Keen to Improve Your Triathlon Transition – Bike to Run Phase. Here is how….

Sep 23, 2022

T2 -The bike-to-run transition in triathlon Why it’s hard, and can you make it better?

A pivotal part of the triathlon is the transition from the bike to the run. Not only is it technically difficult to prepare yourself when fatigued, but it’s also biomechanically contrasting, which leads to that funny feeling in your quads when you begin to run. Let’s have a look at why?

Even if you haven’t competed in a triathlon, there is probably a time or two in your life when you have gotten off a bike and tried to run. It’s like some kind of cartoon where your legs move too fast for the rest of your body. Let’s have a look at how to improve your transition.

  • Control stress – slow is smooth and smooth is fast.
  • Get your posterior chain firing.
  • Brick Sessions
Control stress – slow is smooth and smooth is fast!

This may sound basic and like a cheesy quote – but it’s true! Slow is smooth and smooth is fast, practice makes perfect. You must try not to rush through your transition, and start by KNOWING THE RULES for each particular race you enter. This will avoid any unnecessary time penalties. Practice your transition, use a bike rack, and some cones, measure the distance, and use the kit you will use on the day. Just like the marathon, if you attempt something new on the day, there is a high likelihood that things will go wrong. Each T2 will be unique to you. Your own equipment, a unique position in the lineup, make sure you know where you will rack your bike and pick up your shoes. Lastly, practice your nutrition, and know what you have. It fits with all the rest, but you can remind yourself what nutrition you have and when you wish to take it during the T2. I know this seems self-evident and boring, but things go wrong all the time, especially with the adrenaline rush of a first-time competitor, or realising you are doing well in your race and want to save as much time as possible during the transition.

Brick sessions

I want to mention brick sessions before talking about the posterior chain. Brick sessions are done during preparation and training, so you don’t have to worry about this on the day. The principle is simple, take two modalities of training and practice them back to back. In this case, going from a bike ride straight into a run. Practically it is great to complete these in a gym where you can use your bike statically and move onto the treadmill. However getting outside and practising it with a proper T2 transition period, is fantastic sport-specific training.

Doing brick training helps you deal with that dreaded jelly leg feeling which is caused by BLOOD SHUNTING. Blood shunting is asking the body to deal with very different physical demands consecutively. In this case, you begin on the bike, bent forward posture, hip flexion, quad dominant and importantly low load and resistance. Moving straight from that into running where you should have an upright posture, the arms are constantly moving, your posterior chain (glutes and hamstrings) are asked to work hard, and possibly the most important – weight bearing for the run. Suddenly your cardiovascular system has to fuel and flood all these muscles with blood for the new activity. This is blood shunting, and it’s a strange wobbly legged feeling. It will never fully go away, but practising brick sessions will help you adapt.

Your brick sessions will vary based on your triathlon distance and modality of training, however, I recommend you begin them as early as possible, even if the intensity is not particularly demanding at the beginning. Here are two examples of brick sessions.

Simple and beginner level 

  •  60-90 minutes easy bike ride 
  • 20-minute easy run

Sprint distance advanced

  • Bike 15 mins easy as a warm-up
  • Bike 8 mins at target sprint triathlon race pace
  • Run 4 mins at target sprint triathlon race pace
  • Recover for 3 mins
  • Bike 7 mins at target sprint triathlon race pace
  • Run 3 mins at target sprint triathlon race pace
  • Recover for 60 secs
  • Bike 5-10 mins easy

The second is varied and practices numerous transitions at different speeds. Give them both a try and see what you think!

Get your posterior chain firing

Now for firing the kinetic chain – we need to find out what works for you. As I mentioned previously with blood shunting, the posterior chain is not utilised well in cycling, the glutes and in particular piriformis are very active, but the angle of hip flexion on the bike is not conducive to generating power on the run. Simple put – when the hip is working hard for an extended period in a high degree of flexion seated on a bike, it does not then generate great power when asked to work in a standing position, extending behind the body. This is another reason it feels so strange to get off the bike and step straight into a run, your quads want to do all the work, and you tend to run with high cadence, huge knee drive, with little to no hip extension and heal lift. But now you know, so you can practice rectification.

All we have to do is used easy drills to activate and fire up those glutes and hamstrings. For you, it might be as simple as completing a few 15-second sets of high heels in the transition. Another option is to do a few reps of straigh-legged hip extensions, so you focus specifically on pushing the floor away with your heel for a few sets. One step further, in an ideal world, you can both simultaneously. Push the floor away and lift the heels – you may recognise this as the first two steps of our leg cycle. Maybe you do them all, maybe you do them in sequence, but this is key to moving into an effective technical pattern as you transition from bike to run. And I’ll say it one more time! Practice makes perfect, don’t try this new on the day!

  1. Practice and prepare your transition – think equipment, nutrition and competition rules.
  2. Utilise brick sessions during your training programme to prepare for blood shunting and moving from one exercise modality to another.
  3. Find the proper drills for you to get your posterior chain flying – so you can move calmly and elegantly into your run!
Build More Efficient Triathletes