A Runner’s Arm swing affects your cadence and heart rate

The other day I was riding my bike through the park and I noticed there were a lot of runners running with poor form.  The easiest thing to notice when passing by quickly on the bike is how people hold and swing their arms.  It appeared to me that they were working unnecessarily hard.  I began to wonder how something as simple as arm swing could affect someone’s pace, run cadence, and heart rate.  I suspected that with running with your arms low, at waist level would decrease run cadence due to making larger arm swings.  The larger arm swings would require more energy, thus raising their heart rate.  Those two things would decrease the pace they could sustain at any given heart rate.  I decided to test this out on our treadmill.  I set the treadmill at 9 MPH and a 1% incline to simulate out door running.  Below is the video of the test and screen shots of the data within the video.  If you don’t have time to watch this short video, the findings are below the video:

  1. 9 MPH at 1% grade with arms at correct height (about chest level at a 90 degree bend at the elbow) = 150 BPM and a cadence of 180-185
  2. 9 MPH at 1% grade with arms at waist = 155-156 BPM and a cadence of 165-170
  3. I could sustain the same HR of 155-156 BPM with the correct arm bend and swing at 9.2 MPH.  That is about 10 seconds per faster per mile.


  Correct run form (and arm position) from my triathlon days back in 2015.

This arm bend angle is too big. Running with an arm bend a this angle will decrease cadence, increase heart rate, and slow you down.



Strength Training for Triathletes

Strength training claims to have all sorts of benefits for endurance athletes.  However, if you are like me, you really despise the gym for several reasons… like being the scrawniest guy in the room and/or because some the “meat heads” in the gym monopolize a single machine for about 20-30 minutes and only use it for about a minute.  Despite all the reasons most endurance athletes hate going to the gym to move heavy objects, the gym plays a crucial role in the in how your season will play out.  Knowing your way around the gym, what to do during various times of the training cycle, and when to do your lifting around your endurance workouts are all very important.  Additionally, most triathletes are already extremely busy with their careers, family, and training, so getting in and out the gym quickly while still getting the quality in is a good skill to have as well.  The good news is that you can get some serious benefits in about 30 minutes of focused activity in the gym once or twice a week.

We will start with the basics of lifting.

  1.  Focus on the prime movers in the body – think big muscle groups (quads, hamstrings, lats, glutes)
  2. Prevent muscle imbalances – Injuries are often caused from muscle imbalances.  Lifting while working opposite muscle groups will prevent these injuries later in the season
  3. Use multi-joint exercises when possible – An example of single joint exercise is a bicep curl.  While everyone can admire 20 inch biceps, single joint exercises don’t mimic the multi-joint movements required by a triathlete. Multi-joint exercises would include exercises such as squats and several exercises with TRX bands.
  4. Always engage the core – When swimming, biking, and running a lot of force is transferred from one half of the body to the other through the core. If the core is weak, the power is lost and the athlete will move slower.
  5. Keep the number of exercises low – Spend as little time in the weight room as possible while getting as much sport specific improvement as possible
  6.  Use free weights when possible – machines are better than nothing.  But free weights will engage your core and stabilizer muscles.
  7.  Warm up –  before doing any strength routine, you should do about 10 minutes of light cardio to get the blood moving and muscles warmed up.

There are 3 basic “phases” of strength training.  Depending on where you are in the training cycle for your big race of the season will determine what routine to go through.

The first one is Anatomical Adaptation.  It’s exactly what it sounds like.  This phase is light weight high rep to allow the body to adapt to the added stressors.  Below is what Joe Friel recommends in his book “The Cyclist Training Bible” for the Anatomical Adaptation phase.  Assuming most triathletes in the northern hemispheres are training for their A race in late summer or early fall, the anatomical adaptation phase should start in late fall or early winter.

picture from Joe Friel’s “Training Bible for Cyclists”

When doing about a 9 month training cycle to your “A” race, this should be about 5-6 weeks.  To add a”cardio” element to your strength training, do a circuit by grouping the exercises into pairs.  For example, do a set of hip extensions and then while your legs are recovering, go to the Lat pull down machine for a set.  Repeat until you do the number of goal sets are accomplished.  In the anatomical adaptation phase, this is 2-5 sets.


The next phase of strength training is call Max Strength Phase.

Picture of the Max Strength protocol taken from Joe Friel’s “The Cyclist Training Bible”

As you can see, the number of reps per set and total number of sets goes way down in comparison to the Anatomical adaptation phase. What I have found that works best for myself and my athletes is to strategically plan these workouts as the last workout of the day on the day before a recovery day or day off.  The reason being is that your legs will most likely be too tired the following day to get in a high intensity run or bike workout.  That way the body has 48 hours to recover from the stress of lifting heavy prior to the next hard workout.  For a 9 month training cycle, this phase typically lasts about 4-5 weeks.


