Brick Runs in Triathlon Training: Critical to Success or a Waste of Time?

Posted: August 10, 2012 in Fitness, Performance, Running, Sports, Training, Triathlon
Tags: , , , , ,
by Coach Al Lyman, CSCS, FMS, HKC

      Image      Recently, there has been debate in triathlon circles about the benefit of brick runs. A new school of thought has swept in claiming that running off the bike in training serves no purpose and is of little use. After years of thought on this topic as a coach, and much personal experimentation as an athlete and movement specialist here in our gait analysis lab, here is my perspective on the debate.

In brief, I believe brick runs have great value, but not necessarily for the reasons most people think. In my opinion, the issue of running off the bike should not be presented as a training dilemma or time-saving problem to be solved. Brick runs, in fact, present the opportunity to solve a very important physical MOVEMENT issue for triathletes.

What I know from my work in our gait analysis lab, and confirmed from my own experience, is that it is VERY challenging to get the posterior chain-the glutes, in particular-working properly to be able to run well after cycling. I have personally spent a lot of time practicing and experimenting with ways to trigger better glute activation and involvement before a brick run. I have worked on correct hip flexor stretching, and various dynamic stretching of the entire anterior hip region in order to better activate the posterior chain. I can tell you with certainty that it is very difficult to get the back side of our body going after being on a bike for any length of time. And, to be clear, to run to your potential your posterior chain-including the glutes-has to not only be firing, but must be strong.

But why do the glutes stubbornly refuse to activate off the bike? It is due to a real physiologic phenomenon known as reciprocal inhibition. Reciprocal inhibition causes the muscles on one side of a joint to relax to accommodate contraction on the other side of that joint. The posture of cycling involves sustained hip flexion, making the hip flexors short and tight. Reciprocal inhibition then causes the hip extensors, especially the gluteus maximus, to shut down markedly. As we discuss further, you will see how brick runs work effectively to counter this phenomenon.

The discoveries I have made in my own training, as well as what I see in the athletes I coach, prove to me that the following elements are absolutely crucial to one’s ability to optimize the run portion of a triathlon:

– You must first understand how important the glutes are in running. And its NOT enough that your glutes are strong (although they MUST be STRONG), they must also be able to act as the PRIMARY extendor of the hip, which is their role. Sometimes the hamstring or low back, due to compensation, tries to over take the role of the glute. First order of business for you is to eliminate compensation wherever possible so that the glutes are doing their job, and then via a platform of functional strength training, get them strong.

– You must understand that the glutes work to create hip extension when running to power you down the road. When coming off the bike, the glutes are not doing that job well at all due to reciprocal inhibition. The longer the ride, the greater the inhibition. Therefore…

– It is imperative to PRACTICE running off the bike frequently to develop a precise, in-tune FEEL of what it takes to get the glutes working effectively. How can you do that?

(Read More)

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