As a follow up to the blog titled “The [HiiT] Training Trap” which detailed how not to train, there needs to be a blog which discusses how you should train and how long does it indeed take to achieve even one small simple athletic goal, let alone a lofty goal such as running in a road race, cycling in a grandfondo, swimming at a meet or competing in a triathlon.

To help explain, I found Mike Boyd’s Youtube. Mike takes pleasure in learning new skills, and documenting via Youtube exactly how long it took, and the process by which he got there. In the video used in this post, Mike challenges himself to complete 5 muscle ups. What I like most about Mike is that he places no restrictions on how he will achieve his goal, nor how long he has to achieve it.  Click here for Mike’s Youtube channel

First what’s a muscle up? Mike can’t do one yet, so Gabriel in the first gif demonstrates one for us. Gabriel makes it look easy. Note that anyone who makes anything look easy, effortless – unlike pro triathlete Lionel Sanders while running [as it looks like he has glass in each shoe] has trained progressively, using drills, focusing on form, technique, and posture to achieve the desired and demonstrated level of ability.

Second, here’s Mike attempting to do a muscle up… looks like its gonna take a bit of training!

Let’s get to the point…

The intention of this post is to show that it takes a fair amount of time even when one is training consistently to achieve athletic goals. To achieve his goal of 5 muscle ups, Mike had to train for 3 months. Stop, and think about that. How many programs offer you to “Learn to Run”, “Learn to do a Marathon”, “Learn to do a Triathlon” and promise in 8, 10 or 12 weeks (i.e. 3 months max) you will not only learn, but train to be able to compete in an event?

A muscle up is not a discrete movement, it is a complex movement, a movement made of at least 5 component movements, yet a muscle up on its own is not enough technique yielding execution of any specific sport, yet training to do just 5 muscle ups took 3 months.

Swimming, cycling, running are all highly complex movements, each made up of at least 8-10 basic actions (with each action a combination of several complex movement), and that doesn’t even start to address the need for cardiovascular and respiratory capacity. So how realistic is the marketing that you can “Learn to Run” in 10 short weeks and end up actually able to run a meaningful distance with proper technique, proper form, proper posture and most importantly able to run with a level of ease and comfort (i.e. as in proper breathing, and an appropriate heart rate)?

Learning to do any sport in 3months or less ain’t gonna happen, at least not without a ton of short cuts being thrown into the mix. I’m not alone in this view, on the website (Dan Empfield’s website devoted to triathlon), Dan shares his belief that it takes 3 years (as in 36 months) to become a runner. Now consider the challenge of learning to swim. Running at least provides the reference point of solid ground beneath you to connect in every stride; in swimming you are in medium that offers significant resistance to movement, that makes breathing a skill set all on to itself, and on top you are in an entirely different context as you are horizontal trying to move not forwards but effectively up (forward from the top of your head is up when we are on dry land). Cycling is in the middle, as we are to balance only on two small patches of rubber which are our contact points with the ground; poor balance = poor cyclist.

The point is not that you must train for years before entering an event, the point is be cautious of anyone selling you performance in sport is possible in a short period of time.

Retailers desperate to sell you every gimmick, gadget, and piece of training equipment and apparel they have, will tell you whatever they think you want to hear just so that you spend, spend, spend. A marathon this year and you’ve never ran a day in your life… sure, no problem!

Web based coaches and coaches with clubs and teams in need of new athletes and members will tell you whatever they think you want to hear just so that you sign up with them, and buy, buy, buy… their training plans, the “sports nutrition” line they push, the short cuts they rely on to get them to finish lines. An Ironman this year and you’ve been a desk jockey for decades, have no fitness and questionable health… no problem!

Point #1 – Healthy Training Takes Time

I have triathletes who swim once a week, for 45-60 minutes at a time and they complain that its taking time to develop the technique they feel they need in order to be able to complete the distance they want to race in the summer. No guff! They train an hour a week and wonder why they aren’t swimming like Michael Phelps.  Phelps trained for 5 years straight with no days off – none – to prepare for his first Olympics.  That was 5 years of training from the age of 13 at which point he had already been swimming with the North Baltimore Aquatic Club (NBAC) for 5 years. And he didn’t stop there… for the next Olympics, 4 more years of training, and then another for his 3rd Olympics, and… 4th Olympics, then… 5th Olympics.

If you expect performance to drop out of your ass like a golden egg then I am sorry to you for whomever sold you the story that you’ve got a goose up where the sun don’t shine. Reality is… those who do achieve – i.e. consistent peak performers who end up Olympians, World Champions – commit, devote, dedicate and give themselves to their dream of an athletic achievement by putting in thousands upon thousands of hours.

So.. be honest with yourself.  If all you have is 5 hrs a week, and have a fear of open water, didn’t swim with a team in your youth, did run a bit but are a little shaky on a bike, health is OK… then your first goal should be a Try A Tri triathlon, or maybe not even a full triathlon… a relay instead or perhaps just one of the three events (hint: your weakest) before you take on all three at once. Point being… if you are doing this for health, to start living a balanced lifestyle with exercise in the mix, then why does it have to be an Olympic distance triathlon or an iron distance… this year, or ever?  In the Olympics, the Super Sprint (i.e. same distance as Try A Tri events) will be raced in 2020 as team events… if those distances are good enough for Olympians and the Olympics, then why can’t it be enough for your first season, or two? Who says you have to run a marathon, or that you only become a runner when you do a marathoner? Think Canada was proud of our 800m Track & Field athlete Melissa Bishop who ran to 4th place in Rio.  Gee… if Melissa never runs a marathon in her life, despite going to the Olympics in track can she still count herself as a runner?

Point #2 – Healthy Training Follows A Progression

Mike breaks down a muscle up into its component movements: push-ups, dips, and pull-ups. He trains each individually to build capacity, to build technique, training to hold form as he fatigues and it takes him 93 days to be able to do 5 muscle ups.

When he tries to do a muscle up 7 weeks of working the individual components he cannot!  After 7 weeks most people aren’t around any more having quit because they didn’t see results immediately. Mike has lasted 7, and there is still no sight of being able to do just 1 muscle up. Feeling like he could unite the individual movements into the complex movement of a muscle up, Mike starts to use bands to take some of his body weight to make it easier and so that he can start to practice the full movement of a muscle up. Starting with two bands, he works his way to just one band… and eventually no band.

When he makes it to no band, the end is still not in sight.

Healthy Training takes time.

Healthy Training follows a progression.

Healthy Training cannot be rushed, bits cannot be skipped, it cannot be faked, short cutted.

Gabriel performing muscle-ups

Mike assessing his starting point

Enough of the training tools… let’s make it more challenging


Youtube video source of all the above gifs

Note: training can be reduced only AFTER the skill and capacity and technique have been gained to a degree where there is successful and consistent performance.  Many athletes stop before this is achieved inducing a start-stop cycle in which progress becomes impossible because they never complete sufficient consistent training to cause permanent change, i.e. as in the brain writing a motor program to incorporate the skill, capacity and technique into the subconscious.