Review: The Sufferfest App
(2017) At the end of last season the results were beginning to communicate something to me. The constant feeling of getting slower was having an effect on my psyche. I could belt out one or two sprints in a ride but left little gas in the tank for the remainder of the time on the bike. Add in the fact that I entered exactly zero races for 2016 and I was feeling like any residual fitness had left. In all honesty, I was down in the dumps for my 2017 prospects.
At first it was an email. Something about The Sufferfest App. I thought nothing of it. Then there was another email offering a free weeklong trial. Dismissed. Then Mike stated he was doing the training plan that came with The Sufferfest App. He was insistent on its effectiveness. I decided to give it a go. At ten dollars (USD) a month, what did I have to lose? Mike and I spoke an article, and then I give my - then - current verdict of the app, eight weeks into the program.
creakybottombracket.com: Alright Mike, you’ve been using The Sufferfest App to get you through the winter with a hope to have more fitness come spring. What are your initial thoughts so far?
Mike M: So far, I am really “enjoying” the program. Last year was far from my strongest on the bike, so I wanted to start the year off motivated and this is the direction I chose. It has been about six years since I did a winter training plan, and I am happy to have some structure during the winter months. The first two weeks were tough just because I did not have much fitness to fall back on. I am through eight weeks and feeling like I have some depth to my fitness for the first time in a few years. What was your motivation to choosing this program for winter training and what are some of your initial thoughts?
cbb: I think, like you, I needed some structure to getting the legs back under me. I had rested too much on residual fitness and found getting dropped was too much to deal with. I think you were the one who talked me into doing The Sufferfest App, which featured videos I had previously downloaded for one-time use. This does mimic a real training program. I just came off a restful week and now have to prepare for a big effort this week. That being said, have you felt gains from the program translated on the road? Or are you following it precisely in order to ride hard after the ten weeks are up?
MM: Overall I feel better on the road. I have not been outside enough in the past two weeks to get a true assessment. With the commitment to the program, I do find myself going on tougher routes due to the added confidence (from dropping Vicenzo Nibali and Darwin Atapuma after an eight hour work day). Part of my reason for picking the Advanced Plan was that I knew there would be nights where life would get in the way and I felt like if I missed a few days I would still see substantial gains. To date, I have only missed one workout in full and a few of the three hour weekend sessions I cut short if they were being done inside. I made only one exception to the plan before starting and that was if it was nice enough to ride outside during the weekend I would not pass up the opportunity. I still matched the time minimums or went beyond for that day. Have you noticed gains on the road? Have you found the yoga and breathing exercises beneficial?
cbb: That’s pretty remarkable for you to remain so disciplined with a training plan that doesn’t require you to check in with a human being. Regarding the outdoor riding opportunities, there have been times where I wasn’t reluctant to do the trainer. That’s something I’ve never considered before.
I have started to feel a difference during the outdoor rides. Winter riding is always slower, so I don’t expect to see major returns at this time. But the yoga you mentioned seems to have straightened out the back pain a little bit. As cyclists, remaining off the bike will certainly have an effect on flexibility. I definitely lost flexibility over the sparse riding last year and probably wrenched myself trying to stay allegiant to my old position. But the new yoga videos are nice additions for the monthly fee.
I’m curious what your thoughts are on the telemetry available within the app. Since I’m doing the entire plan by perceived effort, what initial thoughts do you have about the addition of cadence and heart rate to The Sufferefest App? Do you think it’s had a positive effect on your training?
MM: I am confident you will start to feel returns this week, starting tonight. Week five is a big test. You should make a point to write here following Wednesday’s workout.
I agree that the yoga sessions are a nice addition; I struggle with flexibility. Sometimes just the mental aspect of doing something besides vegging out for recovery can have a positive effect on morale.
I went through the first week with a non functional heart rate monitor, so I ended up doing the “Rubber Glove” workout twice to get an accurate LTHR to reference over the next ten weeks. The combination of HR and cadence feedback on the screen has been a great addition. I like seeing the graph of your HR overlaying the suggested effort level. I do find that Sufferfest HR zones towards the upper end are a little high. I have not gotten my HR up to 214 BPM, but I think that might be a good thing. Maybe in a few more weeks I will be able to push it into the mid 190s. Without the app or the HR/ cadence feedback I know I would be getting much less out of an hour long spin on the trainer, anything to push you is a good thing.
