The Sufferfest Training App: A First Look

If you’ve been a reader of my blog for some time, you may know that I’ve been a big fan of The Sufferfest videos.  I did a few reviews back some time ago (starting with The Wretched) when I was just using a standard trainer.  Those were the days when I’d pop a DVD into a player and spin along – doing my best to keep up.

And the videos were awesome!

I loved the humor and the music (so much that I downloaded some of the music for when I went for a run (which, admittedly, isn’t a lot).  But the mix of humor, music and great shots that put me right in the middle of some big races with some big names made for an enjoyable experience that I wanted to continue doing.  And it made an hour long workout (or longer) fly by.

I upgraded to the Wahoo KICKR Snap smart trainer a year ago – and – it changed my indoor rides during the winter for the better.  I loved having an interactive experience with two of the simulation apps I knew:  Zwift and BKOOL simulator.

Both of them were pretty fun – and – early on, I even claimed to like BKOOL better than Zwift – based on the ability to choose a variety of rides from all over the world (even ones I did in the past) vs. Zwift’s limited courses on limited days.  In all honesty, almost a year later, I’ve logged into Zwift much more often than BKOOL.  Maybe it’s the graphics or the ease of joining group rides (though I haven’t).

But – even though I was aware of the Sufferfest app – I never signed up for it.  Not even for the free trial.  I’m not sure why.  I guess I figured I had enough with the two other apps to which I already belonged.

Then, last week, when replying to someone on Twitter about which app to use – I mentioned Zwift and BKOOL, but qualified that The Sufferfest videos were always pretty dang awesome.  Sure enough – because the Twitter-savvy folks at The Sufferfest are in tune with what is said about them online – I was invited directly to give the app a try.

I replied that I’d try it this weekend.

Because I was afraid Gunter von Agony would send the minions to throw a used chamois at me (this fear will make sense if you’ve done a few of their videos), I thought I’d better follow through.  And that’s just what I did.

I signed up and downloaded the app to my Microsoft Surface Pro 3, my iPhone and my iPad.  I wasn’t sure which I would use.  My pain cave setup in my basement allows me to connect my Surface to a large movie screen through a bluetooth connector.

Typically, I found that I liked to connect the app to the big screen – so –  I could hook headphones up to my iPad and watch Netflix while riding (yes – I’m currently binge-watching The Crown, 2nd Season).  It usually works ok, but I do find it disconnects while riding – annoying for me to reach down and reconnect.  I find that’s either a problem with the Surface or with the Connector – NOT Zwift or BKOOL.

So, I started out my trial of The Sufferfest using my Surface connected to the projector with the connector.

Upon opening the app, I was a little confused on how to pair my trainer to the app.  It just wasn’t apparent how to do this.  The navigation menu didn’t really help – and I ended up using the HELP button to get me to a Help page (where I had to search) until I finally found the answer.

Admittedly, I scanned over the help page and tried to start – but I wasn’t sure if it was right.  I re-read the help page and found that the pairing happens just before I’m starting the ride.  Strangely enough, it picked up pairing, but I didn’t recognize the trainer it mentioned (looking at the Help page, it showed Wahoo KICKR on it’s photo).  So, I couldn’t figure out why it didn’t recognize my Wahoo KICKR Snap by name.  I tried doing a Search again, but still no luck.

Now, I was all ready to go – and – didn’t want to delay.  So, I decided to switch my strategy and put Netflix on the big screen and try out the app on my iPad.  I opened up the app on my iPad and signed in.  When I went to the ride, instantly I saw the connection to my KICKR Snap (success!!).

So, I was ready to watch the next episode of The Crown – but – quickly remembered those original videos.  And I remembered the videos changed things up enough that I would be caught paying attention to them and not watching my show anyway.  So, sorry Queen Elizabeth, you’re being pre-empted.

Yes – the Sufferfest has figured out a way to actually make watching an indoor riding video entertaining!

I decided I should do the Full Frontal test to start off.  It seemed logical, and I think I’ve seen some information on doing this first.  I chose ERG – since I was on a Smart Trainer (again, I think this is what I was reading from them).  But, at the beginning of the video, it told me to NOT be in ERG – but rather put myself back to the standard setting at a Level.

I stopped briefly to do this – and – found that there were several levels from which to choose (with no good explanation of the Levels at this time).  Since I figured it was my first time in the app, I just chose Level 0.  I’m still not sure if that was right.

