Brick Workouts: A Triathlon Beginner’s Guide

Getting the Most Out of A Dual Sport Training Session

What is a Brick Workout?

When training for a triathlon many athletes choose to do brick workouts which are simply a combination of any of the two disciplines (Swim-Bike, Bike-Run, or even Swim-run). The definition of an exact brick workout gets debated, as does the effectiveness of them, but the main characteristics seem to be that you are doing two activities with little to no rest between. A nuance of the debate is whether or not a true brick workout has to include a simulated transition in between, and if it must match the order of your intended race.

For example, a swim to run workout may not be a part of your race since most events have the bike in between (there are exceptions) but it is still effectively a brick workout. Similarly, if you decide to ride a bike to the local track in order to do some speed workout, is that a brick workout? That is for you to decide and it will vary depending on what you are trying to get out of the dual sport training session.

There is no length of training required, short sessions or long ones (although the useful this of long ones is questionable) are both reasonable. Brick workouts for beginners athletes are easiest when it is a simple short shake out run done after a decent ride. This is easiest because it typically requires the least amount of gear change and even a 10 minute run off a bike can typically accomplish the goal of the brick session.

Across these areas, we recommend having a goal for a brick workout. To help define this goal, here are a few questions to consider before starting.

  • How will I be finishing my swim/bike and can I replicate that feeling in my workout?
  • What distance needs to be covered to get to, and through, the race transition area?
  • Are there course specific things to consider (outgoing tide, sand, hills, curbs) that you should prepare for?
  • How will you start/stop each discipline on your tracking device? Seriously, if you survive on a heart rate monitor display, make sure you know how to end a bike ride and start a run before race day – or risk missing this data as a guide.

Brick Workouts and Why They’re Effective

Key to a brick workout is how you work igoing into the second discipline. While a dual activity training can be used to train the first part, the difference in a brick is obviously once that activity stops. There are a few key aspects of how you move from one event to the next that should be the focus of the workout. Similar to other areas of training, it is good to be intentional about what the goal of your training is in order to get the most out of it. We can break up the focus point into one of three areas.

Finish –  The first place to think about in a brick workout is how you aim to finish one of the disciplines. When moving from a swimming workout to a bike brick, it may be a good opportunity to skip the cool down of your typical event and instead finish with a harder set of swimming and move right to the bike.

Getting out of the water after a cool down will feel very different than hoping out of the water with some purpose so it is a good chance to find out just how quickly you can move. Similarly, for a bike to run transition, this might be a good time to think about raising or lowering your cadence near the end of the ride and make sure you have been at the pace you expect to be on a race day for some time.

Simulating a bike to run brick isn’t as helpful if you go out of a short ride and never get into a groove and give your legs the normalcy of pedaling. Many athletes try to fight off the weird feeling of goign from a pedal to a run, and if you are not able to simulate that level then the objective of the workout may be lost.

Transition – A non-trivial amount of focus should be placed on the actual transition. For swimming, again that might mean running out of the water barefoot for a bit if the transition you are planning for is far away. Peeling off a wet suit or putting on socks and running shoes are also learned transition skills and sampling this during a training session will work out some of the smaller details on what to take off or put on first. Sometimes you can go as far as to setup a full transition area.

Beyond this, if you are working on heart rate training or plan to track your event on a watch or GPS device (which of course we at Personal Wellness tracking are fans of since the data is so useful), then it’s good to monitor your heart rate during the transitions to see if there are surprise spikes that may zap too much energy. Be sure that wiggling out of your wetsuit isn’t the most strenuous thing you do in the day or risk being in for a crash. The last part of the transition to consider is nutrition, so look to simulate the feeding aspects of a race with a good Brick workout.

Start –  This is the area that seems to be most critical in a brick workout. How are you going to work out the kinks of transition and find a way to settle into a pace quickly. For shorter distance sprint races getting into a groove quickly can be huge. In a swim to bike brick workout this includes how to mount a bike and start pedaling.

One popular race we have done in the past starts with a steep uphill right as the bike mount portion starts, it’s not uncommon to see someone fall over trying to clip in on wobbly legs since the power required to even stay upright is much more than their standard bike start. For bike to run brick transitions, the goal is how to shake the feeling of still pedaling which can cause it to feel like you are slamming your feet into the ground.

On longer event one thing to consider is how easy you can take this out. For an Ironman or 140.6 distance, adding an extra minute to the first mile of the marathon may be the right way to keep the heart rate low while working into a groove. Again here monitoring metrics can be insightful, look for how you react to running off the bike and if it causes any unexpected spikes compared to just starting a run. The trauma of going from pedal to running can be worked out quickly, but if it causes an energy spike it may be the first dip into a tank that is nearing empty.

Are Brick Workouts Necessary When Training For a Triathlon?

With top end athletes is it important to replicate the experience of racing so that everything can be optimized. But brick workouts for beginners can sometimes take away from the primary objectives of training. If you have the choice to do a better, longer workout on a regular basis OR to do a shorter effort workout that winds up doing two disciplines that right decision is not always easy. For many, having two training sessions in a day (say a bike in the morning and swim in the evening) may be more practical to balance time. In these scenarios, often having a larger training load will be more effective in preparing for an event.

Where brick workouts are useful are often in the mental aspect of preparing. Going into an event already will have questions, and if you just got done building a bike and are scrambling to get setup for the first time in a new transition area there are benefits to being able to visualize how you will go through that transition during an event.

Staying in control during transitions will have an impact on overall time. But preparing with a brick session may reveal that some small time optimizations backfire later in the race. Maybe you want to have shoes pre-clipped into pedals for a bike and plan to ride barefoot, but if you try this in a workout and wind up with crazy blisters (because all other rides are done with socks) then think hard before trying it out in the race.

Are Brick workouts necessary? A short answer is NO. They are not, but done correctly they can add a fun new challenge to a training calendar. Now go out there and enjoy!