A defining part of duathlon or triathlon events, brick training involves transitioning between two disciplines back-to-back without rest in between, rather than training one discipline in isolation. For example, swim to bike or bike to run.
Developing an athlete's endurance and grit, a brick workout is used to stimulate improvements in physical fitness and reach new levels of performance. Specifically for triathlon training, it's used to perfect the transition periods between swimming and cycling or cycling and running. By doing so, you condition the body to meet the demands of back-to-back racing.
Although swimming, cycling, and running are all a test of cardiovascular fitness, the different activities are challenging in different ways. By performing brick workouts, athletes at all levels can pursue well-rounded physical performance.
At Presca, we're dedicated to helping athletes of all abilities go further. Unpicking brick training can help provide guidance and motivation for your performance.
What does brick training stand for?
The 'brick' in brick training is not an acronym, nor is it shorthand for an official term that provides context to the name.
The origins of the phrase aren't known for sure, but many theories circulate in a bid to provide context.
The most well-known in the triathlete community is by running after cycling, you're adding 'another brick to your wall', perhaps in a similar vein to adding 'another string to your bow'.
What is a brick workout for triathlons?
There is no set definition for which activities are done back-to-back in brick training. However, because it's used as part of a training program for a triathlon, the most common type of brick workouts include swim to bike or bike to run sessions.
Running, cycling, or swimming in isolation will help to improve your performance in that particular discipline. However, it doesn't account for the endurance needed in a triathlon to switch activity when the body is already fatigued, and the legs are feeling heavy.
The transition period in a triathlon also takes some getting used to, which is why triathletes brick train before the main event. Streamlining the process of getting out of the water and onto your bike (T1) or off your bike and into your trainers (T2) can only be done with practice.
By training in this way, you can go further and last longer.
How often should you do brick workouts?
A brick session is intense and puts the body under a lot of stress. Implementing it into a routine should be done with care to make sure the body has plenty of time to recover before the next session.
There's room for variation in brick workouts. Trying two different discipline combinations and working at different intervals and intensities is key to stimulating improvements in all areas of fitness, which will impact your race pace and overall endurance levels.
The frequency of brick workouts will depend on the experience level of the individual. For beginners, completing distances in isolation for each exercise should come first. After that, you can build up the number of your brick training sessions. Starting with one session per week at short distances and a slower than race pace is fundamental to understanding how the body copes with the stress and the amount of time it needs for recovery.
Which muscles are involved in brick sessions?
Triathlon sports each work the muscles in different ways.
The swim section involves lots of different muscle groups but demands more from the upper body than the bike or the run. However, the shoulders, arms, core, and legs need to push you through the resistance of the water. The swim is arguably the most challenging part of a triathlon, requiring the most effort and energy. For this reason, it is the first discipline on race day.
The cycle ride is particularly demanding of the legs, with the quadriceps and hamstrings working hard to pedal. Particularly when going up a hill, your legs have to work against that resistance for prolonged periods. Incline intervals are a vital part of a bike workout and an effective training regimen.
The run is also hard on the legs but asks more of the core to stabilise the body. As the final part of the race, it requires the remaining energy and effort of muscles to push through to the finish.
What are the benefits of brick training?
Brick workouts have plenty of benefits, whether used as part of triathlon training or not. These include physical and skill-related improvements as well as more psychological ones.
Swimming, cycling, and running are endurance sports where you work in the aerobic zone for a sustained amount of time. They also require periods of anaerobic exercise as a triathlete needs to increase the effort and pace at tactical points during the run, bike, and swim. Heart rate defines which training zone you're working in, which is why many triathletes wear a heart rate monitor during their training routine. Bricks help efficacy in both heart rate zones, as well as the ability to switch back and forth between the two.
As the different disciplines involve different muscle groups, a brick session aims to help the body get used to these demands when performed back to back using already fatigued muscles and not in isolation. Due to the heavy reliance on the lower body, the ride to run section of the race requires the most endurance. Training plans that focus on this are often the most effective.
The skill needed to transition between each discipline takes practice. Removing bike shoes, swimming caps, and googles can be tricky when the body is tired. Preparing for events involves preparing for these transitions and making sure all bits of kit will help performance and not hinder it. Presca's endurance tri-suit is a one-piece with a full-length zip making cooling and convenience stops much easier.
Finally, brick sessions incorporated into training plans help remove some of the unknown and prepare for the challenge, increasing the confidence of triathletes ahead of race day.
Brick training advice:
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Practice long and short intervals for aerobic and anaerobic endurance
Triathlons require different types of fitness, including both aerobic and anaerobic endurance. To develop both types, it's helpful to do brick workouts at a range of paces and interval lengths.
Switch between shorter intervals at a quicker pace and longer ones at a slower pace to condition the body to meet all the demands of the race.
Get used to the unstable feeling when going from cycling to running
The unstable feeling experienced when running off the bike is a challenging part of a brick workout. It's known to put racegoers off their stride. It takes time to get used to running with this feeling and exposure to it is the only way to manage it when in a race. The more times it is experienced, the less intense the sensation becomes.
Keep the duration ratios the same as the race
Although varying the distances of each discipline when training is recommended, it's essential to keep the ratios the same.
As a triathlon event involves a 40km cycle and a 10km run, that ratio is 4:1. Applying this to all brick workouts helps to ensure training is specific to the race. For example, that could involve a 20km cycle and 5km run. Or a 10km cycle and a 2.5km run. Training like this is a great way to build-up to the full event ahead of race day.
Alter your training programme
Adaptations to brick training sessions will depend on the individual. A training programme created at the start of a triathlete's journey may need to change depending on their ability and how they respond to each session.
Increasing or decreasing the intensity of sessions and the amount of recovery time according to individual feedback allows progress to be made without risking injury or illness. It also avoids the inevitable plateau that happens when the body becomes more conditioned to the exercise, but the stimulus of training remains the same.
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