The final phase of strength training is called the Strength Maintenance Phase.

picture from Joe Friel’s “Cyclists Training Bible” for strength maintenance phase

This cycle is only once a week to keep the strength gains completely disappearing after all that hard work.  Again, time this workout on a day before a recovery day or day off to allow time in recovery.  This phase is good to try to do once week til the last 2-3 weeks of your A race for the year to allow the body to taper down adequately for peak performance.


For all the phases of strength training, you will inevitably go through a recovery week (assuming you work those into your training regime).  When you get to those weeks, reduce the number of sessions in gym, or the number of sets within the workout.


Once you feel comfortable with the strength training routine and want to add an additional stressor to help increase the speed/amount of gains made in power on the bike and speed on the run through in some pylometrics after a hip extension exercise and/or calf raise exercise.  Pylometrics can include, but not limited to, box jumps, single leg hops, lung jumps, etc.  These need to be explosive movements.  Don’t do these as fast as possible, so take time to recover a bit between the bursts in movements.

As with any workout, you should consume some calories within 30 minutes of working out to prevent muscle breakdown and promote muscle recovery/building.

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Fruit Ride – Louisville Group Ride

I love Louisville in the summer time much more than any other season.  Outdoor swimming, longer days, and lots of group rides. This one is dubbed the Fruit Ride.  Not really sure why it is called that since we don’t go by any thing that grows fruit.  But, this is one of my favorite group rides that happens during the summer.  Lots of good climbing, fast descents, and lots of attacking on the ride due to low traffic on the country roads around the Crestwood and Anchorage areas.  Check out this video for some of the sights during the ride.

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Swimming faster – Arm Turnover

While competing at the pro level, one of the biggest differences between racing at the age group level and the pro level is the importance of the swim.  I’m far from the best swimmer out there, but with the help of Lakeside Seahawks and their coach, Nate, I’ve made some big improvements in my swim in the last year and half.  One of the things they really worked with me on is developing a good catch.  Something I would argue that most triathletes don’t actually have (I am still trying to make mine better too).  What is a good catch?  Basically, it’s anchoring your forearm and hand in the water and moving your body past it it.  Getting a good catch takes time, drills, practice, more time, more practice, and more time! Breaking those bad habits can be rough. (I speak from experience!)

What I find interesting among triathletes and most triathlon coaches is how much they stress a good catch (and body position).  This is a great place to start, but I rarely see people get past this.  The stroke seems to be stuck at a very rigid, almost robotic, movement.  In a sense, they have all the steps correct, but the smoothness and quickness of their arms is lacking.  The rate at which your arms move through the water is called arm turnover.  This is very important to efficient swimming, especially in open water.

To help make the connection to how important arm turnover is, let’s compare it cycling and the RPM of your legs.  Pretty much everyone knows that the ideal cadence for people is somewhere around 90-100.  Why is that?  At higher RPM’s, you rely less on muscular endurance and glycogen stores and tax your cardiovascular system and fat stores more.  A lower cadence, such as one in the low to mid 80’s, starts using more muscular strength and glycogen stores.  (Those glycogen stores are crucial to a good run after biking.)  The same holds true with with swimming.  A faster arm turnover means you are using less muscular strength and relying more on cardiovascular fitness.

The second reason I believe a higher turnover in the swim is important is more crucial to open water swim success than pool swimming.  Open water naturally has more chop in it from the waves and other athletes thrashing around you.  If you have a larger time between strokes, the water slows you down and you have to accelerate back to your speed with each stroke.  Just as it is with driving a car, the more you slow down and accelerate, the less miles per gallon you get due wasted energy.  The human body is no different.

The next big question within this question is, “how do I know what my arm turnover should be?”  Obviously someone swimming 1:10/100 meters is going to have a different arm turnover than someone swimming 2:00/100 meters.  There are also other variables involved, such as the height of the athlete, arm length, and how efficient their stroke is, etc., but here is a graph to give you a range to shoot for:

arm turnover

Your goal should be to be somewhere in the white area based on your 100 meter time.  If you only have a 25 yard pool at your disposal, the easiest way to convert to meters is to add about 10% of your time (convert to seconds and multiply by 1.1 to get your 100 meter time).

Faster arm turnover doesn’t mean you are allowed to start thrashing in the water again with no regard to form or technique.  It just means that you need to cut out pauses in the stroke and have a faster recovery portion of your stroke (as in when your hand exits the water by your waist and re-enters past your head).

Here is a great example of fast arm turnover from some of the best swimming triathletes out there in the ITU circuit.

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Tuesday Night Worlds

You gotta love a hard group ride.  And they don’t get much harder than riding with some Cat 1 cyclists and some former professional cyclists that live in Louisville, KY.  Once it warms up in the spring, a weekly evening ride on Tuesdays is one of my favorite training sessions.  The cyclists here like to call it Tuesday Night Worlds. Hang on to your helmets and see a little bit of it for yourself from my perspective aboard my Argon 18 bike.


