Audio and visual cues in the videos direct when to put in an effort - and to extract the most benefit, it behooves you to dig hard.
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Motivational cues and quality music lend extra oomph to real-life video
Indoor training videos incorporating real-life footage is nothing new these days – the idea being you're supposed to 'feel' like you're actually riding there – but The Sufferfest's collection of titles goes one step further with a more structured and focused workout regimen, aptly timed motivational cues and a driving soundtrack that won't put you to sleep.
Overall, it's one of most engaging and entertaining sets of indoor training videos we've come across and certainly far more interesting to watch than most of the other stuff currently on the market.
Videos are generally an hour long – just the right amount of time in our view – with proper warm-up and cool-down sessions at either end. In between, the different Sufferfest titles offer varying combinations of shorter intervals and longer efforts depending on your wants and needs for the day. For sure, though, none of the workouts can be classified as 'moderate' or 'tempo' and it's in this area where the Sufferfest videos excel.
Each of the ones we tried is legitimately (and appropriately) painful but then again, indoor workouts by nature aren't meant to be pleasant. More to the point, it's exactly this level of focus and structure that enabled to go went wire to wire on 'Fight Club', 'Angels', and 'The Hunted' on the first viewing each time without drowning in boredom – something we can't say about numerous other videos we've sampled in the past.
To extract the most benefit, though, users need to have some sense of their cardiovascular limits as the on-screen prompts only direct you to go '4/10', '6/10' or similar in terms of maximum effort so it's best to have a power meter or heart rate monitor available before mounting up and to know what those fractions correlate to in terms of your personal numbers.
Likewise, while the Sufferfest videos scream at you to 'Attack!' at key moments, it's still up to you to follow the commands.
The video segments are interesting enough and include a variety of top races though potential buyers should be aware that the footage is only partially shot from the first person point-of-view – the rest is more common moto-style footage. In addition, the overall video resolution is pretty good – but not great – and some segments are repeated at key moments in the workout so they can grow old in short order.
"The attacks are repeats of the same footage because it helps people know when the attack is going to end - they 'learn' how to handle it," explained Sufferfest creator David McQuillen.
Sufferfest videos are sold exclusively through online downloads and the file sizes are huge (well over 1GB each) so it's essential to have a fast, reliable connection. Costs are low, too, at just US$10.99 per title and the common .mp4 format can be played on your home computer, burned to a DVD, or even transferred to a mobile device like an Apple iPod, iPhone, or iPad.
We can overlook all of those minor drawbacks, though, since the series is so good overall and thus far this winter has been genuinely helpful in keeping us on our bikes indoors. In fact, the biggest downside is that there are currently just five titles available and while each of the ones we sampled was of very high quality and surprisingly tolerable, serious indoor cyclists will run out of content to keep their attention well before the end of the off-season.
Pros: Effective combination of real-life race footage with driving soundtrack and well-timed motivational cues, relatively inexpensive, surprisingly engaging and entertaining
Cons: Only five titles to choose from for now, some repeated footage, resolution is good but could be better
More information: www.thesufferfest.com
Cyclingnews verdict: 4 stars
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