The Sufferfest videos were one of the first successes in the tough business of trying to make indoor training interesting. With the release of their new app they’ve just made a giant leap in not only making indoor sessions less boring, but also a more rounded product. After a couple of months trying out the app, here are my thoughts.
The Sufferfest App came into being partly as an answer to the problem of illegal copying of Sufferfest videos. It also brings the series bang up to date and integrates modern technology, such as HRM, power meters and smart trainers. Your subscription entitles you to use the whole library of Sufferfest videos on your iPod, iPad, or Windows and Apple computers and share your pain over Training Peaks and Strava as well as Twitter and Facebook.
It’s been a while since I last used a Sufferfest video but after downloading the app and signing up I was pleasantly surprised to find a user-friendly interface which displayed all fifty-eight videos available with your subscription. There are thirty-four cycling videos, three running videos, and for those who can’t make their mind up there’s also a triathlon video!
Added to this there are twenty yoga videos thanks to a partnership with Yoga 15 and Abi Carver. You also get access to ten training plans from Apex Coaching, who can list Rohan Dennis and Evelyn Stevens amongst their coached riders as well as being involved in the US National Team and BMC Pro Cycling. There’s ten week road bike plans for various levels, three week plans for improving your sprinting/speed or climbing, and ten week plans for Tri, CX and XC MTB!
I’ll start with the training plans. Apex Coaching are a top level coaching outfit and have made a great job of mixing it up with these plans. They’re far from boring and as well as including the Sufferfest videos you’ll find a smattering of yoga videos included to help you breathe and recover. The plans tell you which ones are best to use before or after a workout.
Also included are a good base of cycling drills as part of the downloadable file. These aren’t associated with a video (but there is talk of introducing videos to go with these very soon), they can be used with the Open 30 or Open 60 videos. These drills include sessions on cadence, form and endurance rides. They are well written and easy to follow and give the training plans – and you – a good all round fitness and core strength to back up your on-bike form. Each training plan is downloadable and printable so you can stick it on the wall and cross it off as you go.
The old on screen boxes with cadence and perceived effort level out of ten are still there, but you can now add real numbers. If you are connected with a power meter, smart trainer, or supported regular trainer (with estimated power) you can now see target cadence, heart rate and power. The last two are based on zones established by the FTP and LTHR in your settings. It’s up to you whether you want to go old school and ride on feel, or be scientific and channel your inner Brailsford.
The biggest and most obvious thing I noticed on the workouts as opposed to what I’ve been doing on other apps and websites is the music. Yes I have loads of music on my iphone, but the music on the Sufferfest videos (apart from the odd dodgy transition) is well chosen. It goes well with the instructions and action on screen to help you find a rhythm. Plus it doesn’t require any thought or action from me and allows me to concentrate on pushing the pedals instead.
Humour is a big part of the Sufferfest videos. There is a kind of back story to the whole thing, but each video has its own storyline too. Based on an early video ‘Local Hero’, the story starts with the first Sufferlandrian to ride the Worlds. The National Team has a Director Sportif named Grunter Von Agony. Sufferlandria is where the Sufferlandrians come from and at some point you should complete the quiz and download your certificate of citizenship.
Every year there’s a National Tour of Sufferlandria (nine days of suffering – read on and you’ll find out what I made of it) and if you really love the pain you can apply to be a Knight of Sufferlandria by completing ten back to back videos and filming it. The videos and the website are full of amusing comments, and there have been a few moments where I’ve had to gulp down a chortle as the writing on screen makes me laugh despite the fact I’m racing flat out up a mountain at 60rpm at threshold.
The videos are all well labelled on the app with sport (remember they have tri, running and yoga vids as well as cycling), style of video/workout (speed, climbing, endurance, racing) and time/duration of video. They also have listed the TSS and IF of each video which helps if you’re trying to fit videos into some spare time, swap them into a training plan, or do a speed workout instead of climbing because you fancy a higher cadence today. I followed a three week climbing programme on the app and it focused on ‘climbing’ videos with low cadence and high power intervals. The surges and standing efforts as the riders on screen attack really get you in the spirit. The videos are well structured and at the start you might think it’s going to be easy, but by the end you will have reached your limit.
Although the videos are quite short, they are quite effective. One of the stretching recovery videos had me asleep after having completed ‘Hell Hath No Fury’. Abi Carver’s soothing voice definitely aided the process of relaxing. I’ve always stretched after rides, but normally only my hamstrings and calves. The stretching exercises here cover more muscle groups and leave you relaxed and ready for some more suffering.
Other apps and products include training programmes, but they rarely include advice on what to do between workouts. The Sufferfest app includes videos such as breathing exercises, core strengtheners and even things you can do at work and on the dreaded couch to help you perform on the bike. I definitely felt the benefit of the yoga videos whilst taking part in the Tour and I’ve also used them after riding outside too.
Tour of Sufferlandria
It just so happened that during the review period I’d been given, the Tour of Sufferlandria was due to happen. It starts every year about the same time and runs for nine days, Saturday to the following Sunday. It’d be rude not to join in and ride ‘The Tour’ so I signed up and pledged my $10 to the Davis Phinney Foundation, which is what you must do to ‘register’ and put your name into the associated prize draw. If you’re not already aware, the Davis Phinney Foundation supports people with Parkinson’s and this event is the Sufferfest Team’s way of raising money for the charity.
