If you are a runner who is interested in transitioning to triathlon training and racing, you will become well-acquainted with a vital workout in the training plan of multi-sport athletes: a brick workout.
Most likely, you have heard of the demanding nature of triathlon brick workouts, but most novice triathletes aren’t entirely sure what brick workouts entail.
So, what is a brick workout? How do you do triathlon brick workouts?
In this article, we will discuss what triathlon brick workouts entail, how to incorporate brick workouts into your training, and examples of brick workouts to try when you’re dipping your toes into the world of triathlon training.
We will cover:
- What Is a Brick Workout?
- Benefits of Brick Workouts
- Tips for Successful Brick Workouts
- Examples of Brick Workouts for Triathletes
Let’s dive in!
What Is a Brick Workout?
A brick workout refers to a workout that involves stacking a cycling workout and a running workout back to back in a single session without resting in between.
The primary purpose of performing brick workouts is to prepare the body for the feeling you will encounter in a triathlon when moving from the cycling leg to the running leg, not only in terms of rehearsing the actual transition with swapping your gear but the physiological demands imposed by running right off of the bike on tired legs.
Triathlon brick workouts can take on a number of different forms in terms of duration, intensity, and format, depending on your fitness level, target triathlon distance, the goal of the workout itself, and the overall context of your training program.
You can perform brick workouts indoors, outdoors, or a combination of both.For example, you might do an off-season brick workout by putting your bike on a trainer or rollers indoors and then running on the treadmill or outside.
Benefits of Brick Workouts
Brick workouts are a staple for triathlon training or for multi-sport athletes who encounter the bike-to-run transition in their event.
Even if you are just a cyclist or runner and have no ambitions of doing a triathlon, there can be benefits to adding these types of workouts to your routine.
The primary purpose of performing brick workouts is to best replicate the race conditions in your training so that your body is prepared for what it will feel like to transition between two of the triathlon disciplines.
Studies have shown that the transition between cycling and running has a significant impact on overall performance.
Not only do you have to rehearse the actual transition of getting off of your bike, out of your bike gear, and into your running gear, but you need to build up familiarity with what it feels like to physiologically and biomechanically switch gears between the two different sports.
Cycling and running will use many of the same muscle groups but in different ways. It is said that one of the reasons that these workouts are called “brick workouts“ is because of the all too familiar, uncomfortable feeling of running right after biking, which is often described as your legs feeling like bricks.
By consistently performing cycling and running back to back in the same workout rather than in two distinct training sessions, you can train your neural muscular system and muscles themselves to become more economical and sufficient at switching metaphorical gears for this transition.
Here are some of the additional benefits of these workouts for triathletes, runners, cyclists, and everyday athletes:
- Providing an opportunity to practice pacing, fueling, and race-specific training
- Increasing endurance, aerobic fitness, VO2 max, and metabolic efficiency
- Improving your biomechanical efficiency when transitioning between cycling and running
- Allowing for greater training volume while reducing the impact of running higher mileage
- Saving time over doing two separate workouts in one day
- Improving mental toughness, confidence, and focus
Tips for Successful Brick Workouts
The first couple of times that you try a brick workout in training, you will likely struggle with the transition, and the process of having to do two separate types of exercise in one workout session might feel somewhat overwhelming.
With consistency, patience, and practice, you will become more comfortable with this type of triathlon workout.
Here are a few tips for performing brick workouts:
#1: Prepare Your Transition Zone Ahead Of Time
Just as you would in a real triathlon, you want to set up your transition zone ahead of time for these workouts if at all possible. You should use these workouts to help iron out the kinks in the actual logistics of switching from your bike to the run.
Lay out your running shoes and gear in a staged transition area, and have a place and plan for your helmet, bike, cycling shoes, etc.
Try to get through the transition as quickly as possible to maximize the physiological and training benefits of brick workouts.
Each time you do some brick training, you can make adjustments moving forward in how you have set up your transition zone and how you start tapering off of the bike before the run (switching to an easier gear, changing your cadence, etc.) as you experiment and find what works best.
#2: Be Specific With Your Workouts
As with any type of workout on your training schedule, your triathlon brick workouts will be most effective if they are geared toward your actual race.
For example, if you are training for a sprint triathlon, you want to gradually work your way up in your brick workouts to replicate the distances that you will cover on the bike and run in a sprint triathlon.
It is also important to replicate the intensity with pace work.
#3: Keep It Varied
One of the benefits of these workouts is that they lend themselves well to variety, which will not only help improve your fitness but will also help prevent boredom.
You should not be doing more than one brick workout per week in most cases unless the workouts are very short and primarily focused on one of the two disciplines with just a brief bout on the other so as to rehearse the actual transition.
Each week, work on a different theme or goal for your workout.
For example, you might do intervals on the bike one week and then a steady-state run. The next week, you would do the opposite.
You can also do an endurance brick workout, in which you are working towards completing the full distance and each discipline in one workout.
Examples of Brick Workouts for Triathletes
There are numerous ways to structure these workouts for triathletes, depending on your goals for the workout, your fitness level, where you are in your training plan, and your target race distance.
Furthermore, even though brick workouts are traditionally cycling followed by running, you can also do swimming followed by cycling to practice that transition as well.
A triathlon brick workout for long-course racing that is trying to build endurance might involve a four-hour steady-state ride followed immediately by a 10k run at threshold pace.
On the other hand, a brick workout for a sprint triathlon might involve 15 minutes on the bike with 10 x 30 seconds max-effort intervals followed by running one mile at your goal race pace.
In the early phase of your triathlon training program, when you are just building up your endurance, you might do a brick workout that is significantly weighted towards either one of the two disciplines but includes a little bit of the other one to rehearse the transition and to introduce your body to adjust to the feeling of running right after cycling.
For example, if you are training for an Olympic distance triathlon, which includes a 25-mile bike portion and a 10k run, you might cycle 20 miles (this would be the bulk of your workout with the goal of increasing your cycling endurance) and then just run 5 to 10 minutes at a relatively easy pace.
Alternatively, if the run is the focus, you might do just 10 minutes on the bike at a relatively high intensity, along the lines of race pace, and then hop off and do a distance run or tempo run.
A good indoor brick workout for beginners is to ride an exercise bike or your bike in an indoor trainer for 15 minutes at an effort level of 7-8. Then, hop on the treadmill or run outside for 10 minutes at an effort level of 7, trying to keep your transition time under five minutes.
For a sprint distance triathlon brick workout, cycle 30 minutes at 65-80% of maximum heart rate (MHR) followed by running 15 minutes at 70-80% MHR.
For longer course racing, try biking for 90 minutes, starting with 15 minutes at a conversational pace, then do 3 x 22 minutes at your target race pace with 3 minutes of easy recovery between efforts.
Then immediately transition to running 30 minutes with 3 x 8 minutes at your target race pace starting with two minutes, easing in, and then hitting the first interval at the two-minute mark.
The most important tip for brick workouts is to start slow and build up gradually. Don’t just jump right into the full biking distance and running distance in one workout.
If you are looking for a triathlon training plan to get started, check out our triathlon database here.