Bricks are a very important part of triathlon (and duathlon) training and they are sometimes overlooked. Bricks refer to training on two disciplines during the same workout, one after the other with minimal or no interruption in between, just as you would do in a race (I am sure you knew this). Usually when people talk about bricks they refer to a bike/run workout, but bricks could also refer to a swim/bike workout or to a run/bike workout (if you are training for a duathlon). These last two are often overlooked but still important to fit here and there in your training plan.
About a swim/bike brick: while you are swimming you will want to use your legs as little as possible or else you may have a hard time when you get on your bike before you start feeling comfortable. A swim/bike workout that simulates race conditions will help you minimize this problem. A couple of suggestions are to try and use your legs more (that is to kick more) during he last 50-100 yards of your swim to get more blood flowing to them. Also, start your bike portion using an easier gear than the one you plan on using during the main part of the race. This will give your legs a chance to get used to the new sport and accumulate less lactic acid than they would if you started from the beginning with a tough gear.
As an example, a useful swim/bike brick can be:
3 x (500 yards swim + 5 mile bike). I believe this is more useful and time efficient than doing a 1500 yards swim followed by a 15 miles bike, because you will switch sports 6 times instead of only once .
Even more important are bike/run bricks, mainly because the transition between bike and run is the toughest of the two during a triathlon. Most people's recount of their brick workouts consist of a medium/long bike ride followed by a medium run. Although I do perform these kind of bricks, my recommendations are a sequence of short/medium rides alternated with a series of short run.
Here are a couple of bike/run examples:
Sprint triathlon workout: (5-6 miles bike + 1mile run) - repeat three or four times.
Olympic triathlon workout: (7-8 miles bike + 1.5-2 mile run) - repeat three or four times.
When I do these kind of bricks, I try to run on a track so I am sure I am running the exact distance, I force myself to run fast and time myself and I don’t have to worry about traffic or sharp turns. I push on the bike, but the run needs to be the hard part of the workout. I am trying to get my body used to running fast as soon as I get off the bike.
By doing a series of short repeats you also switch sport (and therefore muscles used) several times in the same workout. You are practically teaching your legs and body to switch as fast as possible and as efficiently as possible between two very different kinds of effort. Again, I consider a series of short repeats more efficient then doing the two sports one after the other, especially when you are short on time.
If you have never done a brick before, you should get used to them before attempting the kind of workouts described above. Start with a 1 mile run or run/walk after every bike ride. You can start by walking briskly when you get off the bike and them move to a jog or run within ¼ to ½ mile. You can also attempt your first brick by biking in the morning and then running in the afternoon or after a 1 to 2 hour break.
When you stop biking and start running the legs feel “strange” and heavy (this is why they call these workouts bricks!) and the heart rate goes up, as our body tries to switch the blood from flowing into the muscles used for biking to those used for running. This feeling is more pronounced at the start of the run and usually the legs get better as time passes - although probably never as fresh as those you have when you run without biking before it (I wonder why?! ). Brick workouts help shorten the time our legs take to start feeling more normal thus allowing us to run better and faster. It is not uncommon to experience cramps when starting to run after biking, especially if you are not used to it. As usual, listen to your body and slow down if you feel a cramp coming. A carbo gel and water will also help if you are experiencing cramps due to the decrease in muscle fuel.
Triathlete and ACE Certified Personal Trainer
P.S. All information in this article is provided freely with the only goal of educating athletes accessing the beginnertriathlete.com website. The article/workouts above are not meant to be exercise and/or personal recommendations, but only examples of workouts that I and/or other athletes have completed in the past. Enrico Contolini will not be responsible or liable for any injury, illness or death resulting from the use of the information contained in this article. Please, always remember to consult your physician before starting any exercise program.
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