It makes sense to bring combo workouts — or bricks — into your fitness regimen if you’re training for a triathlon. But they can be helpful, some experts say, even if you don’t have a triathlon penciled into your calendar.
Typically a brick workout combines at least two events back to back, such as biking and then running, or swimming then biking or even swimming then biking and then running, which is essentially what a triathlon looks like. Some people say it’s called a brick because when you go from one event to another without a break you can feel like you are hitting a brick wall. Other people say especially when you go from biking to running that your legs can feel heavy like bricks.
But that’s no reason to avoid them. In addition to simulating a multisport event, bricks can help you avoid hitting a plateau in your training because they are another way to keep you from getting too comfortable, and they keep you focused, said Reuel Tizabi, a personal trainer in Silver Spring. “Mental game is huge.”
Tizabi said bricks as well as more informal combination workouts have a lot to offer anyone who is trying to raise his or her level of fitness. And they can be especially good for people new to exercise because they don’t require a long attention span. Although you still need to pay attention to your form, you are not challenging yourself on the same exercise for as long a period of time and you’re giving yourself a little break in between exercises.
“Combination workouts help prevent your body from getting used to the same movements in the same sequence,” Tizabi said. “And one of the best things you can do to progress properly after you have a solid base is get outside your comfort zone.”
I first wondered about brick workouts because they appeared on my marathon training calendar. I asked my running coach, Ann Alyanak, about them, and she told me that because I was coming off an injury, they could help me build endurance.
“I use bricks for my runners who are more injury-prone and not running a ton of miles,” said Alyanak, who coaches about 11 runners at a time through the Arizona-based Run S.M.A.R.T. Project. “This way you can do something to get a long endurance span without all the pounding.”
She’s got some runners using the elliptical to get in an hour of cardio and then biking — either in the gym or outside — and then swimming if they have access to a pool. Like Alyanak, I’m seeing more runners using the elliptical bike outside on the trail, which is almost like combining running and biking all in the same workout.
Combining different body parts in the same workout also slows muscle fatigue, Tizabi said, kind of like circuit training. For example, even if you’re doing a series of exercises, one after the other, with minimal rest, if you’re doing squats and then immediately going to push-ups and then to core work, you are giving each muscle group time to rest. That way, when you go back to them you can perform additional exercises with better form.
“However, the amount of time spent going from one exercise to the next should be based on the individual’s capabilities and fitness level,” Tizabi noted. And to avoid injury, even people who’ve been training for years might need to take breaks between activities if they are unable to maintain proper form.
A brick will take you outside your comfort zone, but it should also be fun, Tizabi said. Bricks are one way to exercise with friends who are at different fitness levels or who prefer one activity over another. If you have a friend who bikes but doesn’t run, the two of you can head out together on your bikes, and then when it’s time for you to do your run, you can separate, or your friend can continue biking next to you.
“You get the most out of your workout when you push yourself but also when you’re enjoying yourself,” Tizabi said.
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Carolee Belkin Walker is a federal bureaucrat, blogger and freelancer. She shares her fitness adventures on her blog, www.bethedog.ninja. The views expressed here are those of Walker and not those of the U.S. government.