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Brick Training for Beginners

By Marty Gaal

A brick in the triathlon world usually refers to a bike-run workout but would also include a swim-bike workout.  Brick workouts are important in triathlon since the sport is made of up of three consecutively run legs — swim, bike, run, in that order for the most part.

mzIf you are new to the sport of triathlon and/or it has been a while since you’ve exercised regularly, you don’t want to leap right into brick workouts.  Give yourself several weeks of easy-steady aerobic training and light strength training to first build your aerobic fitness base. 

Brick workouts don’t have to be hard, but they are taxing on the system.  When you switch from cycling to running, you are using many of the same muscles but in slightly different movement patterns (legs) or entirely different movement patterns (arms).  If you do a swim-bike workout, you are switching from using primarily your arms and upper body to primarily your legs and lower body.  In other words, just the change in your movements, body position and muscle groups used is tough work.

That is why the first time you hop off the bike and run should not be in a race. It will hurt like heck and you may say to yourself, “This is the hardest thing I have ever done!”

After 2-3 months of base training, it is time to add in the brick workouts.  A starting brick workout can be as simple as ride 45-60 minutes, then quickly change into running gear and run/jog 10 minute easy.  “Easy” may not feel easy as the first time most people do a brick, they find the run to be hard regardless of their desired effort level. 

From the point that you complete that first brick, my recommendation is to include at least 1 bike-run brick workout per week.  As the weeks progress, you can either lengthen the duration of your brick or increase the intensity.  For a sprint, your distance should get into the 15-mile bike, 2-mile run distance.  For Olympic-distance, at least one brick should be 20-mile bike, 3-mile run.  For those of you training for a 70.3 or Half-Iron distance event, ultimately you would want to get to at least one brick that is in the 50-mile ride, 6-mile run distance.

At least one time prior to your race you should build your bike into your goal race pace, and then run several minutes at your goal pace off the bike, so on race day you are not surprised by the discomfort of this sort of effort.

You can go farther on these but be aware of the exertion levels and recovery time longer or harder bricks demand. 

Swim-bike bricks are also useful but harder to pull off as they require taking your bike to a pool or body of open water.  Ideally, at least once before your race you will swim half or more the distance of the event, then bike some or all of the distance.  Repeated swim-bike bricks will help your body adapt more quickly to the transition from prone swimming with minimal leg use to semi-upright cycling with lots of leg exertion.

Slightly more advanced bricks include repetitions of shorter duration multiple times. 

Examples of a sprint triathlon focused multiple brick: 

Bike 5 miles – run 1 mile – bike 5 miles – run 1 mile

Swim 400 yards – bike 3 miles – swim 400 yards – bike 3 miles

A more complete brick (aka a practice triathlon) would include some time in all disciplines consecutively.  Again, this is a good thing to include at least once prior to racing in your first triathlon.  You do not need to complete the entire distance – just some of it, and you might include some time at your goal race effort so race day is no shock to the system. 

I did not include full Ironman (140.6) brick suggestions because in my opinion you shouldn’t be training for an Ironman if you’re just getting into the sport.  To really prepare well for an Ironman requires several seasons of consistent triathlon training.

Marty Gaal, CSCS, is a USA Triathlon coach based in Cary, N.C.  Marty and his wife Brianne coach triathletes of all experience levels and distances through their company, One Step Beyond.  They are also the producers of the Powerstroke®: Speed through force and form swimming technique DVD.  You can read all about One Step Beyond service options at www.osbmultisport.com.

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