Hello everyone! As a fitness coach and history buff, I have always been fascinated by the seemingly modern things one could have seen in the ancient world. I am speaking, in this case, about the first recorded example (of which I am aware) of personal training.
by Matt Crews
Personal training is everywhere today and a great deal of science goes into it. One just naturally assumes, upon seeing an Olympic athlete, that there is a team of well educated trainers to provide coaching. While this may be so today, it was not necessarily the norm in the old days. So let me tell you a story of what happens when a very powerful Nerd teams up with a very powerful Jock…
The story of Milo of Croton and his personal trainer Pythagoras
Before we get into the ancient history I should probably offer the standard disclaimer. None of what you are about to read is verifiable historical fact. The characters and their association with each other are facts but the details are pure conjecture, on my part, which cannot be proven. But, by the same token, they cannot be dis-proven, either. So, here we go.
The name of Pythagoras is likely familiar to you from high school geometry class. A mathematician, astronomer, philosopher and vegetarian from Samos; the famous theorem bears his name. His credentials as a Nerd are thus well established and I will not dwell upon them. At some point he moved (or was exiled) to Croton, a Greek city in southern Italy, where he spent most if not all of the rest of his life. Shortly after this move, he met and befriended a young kid who was already gaining a reputation for athletic ability. His name was Milo.
Milo of Croton you may not have heard of, but he was to be the most famous Olympic athlete of his day. It is known that he later married Pythagoras’ daughter and also that his trainer and wrestling coach was a man named Pythagoras, though there is debate as to whether his father in law and his trainer were the same person. I think they were. As a boy Milo was already strong and sturdy of frame. He began training by carrying a calf across his shoulders for a few hours every day. He would carry this bovine weight uphill and downhill and at differing speeds. Milo carried the same calf everyday and as Milo grew to be a young man, the calf grew to be a bull. Imagine a client doing walking lunges with a bull across their shoulders! I see the mind of Pythagoras at work here as this is nothing more or less than progressive resistance training, a form of training where the amount of weight a person lifts is gradually increased over time, in order to increase strength. Progressive resistance training is still quite popular, although most gyms now offer iron weights rather than livestock.
Was carrying a calf effective training? As a wrestler Milo won both the Olympic and Pythian games while still a boy. As an adult he went on to win five more Olympic titles, six more Pythian crowns and also won his event nine times in the Nemean games and ten times at the Isthmian games. As such he was a five time Periodonikes, which is a title bestowed when you win in all four games in the same 4-year cycle. His career as an elite athlete lasted at least 25 years. In his seventh try for Olympic gold he was defeated. His opponent bested him by avoiding the grapple and keeping his distance until Milo ran out of steam, a technique any trainer of MMA fighters would recognize.
So there you have it. A combination of brainy coach and brawny athlete that proved unbeatable in ancient Greece. Nothing like it was to be seen until Yoda trained Skywalker…. but that is a story for the future. Thanks for reading.