Are you missing that last bit of top-end race form? This over-under intervals workout might be exactly what you’re looking for.
With typical intervals, three key variables—time, intensity, and rest—create a magical combination of conditions for fitness gains.
But with over-unders, there’s no true rest, just varying times in different training zones. Like traditional intervals, over-unders are done in sets that generally last 10 to 20 minutes. But within those sets, there is no rest. The athlete alternates between a few minutes just below threshold and a few minutes at or above threshold. No catching your breath allowed.
The Benefits of Over-Unders
There’s abundant anecdotal evidence that this type of work hones race fitness; these workouts are often a go-to final prep for pro racers. Some coaches suggest that while we may need the rest period for a mental break, physiologically it may be better if we just get on with the work. For example, 4×10-minute intervals at threshold may not be as effective as doing one block of 40 minutes at threshold, but the intervals are more mentally digestible.
That said, the complexity of over-under workouts holds psychological benefits: They allow us to generate power in a way that is less mentally demanding. At the end of the 20 minutes, your average power will be high, but the effort it takes to get there will be broken up, so it’s mentally easier to get through.
This effect is called chunking. Sports psychology research has demonstrated that by breaking a long effort into shorter segments, we are better able to focus on each segment and, therefore, better able to handle the mental aspect of the effort.
Chunking may make over-unders easier in some ways, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t mentally challenging in other ways. Breaking from the routine of intervals, the lack of a rest period in over-unders builds mental toughness. It also tends to mimic race conditions more accurately, since there is rarely a rest after a hard one-minute attack in a race. In that way, it’s easy to see why over-unders mimic the power demands of race day.
Incorporating Over-Unders into Your Training
It’s important to remember that over-under workouts are designed to fine-tune race form and to build peak fitness. Because they are high-intensity by nature, they can be stressful. Use sparingly to sharpen the knife.
When should you do these? Obviously, you shouldn’t do them year-round. In the best case scenario, do them, at most, weekly and start no sooner than six weeks before your first race.
How should you pace them? This is a workout when you might want to stare at the power meter. There’s a temptation to go too hard, particularly during the “under” portion. Conversely, for the “over” portion, try to rely on heart rate and feel.
The sample workout below is just one of many over-under variations. In fact, it is a workout designed for serious riders, and might not be the place for all to start. Consider your ability level and the demands of the race you’re training for when picking your race prep workout.
Now, get a piece of tape, write this workout on it, and stick it to your stem. Then head out the door and prepare to get race-ready.
Workout of the Week: “Icing on the Cake” Over-Unders
20-30 min. easy
Use a 15-min. climb and ride progressively harder with each set to mimic racing. Complete the sets in the following order, and descend between sets:
- 15 min. @ 90% of FTP
- 15 min. alternating between 3 min. @ 90% + 2 min. @ 100% of FTP
- 16 min. alternating between 3 min. @ 90% + 1 min. @ 120% of FTP
- 12-15 min. alternating between 1 min. @ FTP + 10 sec. all-out
20-30 min. easy