Intriguing Milo of Croton Story Progressive Training 1

Milo of Croton

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

milo logo with Rio Dela Cruz
Milo logo with 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 was a six-time athletic victor at the Ancient Olympic Games held every four years, he won the boys title and then the men’s title for 20 years.

He also won seven crowns at the Pythian.

How to Build Muscle Like Milo of Croton

It is said that Milo of Croton built his incredible strength through a simple, but profound strategy.

One day, a newborn calf was born near Milo’s home.

The wrestler decided to lift the small animal up and carry it on his shoulders.

The next day, he returned and did the same.

Milo continued this strategy for the next four years, hoisting the calf onto his shoulders each day as it grew until he was no longer lifting a calf, but a four-year-old bull. [3]


The core principles of strength training are encapsulated in this legendary tale of Milo and the bull.

Milo of Croton : 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 there is anything I’ve learned during 10 years of strength training, it’s that mastering the fundamentals is more valuable than worrying about the details.


As an example, let’s discuss three of the core principles of strength training that are hidden in the story of Milo and the bull.

Here they are…


1. Start too light: Focus on the 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 of Croton 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 of Croton calf grew just a little bit.

An ounce here, a pound there. And yet, these tiny gains added up to 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.

Adding 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.


Milo of Croton Military Career

milo of croton in battle
milo of croton in battle

About 510 BC, hostilities arose between Croton and nearby Sybaris when Telys, a Sybarite tyrant, banished the 500 wealthiest citizens of Sybaris after seizing their property.

When the displaced Sybarites sought refuge at Croton and Telys demanded their return, an opportunity for the Crotoniates to destroy a powerful neighbor presented itself.[5]

In an account that appeared five hundred years after the event, Diodorus Siculus wrote that the philosopher


Pythagoras, who spent much of his life at Croton, urged the Croton assembly to protect the banished citizens of Sybaris.

Deciding to do so was made, the dispute between the two cities was aggravated, each took up arms, and Milo led the charge against Sybaris.[3][6]

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 indicates Milo led the charge against the Sybarites wearing his Olympic crowns, draped in a lion skin, and brandishing a club in a manner similar to the mythic hero Heracles (see adjacent image). Games at Delphi (one as a boy), ten at the Isthmian Games, and nine at the Nemean Games.


[2] Milo of Croton was a five-time Periodonikēs, a “grand slam” sort of title bestowed on the winner of all four festivals in the same cycle.

 Milo of Croton career at the highest level of competition must have spanned 24 years


Milo of Croton was defeated (or tied) in his attempt at a seventh Olympic title in 516 BCE by a young wrestler from Croton who practiced the technique of akrocheirismos—literally, ‘highhandedness’ or wrestling at arm’s length—and by doing so, avoided Milo’s crushing embrace. Simple fatigue took its toll on Milo.


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

The Ancient Greeks typically attributed remarkable deaths to famous persons in keeping with their characters.[2]

The date of Milo’s death is unknown, but according to Strabo (VI, 1, 12) and Pausanias (VI, 14, 8), Milo was walking in a forest when he came upon a tree-trunk split with wedges.

Displaying strength Milo inserted his hands into the cleft to rend the tree. The wedges fell from the cleft, and the tree closed upon his hands, trapping him.

Unable to free himself, the wrestler was devoured by wolves.[1][2][3]


A modern historian has suggested it is more likely that Milo was traveling alone when attacked by wolves.

Unable to escape, he was devoured and his remains found at the foot of a tree.

Tudor Bompa touches base on Progressive Training in his interview on Periodization,



Progressive overload is nothing new the Ancient Greeks used the technique. It is a crucial fundamental of weight lifting which should be incorporated into any program where the goal is to build muscle mass.



Intriguing Milo of Croton Story Progressive Training 1 1