The Myth of Linear Strength Gains
Very few training myths actually have roots in ancient mythology. But such is the case for the idea of linear strength gains. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the terminology, perhaps the story of Milo of Croton will help clarify…
Milo was a 6th century Greek wrestler whose legend was larger than life. He was a 6 time Olympic champion who was best known for his amazing feats of strength. Legend has it that Milo would train everyday by putting a baby calf on his shoulders and walking up the nearest mountain. Day by the day the calf grew and grew, and Milo got stronger and stronger. Four years later Milo could be spotted daily walking up the mountain with a full size bull on his back.
Now lets be serious, you’re not Milo and this is not 6th century Greece. As grandiose and far-fetched as that story seems, it still resonates in gyms to this day. I’m not talking about local gym bros adorning bovine day-in-day-out. But there is a cohort of people who apply this same principle to their training. Every workout they just incrementally add more and more weight to their lifts, expecting one day to become a legend like Milo.
If you’re new to the gym you probably feel like our good friend Milo, making steady progress with every training session. Enjoy it, because this progress won’t last. In the early stages of working out you undergo a process referred to as neuromuscular adaptation and usually lasts anywhere from the first 8-12 weeks of training.
Essentially this initial stage of training is the process in which your body recruits motor units. A Motor unit refers to a single neuron and its associated muscle fibers. Larger muscles responsible for gross movements- like the movements usually trained in the gym (knee extension, elbow flexion etc.) have more muscle fibers designated to a single neuron. Initial stages of training allow for the nervous system to recruit more of these motor units, which were previously left dormant. The new stimulus of weight training will stop manifesting itself in measurable strength increases once all the motor units within a particular trained muscle group have been recruited.
After your 8-12 week inauguration and you’re firing on all cylinders- for lack of a better term, you’ll reach an inevitable plateau, get used to it. If you’re in this lifestyle for the long haul strength plateaus are going to become all too familiar. These plateaus are merely representative of an adaptation made by the body in response to a stimulus, nothing more- nothing less.
The thing with muscles is they don’t understand weight as a number. Your pec’s don’t see the extra-plate on the bench this week and think, “ alright, I guess its time to grow”. Granted, weight is a variable that can evoke a change in muscle strength and size, but the key thing to remember is it’s not the ONLY variable. People get lost in a fictitious dose response relationship when it comes to weight and strength. The assumption is that “ if some is good, more is best”. But nothing could be further from the truth. Like Craig says “ train with a purpose, train with intensity and train with a plan”.
Nothing works every time.