What's the gold-standard workout (and setup) for over-unders?

So I’m really asking 3 questions:

  1. what workout do people feel is the ‘gold standard’ over under workout in the TR catalogue?

By that I mean a workout that is solidly hard, not exceptionally difficult, nor a soft touch, and that completion at an 8-9/10 RPE would make you think ‘yeah, my FTP is set about right and I’ve got decent legs’ right now. Obviously standard caveats about adequate fuelling, hydration and cooling applying, etc?

  1. How far under and over is ideal, in your view? (n=1 caveats, etc) I ask because I recall reading something from Tom Bell where he talked about a common fault about over-under design, in his view. Iirc, he said the problem with a lot of o/u workouts was that they set the unders too high (because lactate clearance was maximised at 80-90% FTP) and the overs set too low (so they don’t actually build up enough lactate), and people effectively end up doing more or less just threshold intervals.

  2. How long do you like for each block? Personally, I quite enjoy the 12m blocks, as it feels like a solidly long interval, without being quite as tortuous (especially mentally) as something 15m plus.

  • I suggest a word change to something like RPE, Effort or other since “level” has a very specific and different connotation within the TR world. I say that guessing you aren’t looking for one with an official TR Workout Level in that 8-10 range.

Also, do you have any preference or limit for overall workout duration?

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Hi Chad -

Good suggestion and edit made.

No, the TR o/u stuff at level 7+ looks utterly savage. I have completed Mary Austin once, and while I’d suggest that’s a very good test, I’d personally view completing that at any RPE short of ‘genuinely wondered if I might die’ as an indication of going very, very well.

For specific TR recommendations, anything up to 90m, though in general terms I’m just interested in what people like/use/recommend; there seems to be quite a range of opinions out there.

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My o/u formula of choice:

Under 3 to 5 mins
Over 1 min

Unders at 90%
Overs at 110%

Recovery btwn sets ~3m

Progress them through a block as if they’re threshold or SS by increasing interval duration and/or number to push TiZ towardsŕpast 60 mins.

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As luck would have it, I just did Palisade last night.

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This is just that 9 min set duration and I gave it a 3-Hard rating. This and my VO2 on Tue were set as Stretch from AT and I was worried heading into this, but it went well and was the proper amount of effort for me. At least within the fact I just got a 5w FTP bump Mon and am just in the first week of Base 3.

Filtering through the library I see Tunemah, Emmerson & McAdie versions are ones I tend to favor as well.

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9 minute blocks of over/unders seem to be the ones that work for me too.

Hard work but mostly achievable even with an odd break. I dread them straight after a FTP bump mind you!

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The theoretical purpose of doing over unders rather than sustained threshold work, is that the you alternate between a state of exceeding lactate clearance capabilities (you are beyond steady state), and then go underneath of it and clear out that extra lactate accumulation (while still working)… and that these “reps” of accumulating then clearing lactate have some sort of additional training effect.

The other modifier to this is that most people here probably have their “FTP” based off a ramp/AI value, which will over estimate FTP in most people. This isn’t a huge deal for most training, but having a pretty precise idea where your actual sustainable threshold power is, is much more important with over unders.

Based on this, my personal thinking on over unders (as some random guy who like riding his bike) is:

  1. Total “reps” per session is one goal and one metric to increase over time.
  2. If using ramp or AI-derived “FTP” then at least make the unders 10% or more below “FTP,” when first starting, as otherwise there is a high chance the unders aren’t actually under.
  3. You should feel some mild recovery in the unders, like your catching up on breathing. If not, do them easier.
  4. The point of the overs is to generate a “lactate bolus” you need to deal with in the future while the point of the under is to process this lactate while still working hard.
  5. Making the overs harder, or longer, are ways to make a larger “lactate bolus” you subsequently need to deal with, and is another way to progress in them.
  6. Making the unders shorter, or more difficult (but still under FTP), is another way to progress them. If you’re truly able to “get comfortable” during the unders, make them more difficult.

Based on this, you can then titrate your targets to a good starting point then go from there. This is just my thinking/what I do.

Open to criticism.

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IIRC the optimal intensity for clearing lactate is around 80% of FTP.

I prefer to have the unders at 90% because I want the average power to be around 93% and I don’t want to change the ratio from 4:1 and I’m primarily interested in doing the work rather than specifically targeting lactate clearance.

My personal go-to:

3 sets of 15-20 minute reps with:

  • 2min @110%
  • 1min @80%

5min rest between the reps

Hard but manageable :smiley:

IIRC the optimal intensity for clearing lactate is around 80% of FTP.

I think the optimal intensity for clearing lactate is around 0% FTP :wink:

I’m primarily interested in doing the work rather than specifically targeting lactate clearance.

You probably don’t need to bother doing over unders then, and could just do sustained threshold work. Unless you just like doing them because you find the format fun/engaging, in which case go nuts!

Not sure about that. 80% is better than, say, 60%, IIRC (again).

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I think you’re right, at least for blood lactate rather than tissue lactate.

This and each set ideally equal or greater than 12 minute “=>” (spelled it out, people seem to struggling now we are in 2024 > 2023 )

3x

  • 1m 110%
  • 3m 90%

4 to 5m @ 60%

3x

  • 1m 110%
  • 3m 90%

etc

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You could go 2 @ 110, 3@ 90% times 3 for 15 minute sets.

Or 2 on / 2 off x3 for 12 minute sets.

Not sure what there is in TR catalogue.

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How about?

Palpana consists of 5x12-minute over-under intervals alternating between 2 minutes at 90% FTP and 2 minutes at 110% FTP with 8-minute recoveries between intervals.

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I like going a bit harder on the overs at least 120%. One of my favorites is 2x20min 2min 85-90% / 30s 130%+.

12min to 15min blocks of 1min 120% / 2min 85-90% are great too. With 4min hard start at 110% to really sharpen the blade.

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Yeah, I like that.

I think we are seeing a theme, many ways to slice the cake and if the slices are very thin 5% each way, the cake is a mess, hard to cut that thin. 95-105% aren’t the best.

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Re: lactate clearance, I thought lactate was a byproduct that in turn is a fuel that we want to use and not shuttle away.

Re: over-unders, I think it’s whatever you think will assist you mentally. Like lactate clearance, I understood them to be an old approach that doesn’t have any performance benefits over the same average intensity for the same period of time. That doesn’t mean they’re useless.

If someone does 190%:10% FTP with 1:1 time, is that the same as 100% FTP over the same time in terms of adaptation and recovery?

No idea.

It’s been years since I’ve heard someone say typical over-unders are physiologically better for increasing performance than similar-powered intervals. No harm in doing them, though, and some find them to be good mental prep for outdoor rides.

Do whatever helps you get through the set and perhaps helps you visualise a real outdoor scenario.

This. I like them for two main reasons:

  1. They break the intervals into smaller chunks, which helps with focus; and

  2. The structure helps if you want to target something like low cadence on the overs to get into larger motor units.

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The physical parameters of an over/under session will vary by fitness/goals etc but there are a number of features that make it a ‘good’ session for me:

  • being able to see my heart rate drop in the unders is a nice reminder that I can ‘recover’ even at that intensity

  • I should spend at least one rep wondering if I should quit cycling

  • the general philosophical benefits of knowing that when it feels really hard, backing off a bit can help you keep going. I honestly use this lesson all the time in life (also the fact that eventually you just need to stop and recover properly)

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Are there studies that show “lactate clearance” is actually trainable? I’m thinking of people trying to train their ability to burn more fat, which has never been shown to be trainable.