In physical conditioning, there is a concept called “progressive overload”. The idea is that you gradually add more and more of whatever exercise you want to do. By increasing the load you expect your body to handle, it adapts and becomes stronger and more capable. For example, over several months if you add mileage to your maximum running distance, eventually you’ll be able to run a 26.2 mile marathon. Before I ever ran very far, I naively thought this simply meant that each time you went running, you increased the mileage. But doing so is a guaranteed path to injury, and probably failure, because your body and mind need time to gradually adapt. Luckily, my uncle set me straight. As a long-distance runner since the late 1960’s, Uncle Bob explained several important aspects of progressive overload:
- Individual workload increases must be gradual (ex: only increase your long run distance by 10% per week)
- Total workload increases must be gradual (ex: only increase your weekly total mileage by 10% per week)
- Include short periods of rest (take a 1-2 days off every week)
- Include longer periods of reduced work (make every fourth week a “rest” or “step back” week where your total mileage is half of the previous week)
This training concept has been around for decades and millions of marathoners and athletes have proven it works. By pushing your body and mind, and then giving them time to adapt and adjust, you can train yourself to handle more.
I have found this methodology also works well for climbing, writing, speaking, and just about everything else in life that is hard, but rewarding. In the beginning, your mind may struggle to believe that some big goal is achievable. But with focus and effort, over time you can achieve far more than you think you can today. The impossible becomes possible.
Through this progressive challenge approach, you make yourself more and more capable. Take on more than you think you can handle, so that later you can handle even more.
Jim Davidson, Speaking of Adventure