My Favorite Winter Intervals

By Michael Burris

I started riding again about three weeks ago after taking 3 months completely off the bike. During my hiatus from cycling my brother and I trained and ran the Richmond Marathon. For the Iron-athletes among us, running is a regular occurrence. For the pure cyclists, of which I consider myself one, running a marathon is THE BEST way to remind yourself how much you love to ride. I can honestly say that it is sooooooo nice to be back on the bike. Unfortunately, it is officially winter.

It has been stated and re-stated by many that bicycle training in the winter for athletes who live in the north is difficult. Many athletes have some sort of activity like Nordic skiing or snowshoeing that helps to maintain fitness over the winter. However, in order to maintain some cycling form, athletes must log in some miles on the bike trainer, rollers, or the spinning bike.

Over the years, I have developed a slightly different strategy to training through the winter. Instead of riding for long durations at easy to moderate intensities (i.e. base building), I choose to ride harder for shorter periods of time, during December, January, and February. I save the major base building for March and April when I can get outside.

I consider one particular type of interval incredibly effective during the winter months. Chris Carmichael calls them “OverUnders.” I was first introduced to these intervals as a client of Carmichael Training Systems. They also go by the name “Crisscrosses” and “High Lows.” The idea is to alternate riding below and at, or slightly above threshold for certain durations. An example would be completing a 6-minute interval where you spend 2 minutes just under your threshold, 1 minute over, 2 minutes under, and then 1 minute over. Rest for half the length of the interval (3 minutes in this case) and then repeat.

Most athletes I know really enjoy these intervals as they breakup an hour-long trainer ride quite nicely. They are great for burning calories and something you can do 2-3 times per week. Progress to 3 x 9 minutes at 2 under/1 over and then finish a training block with 2 x 12 minutes with 2 under/ 2 over.

I like to do a ramp test to establish my power zones for these intervals. After a ten-minute warm-up I increase my power to Zone 2 or a 4-5 on a scale of 1-10. I increase the power by 20 watts every 2 minutes. I record the power when the effort starts to feel a little uncomfortable. This is my “under” number. I also record my heart rate. I continue to increase the power until I feel like I do when I am just about to get dropped on a long climb. The power I am putting out at this point becomes my “over” number. Riding just below threshold should feel like a 6-7 on a scale of 1-10. Riding above threshold should feel like an 8-9.

It is difficult to use heart rate for these intervals, because heart rate tends to stay up (at least mine does) for the duration of the interval, especially if you are indoors. Power is best, but perceived exertion also works well.

As I write this, I have just completed a training block (3 weeks) of these workouts and I am already feeling much stronger than I did when I started. I boosted my threshold by about 20 watts.  The beauty of the “OverUnder” is in the fact that they are hard but not excruciating. Save the excruciating, lung busting stuff for when you really need it.

Mixing in a little snowshoeing and core strength training in between bike workouts is a great way to maintain variety. I will begin to add a slightly longer indoor ride on the weekends in early 2011, but for now I am just trying to stave off the poundage during the holidays.

Mike Burris is the Director of Impulse CYCLEsport. Mike is a USA Cycling certified coach, the Training Director at, and the Team Director of the Burris Logistics-Fit Werx Masters Racing Team. Mike always enjoys working with a variety of athletes. For more information go to

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