How to train like an Ancient Greek Olympian


Sciura Tigrina Croatica
Staff member
Legend has it that the Ancient Greek athlete Milo of Croton was so strong he could break a cord tied around his head with only the force of his brow. In the 6th Century BC, he gained fame as a formidable wrestler, winning six times at the Olympic Games. He supposedly had complete control of his muscles, tensing or relaxing them according to his opponent's moves.

How did he get so strong? The stories say he deployed an unusual method. With no protein shakes or dumbbells available, he trained by lifting a male calf. As the animal grew, he repeated the lift until it was the size of a bull. He supposedly then carried it on his shoulders around Olympia, before slaughtering and eating it.

Given that a fully-grown adult bull can weigh between 500 to 1,000kg (1,100 to 2,200lb), there is surely some exaggeration in this tale. Croton's feat would have exceeded the heaviest deadlift on record. But what's interesting about the story is that his technique echoes a modern principle of training called "progressive overload", where weight is gradually added over time to build muscle.

So, how did other ancient athletes train? The first fighters and runners of the Olympic Games had only rudimentary technology and scant physiological knowledge, but their methods were more sophisticated than many might assume.