Not sure how the app would work now – especially since I guess I wasn’t technically on a Smart Trainer at this point.  I didn’t even know what gears to be in, so I just settled on a gear that I ride in most of the time outdoors (big gear front, around the 18 on the back).  I have no idea if that was right or not.

I didn’t like not knowing what gear to ride in – and – not having the app adjusting the smart trainer to make sure I was riding as hard as I was supposed to be.  I was watching the on-screen instructions regarding the training itself, but I still wasn’t confident that I was doing everything right – and that was a bit unnerving.

Quite honestly, I almost stopped at that time.  I hated to waste an hour riding if my results weren’t going to be right; however, I decided I’d put in the time and do the entire test – regardless of whether or not it was right.

As I was riding, I noticed the RPM guide in the upper left hand corner and a power guide (I think) in the upper right hand corner.  The RPM guide was easy to follow (I can quickly figure out how to increase or decrease pedaling speed to match the suggested RPM’s).

The RPE (Rate of Perceived Effort) guide, however, is a bit elusive to me.  Perhaps it’s because I’ve never been a “metrics” kind of rider.  I just didn’t understand how the RPE worked in conjunction with the numbers above it (which, I think, was showing me wattage output).

Smaller numbers below each of the meters on each side suggested the target.  The RPM one went away.  The RPE one didn’t.  Did that mean I wasn’t doing that side correctly?  I still don’t know.

Confusion on this aside, the workout was a lot of fun, and – as usual – the time passed quickly.  True to form, The Sufferfest kept the workout entertaining.  I wanted to watch to see transitions and the funny, snarky comments they’d make about me and the other riders.

I also liked watching the progression of the ride across the bottom – with my output in green above the red ride profile below.  My green line was above the red profile – and it was neat to see how it mimicked the ups-and-downs of the profile precisely.  But – I don’t know if it was good to have my green line that far above the red profile.  Does that mean that I should have picked a higher level?  I still don’t know.

The test even gives two brief moments to stop pedaling and walk around.  It was funny, because – during the first walk – I slowed pedaling and said “Seriously? I’m supposed to walk?” out loud.  The wording on the screen then said something to the effect of “Seriously.  Take a walk.”  Note to self:  Is Gunter von Agony spying on me?!?

After an hour-long session and a few puddles of sweat on the floor, I completed the test.  Shortly thereafter, I received an email with my results.  It listed my 4DP (4 Dimensional Profile) numbers – and – said it wasn’t sure if the numbers were correct, because my 5-minute profile was less than 15% more than my 20-minute profile.  As a result, it suggested that I reduce my 20-minute profile by about 5%.

Not being a metrics person, I’m not really sure what that means (especially since I still have a disconnect between RPE and Wattage).  And – does this mean that I didn’t do the test right, because of my confusion between smart trainer and standard trainer?  Was I wrong to set it at Level 0?  I really don’t know.

Because the results email said there wasn’t as much confidence in my test results because of that 15% difference, I wasn’t sure whether or not to save those 4DP results.  I did so anyway.  If nothing else, I suppose it’s a baseline.

Oddly enough, the results said my rider type was “Sprinter.”  I never really thought of myself as a sprinter, but I know I’m not a climber (too dang heavy for that).  I am decent at going pretty hard on the flats, but I guess I can be a pedal masher when necessary.

The results email gave me some suggested workouts based on my strengths and my weaknesses.  That’s nice, because it lets me know some good ones to choose next, and I will work on them this week.

So, aside from my confusion with the trainer and my results, I still like the app and the rides.  I’ll finish out my 7-day free trial and decide if I want to continue.  The workouts are a lot more fun than just going for a ride on Zwift or BKOOL (but I’ve never tried workout mode on either one of these apps).

They’d be more fun if I truly understood the metrics and how my smart trainer is supposed to work with the app.  I’ll spend some time reviewing the website and the Help Documents.  Maybe that’ll explain it better to me.

Like most guys, I didn’t want to take the time to learn first.  I just wanted to jump on and figure it out, but the app user interface was not nearly as user-friendly as I’d like.  It’s just not inherently easy to figure out.  Good thing the videos make up for it.

Give the app a try for yourself.  You have nothing to lose with a 7-day free trial, and I think you’ll find the videos enjoyable.  I’d also like to hear if you had any thoughts about the user interface and/or your opinions on how easy it is to figure out the metrics and/or how to best understand the smart trainer vs. level choosing.  Maybe I just need to read up more first…

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