Since movement is a language, then we can use learning a language as a parallel for how we learn a sport. So, how does one learn a language? It all depends on how well you want to speak the language.

If you want to be able to do say a few phrases while on a vacation, then you don’t need to study the language in detail, all you need to do is memorize and practice the phrases you want to be able to say… “hello, my name is…”, “which way to the beach”, “I don’t speak … (e.g. Spanish)”, “another beer please”.

If you want to hold a casual conversation, then you need to gain a vocabulary, a bit of grammer, an understanding of sentence structure.

If you want to be able to conduct business in a foreign language, or move to a country which does not use English widely, then you will need to devote considerable time and effort, likely taking one or several courses to study the language, then additional time and effort practicing to speak in the language with ongoing correction so that you can be certain you are expressing what you intend to communicate.

Point being… it depends on the goal.

Simple enough.

Problem is that although we would learn a language according to our goals, this is not how most learn a sport.

When it comes to sport, its not exactly clear what happens, but it seems most seem to do the opposite of what is required by their goal.

When it comes to sport, many start at the most challenging of goals – in running its typically a 1/2 or full marathon, in triathlon its an Olympic or even iron distance event, and in cycling its a grandfondo – but when it comes to training… instead of pairing proper training to the goal, many do the opposite.

To achieve this mispairing of training to goal, athlete’s have to seek short cuts, and the accessible source for short cuts and solutions is… a Google search. If you search Google for training programs you will find an endless supply. One thing they all have in common is that they all advertise that in mere weeks you will be able to go from couch to the event of your choice. Somehow we respect that it takes time to learn a language, but in sport there doesn’t seem to be such respect.

The attitude towards training is that its a formality, “hey, its sport… how hard can it be”, with the undertone being… losers train, winners skip training altogether and show up on the start line to ‘wing it’ because… again… how hard can it possibly be to swim or bike or run?

I Google’d the question… “How long does it take to learn a language”.  Here is the answer Google provided:

The answer Google provides is a close parallel to what I would say is required to start at a sport:

  • if we equate basic fluency in a language equal to a basic run event or triathlon event, e.g. either a 5k or 8k road run or a super sprint/try a tri triathlon
  • and if you trained 10hrs a DAY then 48 days is a reasonable period of training time.

But… no one starts by training 10hrs a day; however, 10hrs a week is possible which would mean that it would take 48 WEEKS to develop sufficient technique, form, and skill (i.e. basic fluency) in order to complete the basic event.

That is reasonable, and based on personal coaching experience, athletes who do take a full year (48 weeks + a couple off here and there) have obtained sufficient training to arrive at their goal event injury free, excited and eager to participate, and complete the event feeling fantastic!

Google goes on to suggest that a more complicated language (e.g. an off road or trail 5k run, or an off-road short course triathlon) would take 72 days.

Again, I think that is reasonable.  Taking an extra 24 weeks (i.e. 72-48 = 24) is what it would take to obtain the added balance, agility and technique required for an off-road event.

Its also important to point out… that these training scenarios do come with an assumption, and that is that the individual is not starting behind the curve, either in language or in sport. Imagine you had a cognitive deficit and/or learning disability or impairment… then these targets would need to be stretched out to take into consideration the added time that would be needed to arrive at the goal.

This applies equally in sport.  Today with 2/3rds of the population overweight, 1 in 12 obese, and most having at least one if not a few health issues (e.g. diabetic, heart arrythmias, anxiety, depression) then the targets for participating in an event need to be equally stretched out to ensure that the training process doesn’t take the individual backwards instead of forwards towards their goals.

With that said, if a year is a reasonable period for an healthy individual to train for the shortest distance events in running and triathlon (same for cycling), then how is it that there are all these 10, 12, 20 week programs promising 1/2 marathon, full marathon, even iron distance triathlon success?

Because they sell.

These programs do sell, as a result there are those eager to make them, put them online, and make money by selling them.

People will profit… even at the expense of another person!  Shocker. As if its the first time in history (not really…tobacco industry in the past, Facebook recently).

Better question is… should these so called training programs sell?

Absolutely not.

Problem is few people honestly evaluate their health, few want to admit they are unhealthy, few want to admit that they are overweight, have high blood pressure, are at risk of an heart attack, a stroke, of cancer, few want to admit they are struggling with anxiety, with depression, with compulsive behaviours and instead of dealing with these issues they just want to prove the opposite: that they are healthy. Give me an event to complete! Because…. completing an event, crossing a finish line, receiving a participation medal has become the “short cut” to proving to ourselves that we are healthy, irrespective of what the scale says, what our blood pressure says, what the scan says, what the doctor says, what anyone says… if we survive an event, then we must be healthy?  The more ‘epic’ the event, then the more healthy we must be.  And with that, Ironman Corp has figured out how to sell the illusion of health to wealthy boomers: tell them what they want to hear… that when they cross a finish line – no matter in what condition they finish – they are an “Ironman” (and everything that the title and identity has come to symbolize for them… i.e. I am healthy beyond belief! …even if it isn’t true).

We want to shove it in everyone’s face…. look… I did the Toronto Triathlon Festival, the Muskoka 70.3 triathlon, I ran the Chicago Marathon, I did the Ride for Cancer Grandfondo, I did an ‘epic’ event. In so doing, we want to believe that we have proven we are healthy, and that there is no possible way we are unhealthy (because the narrative – i.e. lie – is something like… I am healthy because I completed event ‘X’ because only healthy people could possible complete event ‘X’)!

Quantity of movement does not indicate health.
Quality of movement does.

If you move poorly, there is no amount of HiiT (hi intensity interval training) that will make up or cover up for the lack in movement language fluency.

If you move poorly, there is no amount of sports nutrition that will make up or cover up for the lack.

If you move poorly, there is no amount of sports apparel, aero carbon-fibre equipment that will make up or cover up for the lack.

In fact, the more HiiT, the more sports nutrition, the more kitted out and equipped… the more obvious the lack of fluency becomes.

Once the lack is obvious, then the delusion and denial depth become blatant, and then the overcompensation (sometimes verging on super overcompensation) from the perspective of spectators, coaches and athletes goes from uncomfortable to laughable.

You cannot fake peak performance, anyone can spot the athlete who shouldn’t be at the Olympics due to their lack of competency, technical ability, fluency even if as spectators we are not Olympic athletes or coaches. It is that evident.

So I challenge you… stop the delusion, stop pretending that you speak the language of movement well, start to study movement like it is a language.

Instead of constantly chasing the latest trend in gadgets, workouts, sports nutrition, apparel or equipment, chasing your tail in circles frustrating yourself to no end with your lack of progress, find a coach who speaks the language of movement, who trains athletes in the language of movement, and become a student yourself.

You will find that the limits you once thought existed as walls that you had to fight to break down, to suffer through in hopes of scaling over, are little more than grammatical issues that can be overcome with a bit of technical training in the mechanics of the language. You will find that the language of movement will start to open up to you… it will become a journey of discovery that you can become enchanted with, enthralled with, enamored… if you only allow yourself.

If you give yourself permission, you will find that movement is fascinating, intriguing, and complex beyond your imagination, and it is waiting for you to pursue.