Are you finding that you are still getting a good workout with perceived effort? What workout have you found the most challenging so far?
cbb: Of the workouts, I’ve always found Nine Hammers to be relentless. Even the warmup feels harder than most. I have it on tap for this week after breaking the seal on The Omnium. One of the workouts I feel I benefited from the most was the Elements of Style. I found that I’ve tensed up over the years with my pedal form. This video was a nice reminder to loosen up.
The most important aspect I’ve learned over the years is proper recovery. Because of that, I feel recovery days are actually the hardest to handle for a couple reasons. The first is actually following through with a full rest day. The second is second-guessing how little or how much to do. Should I slum it and sit on the couch until morning? Is walking the dogs a bit too much? This goes back to my focus on perceived effort. I listen to my body a lot during this time, but it can be difficult to rest fully. I like that the app highlights that as well as missed workouts. Life gets in the way sometimes. The Sufferfest App advises to just let a missed workout go. Trying to ‘make up’ a workout can be detrimental down the road. The plan covers quite a bit from hard workouts to recovery.
[Per Mike's advice: The five week test was certainly hard. The best part about the week was knowing in advance just how painful it was going to be. As each workout was successfully completed, I found myself mentally preparing for the next. This became a great focus tool to stay in the moment. The week was hard, yet it was manageable through hard work and determination. Of course quitting was as easy as stepping off the bike. I convinced myself that I was becoming stronger physically and mentally by not stepping off.]
You have been doing light spins on your recovery days. Are you finding success on those rides? And do you think it’s aiding your return to shape (after all I said knocking riding on rest days)?
MM: The recovery spins are probably hit or miss. I would be better served adding an extra 10-20 minutes after a video workout to spin out the legs. I think week four had two rest days before the weekend and I remember feeling dead on our ride outside. I do think in the plan they say if you are feeling restless to go do some of the recovery stretching exercises instead of riding. I don’t think the spins are adding fitness directly but they are helping me feel fresh for the next work out and the harder you push it during Sufferfest the more you will get out of it. During the “Stretching After Suffering” videos they say to do the stretches after every ride. So now, as I am in the home stretch, with two-and-a-half weeks left, I am trying to do a yoga workout after every ride. Even the days that do not call for it.
I did “ Very Dark Place” tonight. I remember the video from years ago. But I think it might have the best footage during the intervals. I was ready for destruction.
- Solo break at Paris-Nice
- 4 man break at Fleche- Wallone
- Chasing the Schleck brothers and Phillipe Gilbert at Liege-Bastogne-Liege
- Cancellara on the cobbles
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One of the remarkable features about The Sufferfest App is the Ant+ technology. For anyone who read the review on the CycleOps Hammer trainer, it was impressive just how quickly the information paired with the app. Our approach to using a tablet for the workout yielded a satisfying telemetry size across the top of the screen. No squinting was necessary, nor was the progress bar at the bottom too intrusive. Mike and I discussed just how innovative The Sufferfest App became in a field of workout videos constantly moving to real time virtual reality rides such as Zwift or Trainer Road. Furthermore, you can take these workouts with you.
With the 2017 season rapidly approaching it would be beneficial for anyone looking to add speed and structure to a ten-week training schedule. This leaves us with two unanswered questions: Is it worth the ten dollars, and is it something that could be useful during peak season? To the first question, yes, this is absolutely worth the price of admission. For the second question, yes, this app will be beneficial year-round. Use the speed workouts for a midseason pick-me-up. Access the yoga videos for post-long summer outdoor rides. Use the warm-up video for pre-race focus. Use the form videos to dial in the forgotten form. Or finally, just use the open videos and pedal it out to your own soundtrack and pace when the weather interferes with an outdoor workout. If you’re not convinced by now, perhaps my own anecdote will convince you: I feel the old fitness coming back, and that’s definitely from The Sufferfest App training plan.