Heather Jackson: Why Do Triathletes Do "Brick" Workouts?
Video Courtesy of Wattie Ink.
Ed. Note—What's up with triathletes running off the bike? Coaches and athletes all over have prescribed the "Brick" session since triathlon's early days, and the tradition has persisted. Heather Jackson takes us through one of recent Brick session, both raising the hood on the workout and telling us how she executes one.
First of all, what's the session? HJ prepares her legs for this run by first doing a hard session on the bike (how do we know it's hard? Watch the video!) that incorporates a 30-minute warmup, four two-minute openers to finish the warmup, and then four five-minute big gear efforts. Following the ride she gets out the door for a long run, most of it conducted at goal Ironman race pace, or "tempo" pace. How much tempo? Well, this is Heather Jackson, here, so we caution you against mimicking her, but she puts up 14-16 miles at 6:30/mile pace as she prepares for an Ironman.
Ah, specificity. It's so cool, it actually has a law named after it! Of course, if you actually do any further digging, you'll discover that there is a real diminishing of returns of specificity past a certain point (i.e. don't train for your marathon by running a marathon!). That diminishing, though, doesn't mean we shouldn't practice the way we race, and that means we should run off the bike in some of our bike workouts. We'll get into the mental and physical reasons a little later on, but specificity is the big reason we're here.
The more important mental structure you can build while training for any sport is habit. Want to hit more free throws? Habit. Want to carve through a corner faster on the bike? Habit. Want great knife skills? Habit. It's through huge numbers of repeated movements we create grace and apparent ease. As Picasso said: "That didn't take twenty seconds—that took twenty years." If you convince your body that following a ride you almost always go for a run, your body won't balk on race day.
Mimic That Fatigue
Even if you could, you wouldn't want to get so specific that you had to generate 112 miles of fatigue for any run off the bike to be useful, so we "pre-fatigue" the legs through other means. A high-torque, high-power session (that is, low cadence along with a fairly high power) achieves this goal nicely. Although we don't fully understand the mechanism of low-cadence work, most athletes agree: it generates the same heavy-legged feeling of a triathlon bike leg. In HJ's case, she's putting together a challenging session that incorporates 20 minutes of big gear work. Experiment with your intensities and see what makes your legs feel the worst!
Prepare for the Worst
Two schools of thought compete to answer "why are these sessions called 'brick' sessions?" The first, sensible enough, is that the "BR" of "Brick" comes from "bike" and "run." That explanation doesn't really account for the "ick," except for the fact that maybe that's how your legs feel while performing them. The second school preaches that these workouts are named for bricks because it feels like your legs are full of that building material in the first few minutes of the run. Knowing that that sensation awaits you as you begin the final leg of the run isn't pleasant, but it's sure better than being surprised by that feeling in your race!
So that's it! Brick workouts are uncomfortable, but they are a reality of multi-sport, and the sooner that you start thinking of these sessions as one workout, rather than two bolted together, you'll find yourself completing more of them. That increased completion will lead to more consistency in your racing, and improved results across the board. Happy bricking!