The joy of sufferfesting

I’ve been riding a lot indoors this year. Crunched for time and a job and home life that makes commuting on my bike or just planning a commute a challenge as I don’t know where I’ll be or need to go any particular day. I got bored of Zwift (again). Racing became a willy waving contest, who can cheat the most and I just couldn’t seem to push myself hard enough when doing workouts with exception of a rare group one I had time to do. I’ve dabbled with Rouvy on and off but the VR stuff seems to bore me too. It’s a bit samey.

Last October I tried The Sufferfest again and quite liked it but I stuck with Zwift over the winter only to suspend my membership again this year and give The Sufferfest another go a couple of months back. I’m now able to push myself harder. Here’s why

I’m not training for anything. I just like beat myself up for an hour on the bike. That endorphin rush afterwards is real.

First up, although riding your bike indoors and undertaking a pre-defined workout is very common, The Sufferfest’s approach is like no other indoor training app that I’ve used. Most apps (Zwift, Rouvy, Trainerroad etc) base their workouts solely on your FTP whereby The Sufferfest uses an additional three metrics. They call it your 4DP profile. This makes sense to me. I was always a good time trialler and climber and a shit sprinter so doing workouts to improve my sprinting based on my FTP, for example, doesn’t make any sense.

The Sufferfest workouts are based on these (4DP) metrics

There is an extremely hard 4DP test that Sufferfest offer to give you your figures but I’ve manually adjusted mine based on power profiles obtained from Zwift racing. Probably not spot on but definitely close.

Alongside the traditional Sufferfest vids, there are also other workouts that have no video, some from GCN and some ‘easier’ ones to ride while watching some cycling-themed films plus Yoga and weight-training too. I’m going to concentrate on The Sufferfest videos.

So far my approach to selecting a workout has been completely random. Usually a combination of whether I’ve done it before, its duration and its TSS (Training Stress Score) and IF (Intensity Factor).

TSS and IF basically show you how intense and hard a workout is. A high IF + long workout duration = a high TSS score (because you’ll be smashed to bits afterwards). Lots of TSS in a short space of time fatigues you. The key is to get the balance of TSS and recovery right. Hope that makes sense

Sufferfest video’s follow a simple formula. Aswell as the workout, to motivate you they have UCI race footage, a pumping sound track in line with the tempo of your interval and an imaginary theme or story your involved in which unfolds on screen through prompts as you ride.

A typical workout for me will be done in an hour and be hard. Harder than I ever used to ride on Zwift. It’s not absolutely clear to me why I can ride much harder. The music and footage help to distract me from the discomfort to some degree but I think mainly the way the workout and intervals are broken down into smaller chunks both physically and mentally on the screen coupled with changes to the music tempo allow me to focus on the interval I’m in rather than worrying about completing the set because it’s so hard.

Here’s a dissection of 14 Vise Grips I completed for the first time yesterday and one of the hardest I’ve done

this one really hurt

First up the warm up. They always seem a bit too hard when starting from cold as it quickly ramps up the intensity. That first yellow column is a 30sec MAP interval which makes your legs smart for the last 10 secs. Perfect for opening the pipes though and there is plenty of rest after before you begin.

Sufferfest’s description of their workout is always true. On this one, I’m supposed to find the first couple of intervals (30s + 1min) ‘easy’ and they were fine but the next three (90 secs, 2min, 90secs) were pretty brutal. The 2min being right on my physical and mental limit. My head was just telling me this is too hard. 2min is all I can cope with at this intensity but the clever thing is despite being in the middle of the set, mentally as the duration decreases for the next three, I can cope as I think it’s going to get easier. It doesn’t but it allows my head to deal with it. I’m not worrying about being able to finish the whole thing like I would in Zwift.

The rest between sets now allows me to recover, get in the game and focus on getting it done. I know it’s going to be harder because I’m pretty exhausted already so what do I do? I tell myself the first two (30s + 1min) will be ok then I just need to get the next two done (90 sec + 2min) because I know it just gets easier or it’s downhill from there. The reality was I was broken and barely hung on for the last two but I did it because the intervals were not too long but right on my limit.

Here is another similar one called Butter. It’s one of my favourites. 10 x 90sec MAP intervals you just have to churn out with appropriate race footage and obligatory pumping soundtrack. It gets me through them until I’m hanging. The other little thing that Sufferfest do is change the cadence, ask you to stand up or there might be surges too like you can see on the yellow columns. These break the eternity of an interval down even more which gives me a better chance of getting through them and gets more out of me physically. Clever but nasty too.

you need to be smooth and churn the power out for this one

Sufferfest’s approach of visually breaking their workouts down in a way that keeps you on the edge of popping ties in well with my mental approach to this type of riding and I think that’s why I like them. They just seem to be able to tease a bit more out of me when I think I’m done and its absolutely true the head is definitely a limiting factor for what you can get out of yourself if you allow it to be. Something these tough workouts have taught me that Zwift never could.

I know riding indoors is no substitute for outdoors and although I’m guilty of riding a little too often inside, I do inevitably punish myself for that and I have to say the workouts have, on the whole, paid dividends for my fitness.


why do I do it?

One thought on “The joy of sufferfesting

  1. You didn’t do the vomit-inducing 4DP test? I did a 4DP-based Sufferfest plan a couple of years back and really “enjoyed” it. The race footage videos are motivating, super tough sessions sprinkled with some great humour. I just hope they don’t “gentrify” the app and get ride of the “suffer” aspect too much now that Wahoo have bought it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s