The Importance of the BRICK

Sean Scott, coached by trainSharp, pictured at the World Duathlon Championships in Ottowa, where he won his age group in 2013.

With just a couple of months to go until the Brighton & Hove Triathlon, your training should now be well under way. This month, I want to focus on making your training as specific as possible. Although a periodised increase in training volume is important, there should also be a should be a gradual change in the training stress, from more general base training, to very event specific training, designed to replicate the demands of your particular race.

It’s really easy for athletes to do the bulk of their training in a rather ‘grey’ area where they end up not really training specifically for their event. Being aware of specificity as a key principle of training is really important especially as it tends to be closely correlated to event performance. One way of ensuring that you prepare well for your event is to include some combination or brick sessions in your training plan once you have developed a good level of base fitness and strength.

If you haven’t yet incorporated a brick session into your training plan then now is good time to do so. The majority of brick workout combine two out of three disciplines into a single training session. For most triathletes I’ve worked with, a brick session usually consists of a bike/run workout. This is generally because of the need to run well off the bike and finish with a strong run performance. However, a brick session could also be swim/bike, or in the case of duathletes, run/bike. Whichever session you choose, it needs to be event specific in order to help you prepare for the changing physiological, biomechanical and psychological demands of each discipline and optimise you race day performance. Brick sessions can help you with pacing as you move from one discipline to another. These sessions can also help you drill for the transition between each sport.

Long periods on your bike can lead to reduced activation of the glute muscles. These brick sessions should also been seen as an ideal way to help you focus on your running form off the bike so you maintain a good posture which enhances the activation of your glute muscles.

Brick sessions can significantly increase your training load/training stress and so they should be well thought out and incorporated into a properly structured and periodised training plan. This is particularly relevant to longer distance triathletes where the injury/fatigue risks are likely to outweigh any training benefits. In these circumstances, longer distance triathletes may be better off entering a half IRONMAN or Olympic distance event as a ‘training session’. For all triathletes, before you even begin to think about doing a brick session, you need to have a good level of aerobic fitness and you should more than capable of completing the separate swim, run and bike distances planned for your brick session.

When planning a brick session, the distances you choose for each segment shouldn’t exceed the distances currently being covered in your training plan. If you’ve never included a brick session in your training plan before, then I would just start off conservatively and build the session over the coming weeks. This is because it can be tricky learning how to gauge the pace when transitioning from one discipline to another. Your legs may just feel slow and sluggish and so if you push on too hard at the beginning of the bike or run, it’s likely to cause premature fatigue. This may then have an impact on subsequent training sessions later in the week. For your first brick session, you may just want to start with a 1 mile walk/ jog after getting off the bike. This can progress to short reps such as a 5 mile bike ride followed by a 1 mile run which you can repeat several times to build up the duration.

As your training progresses and you become more familiar with brick sessions, you should be able to switch from the rep-based brick sessions described above to single, longer duration efforts. Some example run/bike sessions are below:

  • Bike – 30 minutes progressing through the zones (10 mins @ zone 1, 15 mins @ zone 2-3 and finish with 5 mins @ zone 3 with cadence between 85-90)

  • Run – 10 mins easy run

Focus on your running form!

This can be progressed to:

  • Bike – 60 minutes progressing through the zones (30 mins @ zone 2, 20 mins pushing up to tempo pace @ ~zone 3, 5 mins @ zone 2 and then finish with a fast 5 mins @ zone 4)

Focus on keeping that transition time to a minimum!

  • Run - 20 minutes at your tempo pace

This should be race-paced/threshold run from your bike transition.

More experience triathletes may be able to start with the session described above and progressively increase the bike and run segments to 1.5 hours and 30 minutes respectively.

Always approach these brick sessions with respect. There is no real advantage in scheduling a brick session close to your race and should be tapered off accordingly. While the weather is warm, make sure you have an adequate supply of water with you and at your transition point. Obviously it goes without saying but don’t start a brick session if you’re feeling under the weather or exceptionally fatigued.

Good luck with your training over the next month.

John Feeney is a sports scientist and performance coach with trainSharp. If you are unsure about any aspects of training or would like details of the triathlon coaching package, then email trainSharp for more information:

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