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June 2nd, 2022

What Are Brick Workouts & Should You Be Doing Them?

by Jimmy Williams, PT, DPT

What exactly is a brick workout? Well, it’s when you perform a bike workout immediately followed by a run workout with short or no rest in between. If you’re a triathlete, you may have some experience with these as it is a great way to mimic the feeling of tired legs during a race. I would argue that you can also include swim-bike workouts in this as well, as you are simply trying to recreate the demands of switching disciplines while going at a hard intensity to mimic race day. 

Now you may be thinking, “I’m a runner and you would have to pay me to swim for a triathlon, so why would I do one of these workouts if I’m training only for running?” The answer is because runners are notoriously bad at doing any type of workout besides running. This can lead to overuse injuries, accumulating fatigue, and the lack of variability leads to stagnation in muscle growth. If you are a runner who hits a certain mileage and begins to experience excessive tiredness, lack of motivation, and pain or injury, may I suggest adding cycling and swimming into the mix? By performing these alternative forms of exercise, you continue to get the cardiovascular benefits without the loading forces of 2-3x your body weight that running puts on your body. This will allow you to improve your fitness without breaking your body down. Not to mention that it will make you a better all around athlete, opening you to new challenges, and perhaps even exposing some limitations that you didn’t know you had. 

Want another benefit? Brick workouts can mimic that “end of a race & my legs don’t work” feeling that you can’t reproduce in run-only training without needing to take several days/weeks off. Hence the acronym, “Bike Run It Can Kill!” If you have ever done a brick, you know what that really means. The only way I can describe it to runners is to say that it is like running the final two miles of a marathon where your legs feel like jello and you’re not sure if your next step is going to take you forward, or take you down. Now as awful as that sounds, this provides an opportunity to train at that high level of fatigue without the significant physical impact you would get from a run-only workout. This also helps you prepare mentally and physically to keep pushing and learn how to control your form when your legs get tired during a race. 

Intrigued? Here’s a great beginner brick workout that I like to  introduce to my athletes: start with a 30-45-minute ride at a moderate effort (zone 3-4 heart rate), followed by a 15-minute run at your goal race pace for the given distance (usually 5K). This moderate ride will stimulate the onset of blood lactate accumulation and then the 15-minute run will feel like running with jello legs while still preparing you to hold that goal race pace towards the end of the upcoming competition. Try it out for your next workout and let me know how it goes or if you need any ideas for future brick workouts!

And who knows, maybe you’ll realize that you enjoy mixing up your racing and sign-up for a multi-sport race. There are plenty of options including triathlons, duathlons, aqua-bikes, and other options/distances for racing that add new opportunities to mix into your race calendar. I have even seen some runners place very well in their first triathlon because as the saying goes, “you swim to survive, bike for show, run for dough.” Good luck!

(And yes, you can even do these workouts on a Citibike!)

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