The Sufferfest Session selector: Which one is for you?

I do love a little bit of The Sufferfest. If you’re following a coach-prescribed plan (as I will be from Monday!) then training in a room lit only by the TV/computer screen, eyes off the data reader, and letting the video dictate your efforts, probably isn’t ideal. But there are some winter days, when it’s cold outside and you want to just switch off brain and pedal, that are simply made for The Sufferfest.

In case you aren’t educated yet in The Sufferfest, they create 30 – 100 minute training videos – the screen is filled with footage from pro races, RPE friendly music bursts from the speakers, and the intervals are dictated for you.

Just the jazz it up, the guys really ham up the ‘we make you Suuuffffeeerrr’ storyline and you’re usually threatened with some form of evil torture if you don’t put the effort in and win the race for ‘Sufferlandria’.

Fun and joking aside, each session is written by an expert coach, and has a goal – so it’s worth picking the right one. Here’s a look at which videos are best for what…

Half is easy – 39 minutes

It’s short, isn’t it? That doesn’t make it easy if you do it right.

Consisting of 20 :15 second hard, :15 second intervals, split up into two sets of 10, this session is for crit racers, sprint specialists, and cyclocross racers. Your 15 seconds hard is as hard as you can go, you’re entering into the Neuromuscular Power zone – that doesn’t even have a power or heart rate %, because you shouldn’t be looking at the screen. To help with your ability to repeat these as required, of course, the easy will never seem long enough, especially not by intervals 7,8,9 and 10 of each set.

Of course, this one is also great of you’re time crunched and want to fit some seriously high intensity training into (just) under 40 minutes.

Screen Shot 2014-12-06 at 07.09.39

Downward Spiral – 60 minutes

Ever had that horrible experience where someone attacks, you follow, stop at their wheel and think it’s all over, only for them to follow with a second attack? This – this is that.

The session consists of 2 sets of:

2 minutes hard / 2 minutes easy *** 1:45 H / 1:45 E   *** 1:30 H / 1:30 E *** 1:15 H / 1:15 E *** 1 H / 1 E *** 45 H / 45 E *** 30 H / 30 E *** 15 H / 15 E

The intervals should be the best you can sustain for the given amount of time, and the rest intervals as easy as you can in order to prepare for what’s next (you won’t struggle to keep the intensity low).

The purpose of this one is to teach you to go with repeated attacks, but as a tester/triathlete I also like to stick it on when I could do with 1 hour of solid training, with plenty of variety thrown in. It’s isn’t focused on endurance, but regularly working on your ability to really mash it for 90 seconds and below will of course make your legs and lungs stronger, ready to attack longer intervals with more power.

Screen Shot 2014-12-06 at 07.17.51


A Very Dark Place – 51 minutes

Sufferfest say this one targets speed and is for someone who wants to ‘break away or hold onto any sustained attack’. With 5 x 4 minute intervals, I’d definitely call it a V02 session. V02 intervals are generally held for a duration of 3-5 minutes, and repeated about 5 times (my favorite session is a 3,4,5,4,3), and if you use a power meter, it’s 106-120% of FTP (power you can hold for an hour), and more than 106% of Lactate Threshold if using heart rate. Each interval gets you 3 minutes rest.

V02 sessions are great for building your ability to hold a sustained break away, and working over your FTP is also a very good way to increase it – so they are also good for time trialists and triathletes to whom FTP is the holy grail.

Of course, you could skip the video and just do 5 x 4 minutes yourself, but with Suffesfest you get to enjoy them whilst getting into the moment as you race Paris Roubaix, fighting battles with Gilbert, the Schlecks, Cancellara, and Wiggins.

Screen Shot 2014-12-06 at 07.00.46

Fight Club – 58 minutes

I do enjoy this one, because most of the footage is from the UCI World Road Champs time trials – you get to watch Wiggins, Tony Martin and Cancellara battle it out in your TT efforts.

The intervals are 6 mins 30 seconds long. For the road racers, there are 22 attacks throughout – as shown by the spikes in effort below. The first lap is simply 6 minutes at tempo, with a couple of attacks to keep you alert. Then, laps 2-5 follow a 4 minute time trial effort, with a 2 minute 30 climb. You then get a 3 minute recovery.

