Milo of Croton: Father Of Progressive Resistance

milo3Milo of Croton, an ancient world legendary athlete, is best remembered for his might and great strength.

He was born in Croton, a Greek colony in the southern part of Italy and it is here where his legend grew.

The legend of Milo’s celebrated strength began I his childhood.

The now famous legend goes, that he carried his pet calf daily increasing the distance gradually.

As the calf grew and increased in size, Milo’s muscles grew stronger and he could carry it easily when it was a full-grown ox.


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He continued his practice of carrying burdens until no man of his time could lift more than him. 

How much of this actually happened is lost in the mists of time. But what we can do is trace the invention of progressive resistance as a methodology for greater strength to this period in history.

That he was incredibly strong for his day is beyond question. How many athletes from 100 years ago can we remember let alone 2500 years?

Milo's Athletic Achievements

Milo of Croton gained Olympic victory a total of six times. It is believed his first victory was in and aroun 540 BCE,  in the boy’s wrestling tourney.

Eight years after the 540BCE contest, Milo returned in the world of wrestling and won five titles consecutively, a feat that seems incredible even by modern standards.

In fact, in the modern world, it is rare for an Olympian to contend in more than three Olympiads in the course of his or her career.

Milo resisted retirement and participated in the 67th Olympiad of around 512 BCE at probably, the age of forty years.

He lost, not because his challenger overpowered him, but because the challenger avoided him which worn the older wrestler out. 

Milo’s Unrivaled Strength

Milo enjoyed boasting of his might. For instance, we are told that he would grasp a pomegranate tightly in the hand and have his peers try to seize it from him. Not one of his peers managed to take the fruit away even at one occasion.

Surprisingly, although he used to hold the fruits tight enough so no-one could remove them – he never damaged them.

On other occasions, Milo would tie a twine around his forehead and then break it by bulging his forehead veins.

Other times, he would have others try to shove him off a lubricated iron disk while standing on it.

They did not prevail.  


Milo Saves Lives

Milo was an associate of Pythagoras. On one occasion, the Pythagoreans were gathered when the roof of the room they were meeting started to collapse. We are told that Milo stood and held the central pillar of the roofing until all the people had escaped to safety. He then released the pillar and dived out, saving himself also.

Milo in the Battlefield

Croton never lost a battle during Milo’s time. Whenever a neighboring  colonies came to war, Milo went into battle wearing his Olympic crowns, dressed in a lion’s skin like Herakles, brandishing a club.

His prowess in battle was also mythic. It is said that when he seized an enemy chariot with his hands, the horses could not move it until he let go of it. 

It is his association with the legend of Herakles (Hercules) that raises questions about the validity of some of Milo’s feats.

His Olympic victories are undisputed but some of the other claims could have been part propaganda.

You have to remember in the ancient world religion and politics were closely entwined. And this was a world where gods and their offspring walked the earth according to their legends.

Milo’s Less Glorious Death

Possessing great strength is nothing, if it cannot be employed. Milo’s death was such a case in point.

One day, Milo was wandering alone in the forest. He found an abandoned tree trunk that had wedges inserted by the woodcutters who abandoned it

Milo was tempted to split it apart using his hands alone.

Unfortunately, he only managed to loosen the wedges and no sooner had they fallen off; the trunk closed trapping his hands into it.

Carnivores ate him, as he lay trapped.

An inglorious end to a glorious strength legend