To BRICK or Not to BRICK

Monday, 19 November 2012 00:35 |
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Back in 1994 my final project for my Masters Degree investigated the relationship between swim, bike and run individual time trials equal to the distances in an Olympic triathlon and what happens to these performance when you link them together. I found that there was no significant difference in the performances when comparing the swim and bike.

But there was a significant difference when comparing an individual 10 km run and one that is performed during a simulated triathlon. For this reason, it remains the single most determining factor when predicting performance in a triathlon. All great triathletes can run after swimming and biking, with no exception. Therefore, the question remains, is there a training method that can increase the probability of running as fast in a triathlon as you do when you are fresh?

In triathlon training, the concept of stacking or linking one event immediately after another is called a “brick”. Specific to triathlons, you can perform a swim then bike brick, “S-Bbrick”, or you can bike then run, “B-Rbrick”.


An aspect of triathlon performance that is more skill related is transition practice. A S-Bbrick training session is more directed towards getting on your bike quickly and safely within the rules of the transition area. However, often as you exit the water, you need to run up to a half mile until you reach your bike. If you are fit, you can make up some valuable time on this run and potentially catch those swimmers that out swam you by over a minute.  I typically practice this S-Bbrick a few days before my important races at the race venue which includes skills such as removing a wetsuit and finding your bike rack position.

Performing B-Rbrick training sessions do help minimize a loss of speed on the run. There are several types of B-Rbrick sessions that can be incorporated throughout the season. The scheduling and sequencing of these training sessions should not be underestimated as they are extremely stressful and adequate rest is needed to avoid under-recovery.

Common B-Rbrick

Most triathletes often run after a bike training session. It exposes you to the feeling of heavy legs and most often can represent either how hard you went on the bike or how fit you are. It promotes the redistribution of blood flow from the cycling muscles to the running muscles with some obvious cross over.  Often the first 2 minutes of the run is anaerobic due to the lower flow of blood to the running muscles. Most triathletes report that after the first km or mile, the legs begin to feel better and your respiration becomes more controlled.

Race B-Rbrick

These sessions simulate the intensity that will occur in a race. The assumption is that you actually know your race intensity for the bike and run. Heart rate is not a good guideline but rather a feedback tool representing your fitness or under-recovery. You can determine these race paces from your race history or better yet, formulate these workloads on current testing. Not only do you train the bodies fitness when doing these sessions, but you train the rhythm of movement at race pace. Meaning, if your goal is to run 5minute km off the bike, then train this pace so it is automatic. Be realistic with your pace. Again my research indicated that most reported good runs after swimming and biking in a simulated Olympic triathlon is when they ran at 95% of their fresh 10km race pace. Aim for a performance greater than 92%!

These sessions can be done either as a single B-Rbrick effort or multiples. I would suggest that the duration of the bike be 3 times the duration of the run. For example, 15 minute ride at race pace and a 5 minute run at race pace. Repeat this session multiple times with 5 minutes easy spin between sets. The other option is more suited to ultra endurance triathlon, where the bike portion is greater than 3 hours and the run is 1 hour or more. Again race pace specificity is critical in making these training session effective without inducing too much strain on the body.

Aerobic Power B-Rbricks

These sessions are short and uncomfortable. Plenty of research supports the notion of training at your VO2 max, an intensity where all cellular systems are overloaded and the willingness to tolerate pain is investigated. These training sessions are often more painful than the actual race. No more than 20 minutes in total is needed to get the training adaptation needed to reach your peak race state. An example of such a session is to ride on your trainer for 3 minutes as hard as you can, then quickly run another 3 minutes fast. For best results, it is important to know your PVO2 and VVO2 (bike and run efforts that induce VO2max in 3-4 minutes). Also I find it safer and more effective to do these bike sessions on an indoor bike trainer preferably one that gives you power output. The best tool is using a computrainer in ergo mode set at your PVO2 where you cannot cheat and you can focus on pedal form.

EPIC Bricks

My athletes participate in EPIC brick sessions throughout the year beginning in November. These sessions are indoors but are unique as their duration builds from 3 hours to 6 hours. The basic structure of these sessions involves up to an hour of coached riding, then 15 minutes of running with injected body conditioning. This pattern is repeated until the final duration is reached. Each bike section has a certain objective whether being technique, spinning, climbing, power or aerobic / anaerobic fitness. Even the run speed will vary from marathon pace to 5km pace. These sessions increase your bodies capacity to do large amounts of work increasing your aerobic foundation both on the bike and run. If done all year, the transition to competition season is an easy one.

Other brick options

There are two more common brick practices that I prescribe to my athletes. First, if the athlete is recovering from a lower extremity injury, I will prescribe a short bike session before running. This warms up and lubricates the moving joints and assists in minimizing regression of the injury state. It can also be used to prepare for a tough run set or even race.

Secondly, after a significant run training session, I promote biking up to 30 minutes to circulate the blood, cooling down the body and speed up recovery. After this light bike, athletes report feeling better and more capable of training again within 24hours.

The use of brick training will help you gain fitness and simulate race specificity. It can make the difference in your overall performance and bring more precision to your training. The difficulty remains in the planning and choice of what type, intensity and length to prescribe and at what time period in your overall approach to your goal race.

To BRICK or not to BRICK… I think so!

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Calvin Zaryski

CoachCal has been coaching for over 30 years. Not just focusing on athletes, but on individuals whose goals range from climbing Mount Everest to recapturing the power of active living.


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