."Yea, I did a long brick today," says the triathlete to his buddies. Truth is, it's kind of fun to let everyone know you just put in a grueling workout, and watch them awe. And since your triathlete buddies speak the code, they get it too. But have you ever thought about the pro's and cons of a brick workout? Is it really worth the pain or is it just needless suffering?
Consider the Purpose
Every training session should be geared towards improving the key fitness parameters like lactate threshold, VO2 max, speed at vO2 max, economy, resistance to fatigue, etc. If it's not helping you in those areas, it's less effective training (I suggest getting a coach to help you...shameless plug #1).
So, do brick workouts promote fitness improvements any more than single discipline sessions? Does a same day bike-run brick improve fitness parameters better than bike-run on separate days?
Yes, and no.
Cost-Especially when doing longer bricks, the energy cost of the workout is much greater than single discipline alone. While possibly improving resistance to fatigue, it means more recovery is needed between workouts. This could have a negative impact on the next day's training.
Fatigue-multiple studies of popular sports (specifically soccer) suggest injuries happen more frequently towards the end of the competition, implying fatigue is a significant factor for injury. A brick is essentially training under fatigued conditions. For most, running form suffers as fatigue sets in. Putting it all together, this could set you up for injury.
Time/location-If you're a time crunched athlete (nearly all amateur athletes), you understand it takes a little longer to combine 2 workouts in to one day. Not only that, you have to go somewhere, which could require additional driving time, where you can assure your equipment is safe. You don't want to leave your precious bike sitting unattended while you go running. So, you're required to lock it up or maybe disassemble so you can put it in your car, and still change into your running shoes/attire. By the time you finally get ready to run, it's the equivalent of a 5-10 minute transition which sort of defeats the purpose.
Mental preparation/experience-If you really want to feel prepared, you need to experience the dead leg feeling and overall fatigue coming from the brick workout.
Pacing-after a few hours of high speed on the bike, a common race day mistake is to take off too fast out of T2. Practicing a brick using a good pacing strategy helps you control that urge and gives you the pre-race experience so you don't blow up on the race course.
Nutrition-Nutrition on the bike is a lot easier to tolerate than on the run. However, you may not know what's wrong with the bike nutrition until you get off and transition to running. Too much fluid swishing in your stomach in the run? Not enough energy? Brick sessions can be a perfect way to figure this out.
In my opinion, the way most bricks are done, they are more useful for experience and preparation than actual fitness. Of course, that doesn't mean they're a waste of time as the above mentioned pro's are pretty important. Here are a few suggestions to keep them productive.
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Scott Flynn, owner, coach and triathlete of 10+ years with Threshold Multisport Coaching, holds a MS in Exercise Science and multiple nationally recognized fitness certifications (CES, CSCS). For more about Threshold coaching packages click here.