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Let's Play Scrabble... On an Atlas Stone!

Updated: Sep 22, 2021

This week’s blog post was a bit of a ride through some back country roads of thought and intent. I initially wanted to break-down the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of progressive overload, and I will in the future, but I feel the concept deserves an introduction. I also felt compelled to talk about strength of will and strength of character. Those too, will be topics of future posts. This week, however, I want to simply dig into some historical context and introduce three key aspects of my weight training program: progressive overload, periodization, and auto-regulation.

I am going to start with progressive overload. Why? Because it’s probably the term many of you have heard most often or may even be utilizing in your own programming. But do you know the history of progressive overload? Well, it starts a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Ok, not a galaxy far, far away, but definitely a long time ago relative to the average human life span. As it begins with most human histories, the principle of progressive overload was born from legend. Milo (or Milon) was a renowned Greek wrestler of the 6th century BCE who not only led an army to victory but also won over thirty wrestling bouts during his lifetime. Purportedly, he trained by picking up and carrying a baby calf everyday from the animal’s birth to physical maturity.(1) Now, isn’t that the quintessential example of progressive overload? Succinct and elegant. I suppose this could be replicated, but I wouldn’t recommend attempted to pick up a cow, regardless its size. Of course, the sport of ‘strongman’ is defined by its odd implements and carrying a living steak would be fitting. But I digress.

The purpose of progressive overload can be defined as the incremental (progressive) stress (overload) of the muscle(s) so that they can produce more force or increase their endurance. The principle is simple enough, and so is its practical application. It begins to become a bit more complicated when we introduce periodization and auto-regulation.

If progressive overload is the building’s foundation, then periodization is the frame. Periodization is the program strategy, including timeframe, to maximize the ability to attain a specific goal or set of goals. Those goals can be endurance, power, hypertrophy, or strength. Periodization can be comprised of macrocycles, mesocycles, and microcycles; in other words, the large, medium, and small blocks of time that make-up the program, or training period.(2) I know, it’s a bunch of shmancy words that really just describe a training program. But it helps to have a common vocabulary when consulting with other athletes or coaches.

Lastly, we have auto-regulation. Personally, I find this to be the most beneficial concept for older strength athletes. Auto-regulation is in direct contrast to fixed-loading. Simply described, auto-regulation allows for adjustments within a given training period, while fixed-loading does not. Using the structure-of-our-building metaphor, auto-regulation is the architectural design. It is the ‘how’ to each workout, and a theory that in my opinion, can save a person from catastrophic injury. And, it turns out, sports research supports the use of auto-regulation.(3)

So, I give to you, oh dear reader, some new words the next time you play scrabble. Seriously, I hope this is a helpful introduction, or review, of a few terms that can become integral to your workouts. Stay tuned for more in-depth discussion in future posts. I wish you well fellow strong-creatures. Strength and honor.

References (in case you want to go straight to the source)

1. Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. (2017). Milo of Croton. Encyclopedia Britannica,

2. Metoyer, C., & Allen, K. Periodization Approach Utilizing Progressive Overload Method for Physical Training Program in ROTC Cadets.

3. Zhang, X., Li, H., Bi, S., Cao, Y., & Zhang, G. (2021). Auto-regulation method vs. fixed-loading method in maximum strength training for athletes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in Physiology, 12, 244.

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