Bricks 101

Stack those workouts! Picture by gill.holgate on Flickr.com
Stack those workouts! Picture by gill.holgate on Flickr.com

In her latest piece, Cilantro touched on “brick workouts” and why they have been instrumental in her training for Burning River, a 100 mile ultra she will be racing at the end of July. It occurred to us that many of our readers might not really know what a brick is or at best, think a brick workout is the exclusive domain of those crazy triathlete people.

Of course, I’m here to explain what bricks are and why you, yes you who is firmly dedicated to competing in only running, might benefit from incorporating bricks into your training plan. 

What Is a Brick?

Firstly, as you might have gathered from the intro, a brick is a fundamental workout of triathlon training. It is comprised of stacking two of the three elements of the race (swimming, biking, or running) back-to-back as one workout.

Most of the time, because running comes after biking in the standard tri, triathletes brick the bike to run. It’s easy to do and provides the necessary training to get the feel for your legs back under you after exiting the bike (more on that later). You can also brick the swim, but that can be a little challenging depending on whether or not you can exit your swim location and hop on the bike or hit the road in a relatively quick fashion. Remember, if you’re taking a break in between your swim to go home, shower, and eat before you bike or run, then it’s not a true brick.

How Do Bricks Benefit Runners?

According to Joel Friel, author of The Triathlete’s Training Bible, bricks “can enhance aerobic endurance, race pacing, muscular endurance, and hill strength.” All of which are crucial in running! For anyone coming off of the sick or injured list (as in Cilantro’s case), or for those who just want to mix things up a bit, this style of cross training is a fantastically effective way to not only maintain your strength, speed, and power, but also improve upon it. It’s a great way to get the benefits of a long run – lots of consecutive cardio minutes and running on tired legs – without the danger of overuse injury that comes with long runs.

 

Biking in a bathing suit may not be ideal, but you'll feel like a rebel! Pic by Rakendra Moore on Flickr.com
Biking in a bathing suit may not be ideal, but you’ll feel like a rebel!
Pic by Rakendra Moore on Flickr.com

How do I brick?

There are three main combinations of brick workouts, and each benefits you in different ways:

1. Bike/Run. This is the most popular brick workout as it is the last two legs of the triathlon and the two sports that are the most taxing on the legs. Though all of the muscles in the leg are used when both biking and running, your quads and hamstrings are taxed at different phases in the pedal on the bike, and your calves take on a little more pounding in the run. This can make for a very sluggish, wobbly feeling when transitioning between the two. A good rule of thumb is to pedal the last mile in the same cadence as your run in order to kick-start that rhythm. You should also sit up straighter in the saddle to realign your body into that vertical running position.

2. Swim/Bike. These are the first two legs of the race, and this is always the lengthiest transition. Hopping onto a bike while sopping wet will feel a little foreign at first, but you’ll dry off pretty quickly. I love this brick because it makes for a solid full-body workout. After using mostly your arms and core in the swim, in the bike you’ll be working primarily your lower half. No running in this brick makes for the perfect cross training workout especially for the rehabbing runner.

3. Swim/Run. Though not a true tri pairing, this brick benefits runners by focusing on breathing rhythm and endurance in general. Additionally, swimming and running are both very core-centric, and moving from that horizontal position to a fully upright position can definitely mess with your balance. Overcoming those challenges will help keep you in good form out on the road.

The swim/run transition can be a little dizzying at first. Picture by Alex Bianchi on Flickr.com
The swim/run transition can be a little dizzying at first. Picture by Alex Bianchi on Flickr.com

How Often Should I Brick?

The length of the race that you are training for will determine the length of the brick as well as the frequency of bricks in your training. For example, someone training for a 5K should only bike about 10-12 miles followed by 10-12 minutes of running and this should only be done about once every two weeks. If you’re training for a marathon, you might bike for 30 miles followed by a 25-30 minute run, and could do this anywhere from once a week to once every other week.

For a runner, brick workouts can be very beneficial. Check with your coaches, fellow runners, triathlete friends, or shoot us an email with questions about the when, where, and how. And as always, when swimming in open water, always wear a light colored- cap and swim with a buddy. Safety first!

Have you ever bricked? 

 

 

I’m a runner, CrossFitter, and coach. I write about 5ks, strength training and nutrition. My current goals are to PR in my 5k and continue to grow in my strength conditioning.

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3 comments

  1. This is a great idea. Thanks for sharing. How does your heart rate when bicycling compare to your heart rate running?

    1. You’re welcome! You know, I have a HRM, but I haven’t worn it biking yet- only on runs. If I were to go by “feel,” (not very scientific, I know), I would say my HR is probably slightly higher on the bike, but not by much. The reason I say that is because I personally have to work a little harder on the bike; it’s not my strong suit. Once I wear it during my next bike/run brick, I will post and let you know for sure. Great question!