I then just had to figure out how I was going to squeeze in the weekend parts of The Tour of Sufferlandria without upsetting my family. Most of my cycling is done during the week whilst the kids are at school. I bet Chris Froome never has this problem! Incidentally you donate a minimum of $10 to ‘enter’ and with that you are also entered into a prize draw, with some great prizes up for grabs. If you want more chances, you get an extra chance with every $10 you raise or pledge.
You could do the tour on the same days, using the correct videos (which you must have paid to use the app to access) and not donate, but it’s a bit like going to a sportive and following the signage without paying. It’s not really fair to the organisers who have put in hard work to stage the event and make it worth doing. Also, the Sufferfest Community – the Sufferlandrians – are a key part of what makes the Sufferfest videos so great. They have a huge following and if you read the blog on the Sufferfest website you’ll see they’ve achieved some amazing things. I’ve been watching the guys on the Facebook group for riders who are planning Knighthood quests and the support they give each other is amazing.
I went into the Tour of Sufferlandria having completed the Sufferfest three week climbers programme, followed by a week of lower intensity riding to recover. I also ran the rubber glove video which sets your FTP in the app, this put my FTP at 15 watts lower than it was at the end of last Summer.
The first stage included a thorough warm up and then a 30+ minute time trial above threshold with the occasional five second rest to allow for slowing down in the corners. It was hard, but the decrease in FTP helped here! Some of the stages are longer videos that are available on the app and some of the stages are mashups of two or more of the videos put together in a way that makes sense as a workout. Each stage has quite a window for you to complete it. As long as it’s the right date somewhere in the world you can do it. This allows for up to two days out if needed.
The third stage, The Omnium, which was essentially a track omnium of six events condensed from two days to race in forty-nine minutes, was jam-packed with ramps and high power intervals. By the final sprint of the points race I had no sprint, I was ruined. In the afternoon, my Achilles was pulling. Every time I moved my leg I could feel it tighten. I used Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation and utilised one of the days I had in hand. The next day I went for a slow ride into town and it felt good after I’d warmed it up so I went home and got on with stage four.
Stage four was a hilly stage so I was happy with that. It did start with some under/over intervals though, which if you’re not familiar with, are intervals at just over and just under your threshold. You get little chance of recovery and they’re normally a good exercise to help improve your threshold and endurance. They do hurt though, and were followed by three fairly long climbs.
After this I did stage five which consisted of nine efforts alternating between VO2 and threshold efforts and decided that I couldn’t go any further. I feel a bit dejected, but I hadn’t really trained for this and the nine days of pretty much double-dose workouts is not an easy path. After a week of very low intensity – interspersed with trampolining and long walks for the half term holidays – I did another rubber glove FTP test and it went back up to where it was at the end of last Summer. Twelve watts or so isn’t a massive difference but with the added flexibility and core strength from the yoga workouts I feel it was a good prep for the warmer weather. I’m definitely going to come back next year and try go for the whole nine days without a rest day!
It’s also worth mentioning that Sufferfest are not only making a difference within the app and the community of Sufferlandrians, they also make a real difference in real life too. They have raised a ton of money for the Davis Phinney Foundation, which is a charity dedicated to Parkinsons set up by Davis Phinney. Younger readers will know him as Taylor Phinney’s Dad.
Sufferfest have been big supporters of Women’s racing and major sponsors of the UCI Women’s Road World Cup. They also sponsor some women’s teams, were the first corporate backers of ‘Half the Road’ and are involved in Kathryn Bertine’s project to help fund struggling Women Pro Cyclists. On top of all this the Sufferfest guys have sponsored Africa’s first all-black UCI registered Elite MTB team. So they’re not squandering your subscription fee!
I really like the whole Sufferfest experience. I’ve let my other indoor training app go and I’ll be scrabbling behind the sofa to find the money to renew a Sufferfest subscription instead. It’s a well-rounded package, the videos are spot on and the instructions and music on the videos are well timed to help you give every last ounce of effort. You get a strong feeling of being coaxed and pushed in equal measure. There may not be an actual coach standing over you cracking the whip, but as the music matches your tempo, the on screen targets and encouragement combine to give you motivation galore.
If you’re a racing fan you can pick out some highlights of various years, spot your favourite riders and be mesmerised by perfectly practised pedal strokes. Unlike some online training programmes, you aren’t racing anyone but yourself. There’s no need to worry that the guy that just passed you was ‘putting out’ watts that should see him pulled to one side after the race for a blood test and x-rays of his bike.
It certainly seems ‘easier’ to use a smart trainer in ergo mode to keep you on the correct prescribed wattage ‘if’ you can get it all to work properly. Bear in mind they’re still a relatively new technology and some brands will be easier to set up than others. If you have a power meter you’re sorted whatever turbo you have. If you have a standard indoor trainer with no bells or whistles, then you need to check carefully whether you need any additional sensors to enable virtual power on the app.
Update- They’ve just introduced some new workouts for February 2017. It’s good to see they’re constantly working on the series trying to make it even better.
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