BSX Insight run test

This video shows me doing the run test on the BSX Insight and how it works.  It is super simple, blood free, and can be done anywhere there is a treadmill.  This device is incredibly useful for any biker, runner, or triathlete that wants to get faster. Use coupon code MAVMIKE to save $40 on the BSX Insight Multisport Unit! #StopthePricks


Training in Groups

When I first started getting serious about triathlons, I did most of my training on my own. I hired a coach and pretty much did everything to get race ready solo. I had a lot of room for improvement and the progress came relatively quickly. But in the last 18 months, I came to the realization that if I wanted to get faster I needed to start training with people that would push me, challenge me every day, and maybe even humble me a little bit. I slowly got outside of my own training bubble and began searching out other groups to train with on a regular basis.  The purpose of this blog is two fold: 1. Encourage people to find a group of people that will challenge/push you to new limits in training (or any area of life), and 2. A small way to say thanks to the groups I train with in Louisville on a regular basis.

Maverick Multisport connected me with the Lakeside Seahawks, a local swim team in Louisville, KY that has consistently ranked in the top 10 in the nation for kids swim teams. Simply put, these kids can swim! Not too many kids that are literally half my age (some less than that) can deflate your ego in the pool outside this swim team. Between the kids challenging me outside my comfort zone every week and the coaches being more than helpful with critiquing my swim stroke and providing crazy swim sets, where I was in the pool and where I am at now is literally night and day. So, thank you to all the kids on the team for allowing a 27 (almost 28) year old triahlete take part the lane. I don’t think you all know how much you’ve helped me develop into a better swimmer/triathlete.


Moving along in the order of the race, I started seeking out cyclist in Louisville (Purple rides group) that are Cat 1 and Cat 2 riders around the middle of last season. They were kind enough to allow a guy with aerobars show up to their group rides and not turn me away. They definitely helped me stay motivated on the bike and push through discomfort that I wouldn’t be able to get through on my own. So, hopefully I’ll be seeing more these guys in 2015 once the weather warms up.

Most recently, I started running about three times a week with Spalding University’s Cross country and and track team. Coach Kevin and Coach Sowder were okay with me showing up to their practices as they fit my plan given to me by my coach, Brian Grasky. I feel like a big part of what I was missed while training on my own was the track and speed work that we’ve done on the track recently. I’ve noticed my aerobic runs have gotten faster, my tempo runs have become faster and I have more confidence in how fast I can run. The guys on the team have been great in not only pushing me outside my comfort zone, but also helping me enjoy running more than I ever have.


Of course, I have to say thanks to my coach Brian Grasky for looking at these training schedules from the swim team and cross country team and telling me when it is good to join them and when workouts can be tweaked a little to fit the plan to get me race ready. Otherwise, I would be aimlessly training. He has gone above and beyond already this year to help me use my local resources to get faster while taking his vast knowledge of racing and performance to know when I need to do things on my own.

World Class coaching from beginner to elite athletes

So thank you Lakeside, Purple Riders, Spalding XC/track team, and Brian Grasky for making training my fun, motivating me, humbling me, and contributing to the success I’ve had thus far.  And making training much more enjoyable than training on my own.


Maverick Multisport 2015 pre-season camp

This is the third year that I’ve been on the Maverick Multisport team, and it is the second year of having a pre-season camp. The team director, Chris Hutchens, worked extremely hard to make this camp a success and have a TON of value in it. Big names from the triathlon industry came into town and helped make this camp a success, such as John Cobb, Christie O’Hara, Alex Bok, Michael Foland, and Jeremy Brown. Due to the time restraint of getting everything done, the camp was very structured. But we managed to get everything done, somehow. Bike fits with John Cobb, spin scans with Christie O’Hara, lactate threshold testing with Jeremy Brown, nutrition talk with Michael Foland, and a talk on the business side of triathlon from Alex Bok. Words can not express how much this last weekend motivated me to make 2015 the best season yet. I also feel extremely lucky/blessed to be part of Maverick Multisport. To only be in its third year and be able to attract the quality of sponsors we have as a team is remarkable, to say the least. I owe a lot my success that I started having in the last couple years to Maverick Multisport and the sponsors associated with us.

I decided to make a video recap of the weekend instead of the typical written blog, because I feel like I can’t put into words what I experienced this last weekend. It was truly amazing! I’m incredibly thankful for the support of the sponsors and teammates as we begin the 2015. Again, thank you to everyone that helped make this last weekend successful and an enjoyable experience.


BlueSeventy – save 20% on all orders using MavMike.
BSX Athleticssave $40 on the multisport unit with code MavMike
Infinit Nutrition – used the code “MAVERICK” at checkout to save 10%
Primal Sport mud – Discount code: MAVMIKE15 will give you 20% off from 1/1/15 to 12/31/15