“Why am I not getting stronger? I’ve been going to CrossFit classes for months and I still can’t use a heavier barbell or dumbbell in my workouts. What gives?” Have you ever asked your coach this question or even just thought it in your head?

While there are many different factors that can differ on an case by case basis; what’s your eating look like, how are you sleeping, what does your technique look like, are you coming to class consistently, etc.; there is a major factor that has to be taking place for everyone in order to make your body grow stronger.

I am talking about the principle of progressive overload. This simply means that, over time, we must increase the intensity (weight/difficulty of skill/number of reps/etc.) of whatever it is we are trying to get better at. For example, if we do a set of back squats one week at 45 lbs. then the following week we should do the same number of sets/reps at 50-55 lbs.

We can continue this progression unless or until our technique begins to break down. Even when that happens though we can continue to progressively overload our training by manipulating any of the other variables I mentioned earlier.

The principle of progressive overload is exemplified by the ancient Greek story of Milo of Croton and his Bull.  At some point in Milo’s childhood he decided that when he grew up he was going to be known as the greatest athlete in all of Greece. Milo knew that in order to achieve his goals, he needed to start training as soon as he could and by whatever means necessary. With his goal in sight, Milo carried his family’s only young calf up the nearby mountain and brought it back down all in one training session. Milo continued on this regimen everyday through the calf’s adolescence and into its adulthood.

Gradually over time Milo of Croton’s calf grew into a massive bull. Carrying the ever increasing, and consequently constantly varied (because of the changing shape and size of the bull), load up the mountain continuously forced Milo’s body to adapt to the new stimulus. Thus making Milo stronger and better able to accomplish the training task set before him.

Now I know what you’re thinking; No, you do not have to start carrying an animal around in order to get stronger in the gym. But we can take a similar approach to our training at the box that Milo had with his hike up the mountain.

Consistently find ways to increase the intensity of what you are trying to get better at. If you want to get stronger and use heavier weights in our conditioning then start by adding sets with a slightly heavier DB or barbell, you don’t have to use the same weight the whole way through a WOD.

If you are trying to pull or push your body weight up then start with the most advanced version of the movement you can do when fresh and then scale down as you get tired. There are so many different ways you can overload your training – pick one and push yourself.


You will only improve if you gradually increase your intensity over a long term progression. This is a fundamental truth about strength and conditioning. There is no getting around it. The good news is that this is simple to accomplish in practical application. The less good news is that it will force us to play around at the edge of our weaknesses.

In order to get better at whatever your goal is you have to be willing to hit that edge and fail as many times as it takes. If you are willing to endure the frustration of failure then you will push that edge further and further away as you get stronger and your bull grows larger.

This is not a fast process. Milo of Croton carried that bull every day from its infancy as a calf until it was a 2,400 pound behemoth. That did not happen in a few weeks. Progressive overload works, but it will require consistent effort over the long haul and the humility to stick with it when your progress isn’t happening as fast as you’d like it to.

Work hard, work smart, work consistently, and work humbly; and one day you’ll be standing at the top of your own mountain with your own fully grown bull on your back asking yourself –

“Where’s a higher mountain I can climb next?”


Looking for a community of like minded athletes to help you get stronger? Connect with us at https://crossfitbradenton.com/  to get your journey up the mountain started!

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