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The Sufferfest is one of the indoor training apps vying for your money right now, and it makes a very good claim for it. It has some unique features, and it will appeal to riders who are targeting a season goal and who want to look beyond just a single power metric.
Indoor training is boring, but the advent of smart trainers and interactive apps has made it considerably less so. The Sufferfest is one such app, which integrates structured training with footage of bike riding and racing. It's a slightly different approach to the interactivity and gamification of the likes of Zwift and Rouvy, and it gives you a little bit more to look at than TrainerRoad. In essence, though, it's more like the latter: it's based around workouts, which are tailored to your personal fitness.
In most environments 'your personal fitness' equates to 'your FTP' but that's not the case here. And why not? "Using FTP for your workouts is like only giving a tailor your waist size and asking them to design a suit for you... It's not really going to fit," says The Sufferfest's Dylan Robbins. "A full power profile, like our 4DP (Four-Dimensional Power) technology, is the only way to get a workout that delivers a truly effective training stimulus."
As the name suggests, 4DP is based on four performance metrics – neuromuscular power (NM, sprinting and neuromuscular co-ordination), maximal aerobic power (MAP, very high power for a few minutes), functional threshold power (FTP), and anaerobic capacity (AC, extremely high levels of effort for attacking). These are used to determine your rider type, identify your strengths and weaknesses, and create your 4DP profile. Basically, you're looking at your maximal power over intervals of 5 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes and 20 minutes.
The 4DP test – called 'Full Frontal' – is an absolute brute. First you have two flat-out five-second sprint efforts, then there's five minutes as hard as you can go. After that there's a 20-minute FTP effort, and to finish off a 60-second smash where you basically just empty the tank of anything that's left, which isn't much. Here's one of mine: 4DP Test: Full Frontal.
Once you've completed the test, The Sufferfest updates your passport with all the relevant numbers, and assigns you a rider type. My numbers for that ride were:
5 minute: 380W
1 minute: 604W
5 second: 1279W
Based on that the app assigned me the rider type of 'Attacker'. Basically it's saying that I'm better on the short stuff. There's a rundown of all the rider types here.
I'm more of a flat track bully than anything else, and I've got an okay sprint in me, so that assignment is fair. When the above linked blog says 'When it comes to short, maximal efforts you seem to have an endless supply of matches', I wouldn't necessarily agree, though, and it's not something this session can really test. The description says that 'You may not be able to sustain these all-out bursts, but your powers of recovery mean you can serve them up in rapid succession' but my inability to do exactly that is why I often get booted out of the back of the local races, which are very on-off. I see it as a specific weakness of my riding, and something I really want to improve. I think I would have actually been sick if I'd had to do another minute effort at the end. Maybe I'm just good at doing the one.
Anyway, the point of all this is that The Sufferfest app tailors your workout across the whole range of your effort, rather than pinning the whole thing on your FTP. I've always found on TrainerRoad that the sprint efforts are too easy. That, it turns out, is because my sprint power for my FTP is nearer the top of the range than the bottom. Apps using just FTP generally won't make a sprint hard enough as they're forced to use the average rider as a yardstick; 4DP means that the sprint efforts – and everything else – can be tailored specifically to me.
The Sufferfest is centred around its library of sessions, most of which include video and a music soundtrack. The videos vary; some are WorldTour events, some more local races, and there's also a chunk of Mike Cotty climbing various hills in the guise of The Col Collective. You can see the Intensity Factor (how hard it is) and the Training Stress Score (the total effort) of each session before you commit to it. Once you start, the actual riding works in a similar way to structured sessions in TrainerRoad, or Zwift, or elsewhere: you work your way through a bunch of blocks at different intensities for however long it takes to get to the other end.
The difference to TrainerRoad or Zwift is that you get a narrative based on riding footage, so for example a short, hard effort might be associated with attacking the pack, or bridging to a break. You get text prompts on the screen to let you know what's going on, and they offer training and technique tips along the way too.
It works pretty well: it makes the workout more immersive, and anything that takes your mind off how much your legs hurt on those big efforts is welcome. The footage skips about a bit to shorten sequences; you don't want to be riding all six hours of a classics race, after all. In TrainerRoad you just get the line to follow; in Zwift you're riding around in a virtual world which gives you something to look at, but you're not really interacting with other riders when you're doing a workout: you just go at your own pace.
Of the three, it probably offers the most to keep your mind off the actual thrashing out of the intervals, so that's a plus point. There are about 100 workouts currently, so there's plenty of variety, although once you've done a certain session a few times it does lose its novelty a bit. Some of the workouts don't have a video associated with them and in those cases it's just a case of following the line. There are open sessions too, which have a rolling video but no structure, so you can do what you like. They're good for recovery days where you just want to spin out for a bit.