If you do them with the attacks, the 4 minutes is at FTP, with some surges, with the 2min30 being well over. However, if you’re a tester through and through you may want to ignore the attacks (don’t say I said that!) making the 4 mins in that painful but manageable spot between V02 and FTP (in training FTP efforts are usually 10-20 minutes long), and the 2 minutes a little harder, close to V02 (but not quiet, since you don’t get much recovery) that’s pretty effective, too.

The 4 min to 2.30 kind of mirrors the end of a TT – by the time your climb comes around, your legs feel tired, but you have to push into that extra gear just to get you over the line in time. Recovery that is shorter than the effort is great for TT endurance, too.

For road racers, the skill learned here is to go from a flat effort, straight into a climb (you better click up the gears when it tells you to or it won’t work..) whilst still managing attacks (22 of them!) throughout. It’s not dissimilar to a crit, over a rather long circuit where each lap takes takes about 9 minutes, has 4 minutes of flat, a 2 minute hill, and a 3 minute easy paced section where you can draft in the pack.

Screen Shot 2014-12-06 at 07.24.45

The Rookie – 55 minutes

This one is pretty new, and is the first to contain on-bike footage from UCI World Tour team Giant-Shimano – so you really feel like you’re in the action.

With 3 x 10 minute intervals, this is all about sustained speed. There are attacks thrown in for road racers, but the long effort is also perfect for those seeking endurance. A lot of the interval is at threshold, with a couple of over/under dips and peaks to keep it interesting. You get 3mins30 to recover from each interval…

Screen Shot 2014-12-06 at 07.36.32

Hell Hath No Fury – 75 minutes

I already reviewed this in detail in my post ‘The Sufferfest Approach to 2 x 20′  so I’d go there for the detailed lowdown if you want it.

This session is basically the 2 x 20 that is loved by testers everywhere. Two sets of 20 minutes just a smidgen over FTP – the idea being to practice TT intensity, and aim to go just a little what you can manage for the hour (105% max) and thus gradually increase your Hour Power.

Of course – that does get mighty boring, and The Sufferfest throw in some climbs and attacks to keep it interesting. The purists might not like that, but I can see why most of us need a little variety. You then get a  3 minute 30 interval at the end (that you always tell yourself you won’t get dragged into doing, but always do) just to finish you off.

Hell Hath No Fury is all female footage, too – which is awesome – since it’s nice for once not to be the only girl in the Sufferfest pack..

Screen Shot 2014-12-06 at 07.42.26

FINALLY – this one is for those strong in moral. Also – for days when you had a long ride planned, but it is snowy, icy, or too wet to be safe.

Blender – 1 hour 40 minutes

At 1 hour 40 minutes, Blender blends together a bit of everything – from 10 minute intervals to 15 second ‘power shakes’.

I actually enjoy this sort of thing. Not during, but after – after you feel epic! This might not have you super focused on a particualr zone – but it’s a great way of keeping your attention focused during a long session, and if you’re planning longer races, the mixed up assortment of surges and efforts certainly won’t go amiss.

Screen Shot 2014-12-06 at 07.45.54

 Don’t want a video? Here are 5 of my favourite turbo sessions that are as simple as print out and follow, plus some tips on getting started on the indoor pain machine.

Want to try something a little different? Here’s how to get started on the rollers...

Published by michellearthurs

I'm an NCTJ Journalist and work at Cycling Weekly. Previous to this, I was the Editor at Total Women's Cycling. I've also dabbled in marketing and copywriting - having been Marketing Coordinator and Social Media/Content Editor at Evans Cycles. My first job was working on a local newspaper.  I've written for a variety of titles on a freelance basis, too. I got into cycling when I entered my first triathlon in 2010. I now race crits, road races, time trials, and do a lot of track training for not very much track racing.

2 thoughts on “The Sufferfest Session selector: Which one is for you?

  1. Instead of a Sunday morning ride in the winter. I really enjoy “it seemed like a good idea at the time. “I’m completely in my fantasy world for the full 2 hours. Its the only one that gets my heart rate monitor alarm going off at the top of mount suffilandria.
    I follow this up with a 10 km run on the treadmill….feeling of complete exhaustion after – perfect.
    Its also a reminder of rule number 5 as I sweat away in a warm gym as the big M goes up the galibier in the snow. Puts me to shame.

  2. Good day I am so excited I found your webpage, I really found you by mistake, while I was researching on Aol for something else, Nonetheless I am here now and would just like to say thanks a lot for a remarkable post and a all round interesting blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time to read it all at the minute but I have saved it and also added your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read much more, Please do keep up the superb work.

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