Brick Workouts: the Foundation for Multisport Training
By Neal Henderson, MS CSCS
One of the most challenging and interesting things about triathlon is that it is one sport made out of four. “Four ?” Yes, four: swimming, biking, running, and TRANSITION.
Of those sports, three get most of the attention. In this article, we’ll talk about preparing your body to go from one sport to another. Let’s focus on moving with ease from swimming to cycling, and then from cycling to running. We call workouts that combine at least two sports ‘the brick.’ (Some folks think that it’s because your legs tend to feel like bricks when you attempt to run after cycling.)
The brick is an important workout to improve your race day performance. To be able to run fast off the bike is a matter of good training. In XTERRA races and long distance triathlons, the bike is an integral part of the race. An important component of preparation for triathlon and XTERRA racing is to have your cycling legs strong enough that when you're putting on your running shoes, there’s still something left in your legs.
Too many athletes prepare only for a 30K mountain bike race and 10K run separately. On race day, they find that it’s a little bit harder than they had ever planned. To be ready to run off the bike takes 2 main skills: the ability to go hard but pace yourself on the bike and the ability to run after cycling. These two skills do not come naturally.
When building cycling strength you need to have a combination of aerobic fitness, strength and the technical skills to be able to ride on variable terrain. For most XTERRA triathletes, I recommend devoting about 50% of your weekly training time to cycling. In most races, the bike leg will be over 1⁄2 of your total race. To build aerobic fitness, you should be doing at least one long, steady aerobic ride each week or every 10 days.
For XTERRA and Olympic distance triathlon, I recommend building up to a long ride of twice to 2.5 times the time you expect to be able to ride during a race.
For example, if you’re hoping to ride a course in 1.5 hours, then your long aerobic rides should be 3 to 3 1⁄2 hours. A perfect time to incorporate a brick run is immediately after this long aerobic ride. Throw on those running shoes and go out for a quick brick run. You should run for 10-20 minutes at an easy to moderate pace for these brick runs. The goal of these workouts is to get the feeling of running on fatigued legs. You may notice that the first 5-10 minutes of running is the hardest. As you keep going, your leg muscles relax a little bit, and you’ll start running with a normal running stride by the end of the first mile.
To ride and run well, you’ll need plenty of strength and power. You should do a mix of short power intervals (10 to 30 seconds long), and longer threshold intervals (2 to 10 minutes long) uphill on the bike. Immediately after the short interval sessions is a perfect time for another brick workout. For these brick runs, I recommend shooting for 20 to 40 minutes, with the middle of the run being pushed close to your goal race pace. These workouts are essential for building strength during the run.
The final type of brick workout that I would suggest that you complete in preparation for triathlon is the combination workout. In general, I use two types of combo workouts: mini-triathlons, and bike/run combos. For the mini-triathlon, it’s just the way it sounds. Begin with a swim a little bit longer than goal race distance (since most people don’t swim a perfectly straight line in open water), so for XTERRA about 1200 to 1800 meters is perfect. Then go directly to your bike, and ride for about 1/2 to 2/3 of your goal bike split time (1 to 1.5 hour is great).
Finally, get right off your bike and run about 1⁄2 your goal run time (20 to 30 minutes). In each part of this workout, focus on staying aerobic and working on being relaxed and strong. By putting all 3 workouts together, you’ll get the hang of what you need to do to transition well from one sport to the next. The most fun brick workouts that I recommend are bike/run combos.
Find a course where you can ride about 5-15 minutes without interruptions and then run for 3 to 6 minutes. It helps to have a safe place where you can leave your running shoes while cycling, and be able to keep your bike within view while running. I’ve resorted to carrying my running shoes in a bike jersey, and then locking my bike to a tree while doing bricks in a remote trail. If you own a big dog with a bad disposition, that works.
For bike/run combo workouts I usually have athletes perform at least 2 or 3, and up to 5 or 6 repetitions between bike and run with a short rest period between repeats. These workouts really help out with running smoothly and fluidly off the bike.
Good luck with your brick workouts!
Neal Henderson is an XTERRA PRO and member of Team COMET in his spare time. Monday through Friday, he is a coach/physiologist and the Coordinator of Sport Science at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine in Boulder, CO.
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