One of the good things about The Sufferfest is that your subscription buys you a bunch of other stuff that's not specifically cycling-related but helps to make you a better overall athlete. There's strength training to work on your whole body, and yoga for flexibility. There's also a mental toughness series that focuses more on the mental aspects of riding and racing.
The meat of the app is the on-bike work but all of these extras add a bit of extra depth, and I've found the strength training especially to be really useful. It's another string to the app's bow, and since it's there it's not hard to add a bit of yoga or strength work in. It's especially useful if you're away from home and want to keep on top of your training but don't have access to a bike: just take an iPad or laptop and crack on.
There's a wealth of training plans on The Sufferfest, for a wide range of cycling (and multisport) disciplines. The app used to require you to link to TrainingPeaks or Final Surge for the actual calendaring, but recently that functionality has been moved into the app itself, which is a definite improvement as you don't need a separate subscription.
The training plans offer different levels – Novice, Intermediate and Advanced – which alter the training load. For the all-purpose road plan that equates to about 5 hours a week for Novice, up to 9-10 hours at Advanced level. The plans can include outdoor sessions as well as indoor, and you can opt to include strength work too. If you want to add in mental toughness sessions or yoga, you can do that too. The plans are customised to your 4DP profile, so two riders won't necessarily get the same sessions for the same plan and level.
Overall it's pretty good: you can't do some things, like stipulate how many (or which) days you want to train, but you can move sessions about within the calendar.
If you can't find a plan that works for you then The Sufferfest also offers a $139 full custom training plan option, which includes a 30-minute consultation with one of The Sufferfest's coaches. You get a personalised 12-week training plan; currently that's still delivered through TrainingPeaks, although I'd expect it to be moved to the in-app calendaring soon. There's even a money-back guarantee if you follow the plan to the letter and you don't see an improvement in your numbers.
The Sufferfest has plenty to recommend it as a training platform. If you're serious about interval-based training then it's a direct competitor to TrainerRoad and the more immersive, video-based sessions will certainly appeal to some riders. The 4DP profile is a unique selling point, and the ability to tailor workouts across your whole power profile certainly makes a difference. Training plans and calendaring within the app are in their infancy, but even now they're pretty good and I'd expect them to improve. If it's your intention to do the meat of your training indoors then I'd certainly recommend it, especially if you find TrainerRoad a bit dry or Zwift a bit gamey.
Excellent indoor training environment with immersive videos and unique power profile
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road.cc test report
Make and model: The Sufferfest indoor training app
Size tested: n/a
Tell us what the product is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Your subscription to The Sufferfest gives you unlimited streaming or offline access to our complete library of structured video workouts. Each one is designed by the best coaches in the world to make you stronger, faster, and tougher. No matter what aspect of your fitness you want to improve, we have a workout to get you there.
Choose from workouts across nine categories, including Base, Climbing, Drills, Endurance, Fitness Tests, Racing Simulation, Speed Building, Style / Form, and Time Trial.
PERSONALIZED PERFORMANCE TARGETS
Whether you're a beginner or gunning for the podium, The Sufferfest's exclusive Four-Dimensional Power™ platform adjusts your power targets to match your complete power profile and fitness level. You'll know exactly what power, cadence and heart rate to hit at every point in the workout. If you're feeling strong or need to dial it back for extra recovery, you can adjust the intensity at any time.
THE WORLD'S GREATEST RACES
We partner with the biggest names in the sport to put you in the middle of the most exciting professional bike races in the world. Officially-licensed footage from races like the Tour de France, the Giro d'Italia, the World Championships, and the Spring Classics takes you off of the sidelines and into the action.
The Sufferfest provides clear, on-screen instructions so you know exactly what to do and when to do it. Real-time ride profiles, interval timers, sound alerts, effort indicators, and dynamic performance targets mean you can focus on the important things, like getting faster.
ANALYZE AND SHARE YOUR DATA
All of your activities are recorded in your Passport, allowing you to analyse your performance and keep track of your progress. Heart rate, cadence, and power data are displayed in easy-to-read graphs, along with detailed peak power and heart rate statistics. Instant sharing to Strava, TrainingPeaks, and Garmin Connect lets you share your Suffering with the world.
You can have a year for $99 (about £75) which is significantly less than Zwift or TrainerRoad.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Very well – it's a great training environment.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
4DP power system is innovative, videos are immersive, a good range of plans.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Vids can get repetitive over time.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
£10/month is decent for what you're getting, cheaper than Zwift or TrainerRoad.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
A training environment with some unique features and offering good value if you're serious about training.
About the tester
I usually ride: whatever I'm testing... My best bike is: Kinesis Tripster ATR, Merida Scultura, Dward Design fixed
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mountain biking, Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling, track
Dave is a founding father of road.cc, having previously worked on Cycling Plus and What Mountain Bike magazines back in the day. He also writes about e-bikes for our sister publication ebiketips. He's won three mountain bike bog snorkelling World Championships, and races at the back of the third cats.