Get it Together with Brick Training

By Chris Carmichael and CTS Premier Coach Nick White

Brick workouts. Most triathletes are familiar with these multi-discipline workouts, but too often, athletes only utilize brick workouts in the final preparation for racing. That’s unfortunate because using them throughout the year can be very beneficial to your triathlon-specific fitness.   

Why do “Bricks” need to be incorporated in a training program?

Triathlon is a sport of its own, not just a combination of three separate disciplines, which means it needs to be treated as such in training by including sessions that incorporate more than one sporting discipline. Cycling after swimming is not the same as cycling on its own, and the cycling leg of a triathlon impacts the way you run. Your body needs to be able to effectively and efficiently prepare itself for the next demand (different muscles, different posture, etc.) and then recover from and forget about the previous task.  Brick workouts help you get used to this dynamic, and also train your body to handle the aerobic, anaerobic, and muscular demands that you will experience during these important parts of the race. 

Brick workouts can accomplish a variety of goals within a training program.  As with the rest of your workouts, each brick needs to have a specific goal that corresponds to the phase of training that you are in and targets the physiological system that you are currently targeting. 

When should brick workouts be introduced in a season?

Early in your program (the base or foundation period), your goal is to improve your aerobic capacity, build strength, and work on general endurance in all three disciplines.  Bricks during this phase should be focused on long, low-intensity efforts, which keep you well below your lactate threshold (max sustainable effort).  In the middle (preparation period) of your program the goal is to improve your sustainable speed or power by further improving your aerobic system and increasing your power and pace at lactate threshold.  Brick workouts during this phase can start increasing in intensity by incorporating race-pace efforts and intervals.  When race season (specialization period) finally arrives, all that is left to do is work on increasing race-specific fitness.  Effective brick workouts during this phase of training will be either speed oriented or specific to the demands of your event.

Brick workouts, while they are not specific T1 or T2 practice sessions, can still be a great opportunity to focus on transition skill and proficiency.  Working on your transitions across all three of the training phases will make you faster and more efficient in your races. That said, you don’t always have to execute an actual race-simulation transition during a brick workout; you can get a lot of the physiological adaptations you’re looking for by simply incorporating both disciplines into the same back-to-back workout. Try not to spend more than 10-15 minutes getting from the swim to the bike, or the bike to the run during a brick workout, however.

The following sample workouts are divided by the phase in which they would most effectively be included in a training program. 

Foundation Bricks

  • 2-4 hour endurance ride (below lactate threshold)
  • Short transition (10 minutes or less)
  • 30-60 minute endurance run (below lactate threshold)

 

  • 60-90 minute swim workout
  • Short transition (10 minutes or less)
  • 2-3 hour endurance ride (below lactate threshold)

 

  • 2 hour endurance ride with 4×6 minute MuscleTension intervals (low cadence, high resistance, muscular effort, not anaerobic)
  • Short transition (10 minutes or less)
  • 30-45 minute recovery run

Preparation Bricks

  • 1-3 hour endurance ride with 30-40 minutes of Tempo intervals (about a 7 on a scale of 1-10)
  • Short transition
  • 30-45 minute endurance run with 15-20 minutes of Tempo running (about an 8 on a scale of 1-10, Tempo runs are harder than Tempo on the bike)

 

  • 30 minute cycling warm-up
  • 15 minute bike slightly below race pace
  • 5 minute running slightly below race pace
  • 10 minute rest
  • Repeat intervals 2-4 times
  • 30-40 minute running cool-down

Specialization Bricks

(sprint or olympic distance)

  • 30 minute cycling warm-up
  • 10 minute bike at or slightly above race pace
  • 5 minute run at or slightly above race pace
  • 10 minute rest
  • Repeat 2-4 times
  • 30-40 minute running cool-down

(1/2 or full Ironman distance)

  • 30 minute cycling warm-up
  • 30 minute bike at race pace
  • 10-15 minute run at race pace
  • 0-5 minute rest
  • Repeat 2-3 times
  • 20-30 minute running cool-down

Brick considerations

Traditionally, brick workouts have been reserved for once-a-week bouts of either high-intensity or high-duration training. But with increasingly packed personal and professional schedules, many athletes are finding that brick training can be more convenient and more effective on an ongoing basis. In fact, many of the athletes CTS works with – men and women with full-time jobs, careers, and families – are on training schedules that consist primarily of brick workouts. This allows for fewer weekly training sessions overall, as opposed to trying to find time for a morning and an evening workout, and is often more specific to the athletes’ actual competition goals than training each discipline in isolation.

If you correctly match the type of brick workout to the goal of your current training phase and utilize adequate recovery and preparation methods, you’ll be able to use them as great way to boost your triathlon-specific fitness. 

Chris Carmichael is the Founder and CEO of Carmichael Training Systems, an Official Coaching and Camps Partner of Ironman. Nick White is a CTS Premier Coach who worked with 2008 and 2009 Ford Ironman World Champion Craig Alexander and 2010 Ironman St. George winner Heather Wurtele. For information on CTS coaching and camps, including our official Ironman Couer d’Alene Camp April 29 – May 1, visit www.trainright.com.

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