Matt Fitzgerald answers the question: How often should you incorporate brick workouts into your training?
In triathlon, there’s no choice: You have to run (or at least walk) after riding your bike to reach the finish line. No run, no finisher’s medal.
In training, you have a choice. Everyone agrees that triathletes need to run after some bike rides by way of preparing to do the same in races, but there’s also a consensus that it’s not necessary to run after every ride. So what’s the sweet spot? How regularly should you follow a ride with an immediate run?
According to the top coaches, it depends. Among the factors to consider in planning this aspect of your training are your experience level, your schedule, your susceptibility to injury and how your body responds to this type of training.
There are two basic types of bike-run workouts you can do. A so-called “brick” consists of a full bike workout followed immediately by a full run workout; in other words, it’s a session in which each part could stand alone as a complete workout. A transition run is a short run—usually 10 to 20 minutes—after a full bike ride. Whereas bricks prepare the athlete more comprehensively for the race experience, transition runs are more narrowly focused on preparing the athlete for the transition from riding to running.
Because they are more stressful and time-consuming, bricks cannot be done as often as transition runs. According to elite triathlon coach Cliff English, whether you do occasional bricks or more frequent transition runs should depend on the distance of your races. “The long-course athletes I coach usually do one brick per week,” he says. “Short-course athletes do multiple short transition runs.”
A second factor to consider is your level of experience in the sport. “The newer the athlete is to triathlon, the more valuable transition runs can be to get them used to running off the bike,” says Tim Crowley, an endurance coach in eastern Massachusetts whose athletes include 2008 Olympian Jarrod Shoemaker. As a beginner you will probably notice that transition runs yield big improvements in your ability to run off the bike. As you gain experience, you might find that you become less dependent on transition runs to maintain the ability to run well after pedaling, and as that happens you can reduce the frequency.
Some triathletes perform frequent transition runs—as often as after every bike ride—not because they need to, but simply to save time.
“Training in three sports and getting reasonable frequency is a challenge, so this is a good, time-efficient way to maintain run frequency,” says Lance Watson, head coach of LifeSport.
Another potential benefit of frequent transition runs is injury prevention. “Adding short runs off the bike is a great way to increase frequency without overloading the athlete from a musculoskeletal standpoint,” says Matt Dixon, whose roster of athletes includes 2009 Hawaii Ironman runner-up Chris Lieto. The idea here is that a short run after a bike ride offers largely the same running-specific fitness benefits as a longer independent run but with less pounding on the legs.
While frequent transition runs may help you fit it all in and avoid injury, coaches caution against depending on them. “It’s important to run on fresh legs sometimes,” says Crowley. “Some faster runners may even get slower if they run off the bike all the time.”
While there’s no magic number for frequency of post-ride runs, a few basic considerations will help you settle on a number that, if not quite magic, works best for you.