Criterium Workout of the Week: Over-Unders
Oftentimes criteriums are won out of big bunch sprint finishes where peak power is king... but not always. If sprinting is not your forte, to increase your odds of a victory or a podium finish, you’ll have to break-away from the pack. Breaking away is an artform that takes quite a bit of experience and timing to get right, but even if you possess all those attributes, there is still quite a hefty physical toll to pay to stick a breakaway to the line.
After doing a fair bit of sweet-spot work and being comfortable working on sustainable power, the logical progression is to build in work at functional threshold power (FTP). Another variation of FTP intervals is what is commonly referred to as over-under intervals. The concept of over-under intervals is to work in a tight range over your FTP for a short period of time and then to alternate to a power target under your FTP and repeat. We like to prescribe over-unders in a 1:4 over to under ratio and for durations that mimic FTP/sweetspot intervals, such as 15-30 minutes at a time.
Below you'll see a training file from an over-under workout with 4x20 minute over-unders where the over portion is around 120% FTP for 1 min and the under portion drops the rider to 95% for 4 minutes. The reddish/orange portion of the heatmap is the over segment and the yellow shade represents the under.
And below we can see how the same over and under portions of the effort impact a riders dFRC or remaining anaerobic power "battery."
To bring things full circle, this chart below shows insight into the requirements to maintain a breakaway to the finish line. It’s not a perfect match, but there are a lot of similarities between a breakaway file and an over-under workout. The over portion can be thought of as time pulling on the front of a breakaway and the under portion represents the time drafting and rotating through the paceline before it is your turn to pull again.
Over-unders are essentially spicy FTP workouts, BUT there are two reasons why some might find them superior to standard FTP sets. The first is that they are more mentally engaging. The higher variability built into the intervals requires more focus and concentration to stay on target and this factor tends to make the time pass by much quicker. These intervals can be a good option for riders who spend a lot of time training indoors but die of boredom trying to complete the stock 2x20 steady state FTP intervals. The second benefit of the over-unders is that they are more race specific. They really do a good job of mimicking the power requirements of riding a breakaway and if that is something you struggle with, maybe it’s time to give over-unders a chance!
Now that you know how to over-under, it’s time to get creative with it. Start with durations equivalent to your sweetspot work. If you have worked up to 2x20 at sweetspot intensity, try an over-under workout of 2x20. Take a 2:1 rest interval, so for a 2x20, give yourself about 10 minutes of rest in between efforts. Feel free to experiment with the over:under ratio as well as the percentages above/below FTP. As stated before, a 1:4 over to under ratio works well and 105-120% is a solid range for the over work, whereas 85-95% is great for the under portion. To spice things up even more, adding a cadence component to the over segment can increase the specificity of the workout. For instance, track and crit racers might find an additional benefit of riding the over portion at a high cadence, such as 110-120 rpms. Additionally, mountain bikers might find benefit in riding the over portions at a low cadence range of 55-65 rpms.
Now that you know the fundamentals of a good over-under workout, it’s time to execute! Try this workout once to twice a week and you’ll never feel out of your element in a breakaway ever again!