It’s mid-January and you’re eager to get fit for your mid-summer triathlon goals, so you’re probably trying to get back in the pool, making an effort to increase your running and riding, and even squeezing in double workout days when time permits.
That’s great if you want to maximize your training opportunities, increase your training volume, and boost your fitness. But does that mean you should be doing those double workouts as bricks?
Brick workouts are traditionally back-to-back bike-run efforts where you train with high output on the bike, then immediately follow that with a tempo or race-pace run. There are numerous variations of brick workouts, but most are designed to train with simulated race-day intensity and fatigue, improving the ability to run well off the bike.
Twice-a-day workouts are great if you have the time, but there are reasons to avoid brick workouts in the early season, said Bill Gleason, a certified triathlon and strength and conditioning coach based in Encinitas, California.
“I try to have athletes stay away from bricks at first, even if it’s someone who has a really strong background with bike and run,” Gleason said. “I start from a more broad approach and don’t have my recreational athletes do bricks until their fitness level is up a few months later. That typically means waiting until they have gone through at least two three-week training blocks — so six weeks — before I have them do any bricks.”
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Why? There’s no need to rush things, he says. Focus on getting a base level of fitness first, then start adding tri-specific workouts, bricks and race-simulation efforts.
“If you have the time and plan on training for six to nine months for your goal race, I really think that’s the best way to do it,” Gleason said. “You need fitness, but don’t need to put yourself in a deep hole this early in the season.”
Gleason says he prefers that his age-group athletes focus on one discipline at a time, working on quality technique work and slowly increasing volume over high-end intensity and fatigue. Doing two-a-day workouts a couple of days a week is fine, as long as attention is paid to recovery, fueling, and hydration in between. It doesn’t matter what the sport disciplines are: It could be an easy ride in the morning and a hard swim session in the afternoon, a high-volume swim in the morning and an easy run at lunchtime, or cross-country skiing and a weight training session.
“But, if someone goes to the gym and gets on a spin bike and gets off and then runs on the treadmill immediately after, well, that’s still a brick,” Gleason said. “I typically suggest having at least four hours between efforts so you can recover as much as you can.”
At any point during your training season—but especially in the early season before you’re fit—brick workouts can be a tricky proposition. They can contribute to building high-level aerobic strength necessary on race day, but they can also be extremely depleting and require a lot of recovery time, said Brian Stover, a certified triathlon coach with Accelerate3 Coaching in Tucson, Arizona. Stover says he’s never been a big proponent of brick workouts, but when he assigns back-to-back efforts, he typically recommends reverse bricks, in which the athlete runs first and then goes for a hard ride.
“If you go ride first, you’re a little bit dehydrated, then you run and recovery costs are a little bit higher,” Stover said. “I’d rather see someone run first, then ride. Because late in the bike ride, you can start shoveling down M&Ms and drinking a lot of water and when you get off the bike, you’re on top of that recovery curve.”
During the early season, Stover also insists on focusing on quality work, good technique, and recovery between workouts. A simple approach for his age-groupers would be doing a run in the morning and a bike in the afternoon and flip-flopping those disciplines or focusing on a single discipline in the following days.
To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with doing a brick workout in the off-season, as long as you’re smart about your approach, said Joan Scrivanich, a certified triathlon and running coach and exercise physiologist who trains athletes through her New Jersey-based Rise Endurance coaching business. She too prefers twice-a-day workouts to be separated by morning and afternoon/evening workouts, but says an occasional brick workout on a weekend right now can be beneficial.
“It might not be a focus this time of the year, but there are benefits,” she said. “The positive aspects of doing bricks are that they keep up your fitness up and keeps up that sense of what bike-to-run feels like. For someone who has been in triathlon for a while, they know what it feels like to do back-to-back efforts, so it doesn’t need to be as much of a focus, because they know mentally and physically. Someone new to the sport or just getting back from it might benefit from doing a brick now and then just to get that sensation back and the understanding of what it feels like because, ultimately, the sport is all about running off the bike.”