How to Use Brick Workouts in Triathlon Training

By John Hansen | May 16, 2019, 5:28 p.m. (ET)

brick workouts

Training for all three disciplines of triathlon can be challenging, but the key is that they all need to be a part of your training regime as a single discipline and in combination. It is the combination of disciplines that this article focuses on, specifically the combination of the bike and run or "Brick" workouts.

Combining these disciplines in a back-to-back fashion requires specific training sessions to be prepared for race day. Brick workouts are important for several reasons which are outlined below, but they all involve a key training principle that is important to understand in order to get the most out of your training: the Specificity Principle.

The principle of specificity states that sports training should be relevant and appropriate to the sport and/or actions in the sport for which the individual is training in order to produce the desired effect. In other words, specificity training means that you must perform the skill or actions of the sport in order to get better at it.

In order to relate the specificity principle to your training, brick workouts are important because they help improve the following five key areas:

Neuromuscular coordination and balance: physiologically, there are blood flow differences as well as muscle fibers and nerve differences when considering the bike versus the run. Based on these differences, when you transition from bike to run during a triathlon, your body must make a physiological and biomechanical change. This transition, for nearly every triathlete, leads to changes in normal running mechanics which typically means reduced biomechanical run coordination that ultimately affects running economy. It also produces a feeling of running on numb feet and legs.  Although this sensation is temporary, it can lead to reduced performance. Brick training helps with better run biomechanics and coordination, which contributes to improved run economy especially during the first two to 10 minutes of the run. 

Race-day nutrition strategy: Brick workouts allow you to dial in your race-day nutrition strategy. It has been established that running economy drops on the run coming off the bike. This means there is an increase in heart rate and the amount of oxygen required to run due to a change in running biomechanics (as noted above), dehydration and lowered muscle glycogen from the bike. To help improve your run economy, brick training gives you the chance to understand how to better hydration and fueling during these workouts, which can lead to an improved performance on race day.  

Race-day run pacing: Brick workouts allow you to better understand your off-the-bike run pace and heart rate. Since your race pace drops and your heart rate elevates after a longer and harder bike, knowing what your run pace and heart rate level should be under race conditions versus pure running, is critical to success. Running too fast and at a higher heart rate can lead to an overall poor performance. This is especially important in hotter more humid environment and/or at altitude.

Mental strength: Brick workouts help you get past the mental limitations and improve your ability concentrate during the run. Being mentally strong starting your run comes by experiencing the sensations of bike to run transitions. Knowing and feeling what your body is going to experience goes a long way in helping you to cope with the uncertainty. In addition, as you improve your bike to run abilities then your confidence improves which also leads to better performances.

Transition practice: Brick workouts also give you a chance to practice your transitions from bike to run. It may seem simple to do a rolling dismount, run in your cycling shoes, rack your bike,  remove your helmet and put on your running shoes, but with the adrenaline of race day what seems simple can quickly become chaotic if you haven’t practiced. Completing enough brick workouts during your season can help you dial in all the nuances of a bike to run transition so it becomes automatic on race day. 

Using brick workouts is a great way to prepare for the specific demands of race day. Adding them to your training at the right time, and understanding their purpose, will allow you to get the most from these sessions.

Sample Brick Workouts 

Below are three sample brick workouts that you can use in your training, based on your current experience level and distance that you are training for.

Beginner training for sprint or Olympic-distance

Bike

  • 10 minutes at Zone 1-2
  • 15 minutes at Zone 2-3 (keep your cadence above 85rpm)
  • 5 minutes at Zone 3

Transition: Practice a quick and efficient transition. Aim to keep the time under 60 seconds.

Run

  • 10 minutes at Zone 2

Experienced athlete training for sprint or Olympic-distance

Bike

  • 30 minutes at Zone 2
  • 20 minutes at Zone 3
  • 10 minutes at Zone 4

Transition: Practice a quick and efficient transition. Aim to keep the time under 60 seconds.

Run

  • 20 minutes at Zone 3
  • 5 min Zone 1-2

Experienced, high performing triathlete training for 70.3 or 140.6

Bike

  • 30 minutes at Zone 2
  • 40 minutes at Zone 3
  • 10 min Zone 1-2
  • 30 minutes at Zone 3

Run

  • 35 minutes at Zone 2-3
  • 5 min Zone 1-2

Transition Tips

To help with some initial biomechanical adaptations before you actually start your run, make the transition from bike to run easier use the following three tips:

  • Pedal in your small chain ring at a higher cadence the last ¼ - ½  mile of the bike ride. 
  • Once off your bike run, don’t walk, through the transition area to rack your bike. 
  • As you begin the run portion of the race, shorten your stride and keep your pace controlled to manage the awkward coordination for the first ½ - 1mile until you feel more biomechanically normal.

Source: Physiological and biomechanical adaptations to the cycle to run transition in Olympic triathlon: review and practical recommendations for training Gregoire P Millet, Veronica E Vleck  Br J Sports Med 2000;34:384–390


The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.