there—but throughout a very short period, these modest gains added up to a considerable weight gain.
  • The same principles apply at the gym.
  • Do you believe you could squat one pound more this week than last?
  • I think most folks could.
  • You could be squatting 100 pounds more than you are now if you added just one pound per week for two years.
  • How many individuals do you know who can now lift 100 pounds more than they could two years ago?
    I do not know many.
  • Small benefits pile up quickly.
  • If you keep walking, an average pace can get you quite far.
  • The weight of the bar should increase gradually and sensibly, like a calf in a field.

Tudor Bompa touches base on Progressive Overload Training in his interview on Periodization.

 

What would happen to someone’s body with the mythical diet of Milo of Croton?

Each 100g of bread and meat contains about 250 calories.

We can reduce that estimate a little bit because modern bread is much easier to stomach than bread from 600 BC. After all, it doesn’t include microscopic grains of sand and other things.

Similar to how wine was not always what it is now. The grapes used were low-sugar varieties, and the goal was to produce a lot rather than sugary quality.

Even so, that still amounts to around 40 000 calories after rounding down a little to allow for lower-quality meals. An average sumo wrestler consumes 20.000 calories daily. Ordinary people can consume more than 8,000 calories per day when traveling to the north pole.

It still seems inflated, but perhaps not quite as much. He might have consumed as much food as a sumo wrestler or perhaps more if he was big, strong, and active. Maybe he didn’t eat much every day, but that was just how much he used to.

Can you obtain the body of an antique Greek athlete (ex: Milo of Croton) by doing the same training as them (ex: wrestling, calisthenics, strongman training)?

No doubt. Take a look at today’s UFC fighters, strongmen, and wrestlers. Take a look at Chris Heria and other guys who “just” do calisthenics to build their physiques. There are undoubtedly genetic and work ethic restrictions, but if you put in enough effort, you can develop a fantastic body without using a weight room.

 

Conclusion

Progressive overload training is nothing new the Ancient Greeks used the technique. However, it is a crucial fundamental of weight lifting that should incorporate into any program where the goal is to build muscle.

 

Milo of Croton: Death

Eighteenth century engraving of a painting by Georges Georgion depicting the sixth century Greek wrestler Milo of Croton being attacked by a lion. --- Image by © Chris Hellier/Corbis
Eighteenth-century engraving of a painting by Georges Georgian depicting the sixth-century Greek wrestler Milo of Croton being attacked by a lion. — Image by © Chris Hellier/Corbis

The Ancient Greeks frequently attributed great people’s notable deaths to their personas.

Milo the Greek died at an unknown time, but Strabo (VI, 1, 12) and Pausanias (VI, 14, 8) claim that he was strolling through woodland when he came across a tree trunk that had been wedge-cut.

Milo thrust his hands into the gap and used strength to rip the tree. He was trapped as the wedges from the breach dropped and the tree closed in on his hands.

The more likely scenario, according to a contemporary historian, is that Milo was traveling alone when he was attacked by wolves and was unable to flee. The wolves then devoured him, and his remains were discovered at the base of a tree.

 

References:

Abdo, J. (2020). Wolves of Croton: The Untold Story of Milo. (n.p.): Ja Communications, Incorporated.

Beale, A. (2011). Greek Athletics and the Olympics. Spain: Cambridge University Press.

Clear, James. “How to Build Muscle: Strength Lessons from Milo of Croton.” James Clear, 11 Sept. 2014, jamesclear.com/milo.

Linde, B. M. (2007). Olympic Wrestling. United States: Rosen Publishing Group.

Milo of Croton | Biography, Wrestling, & Facts. (n.d.). Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved September 3, 2022, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Milo-of-Croton

Milo of Kroton. (n.d.). Milo of Kroton. Retrieved September 3, 2022, from https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/Olympics/milo.html

Poliakoff, M. B. (1987). Combat Sports in the Ancient World: Competition, Violence, and Culture. United Kingdom: Yale University Press.

Spivey, N. (2012). The Ancient Olympics. United Kingdom: OUP Oxford.

Wolstencroft, A. (2012). The Milo Regimen: Unleash Your Inner Beast. (n.p.): CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Young, D. C. (2004). A brief history of the Olympic games. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.

 

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