Burning the holidays away: GCN x The Sufferfest

Lately I’ve been spending quite a bit of time on the turbo trainer on weekday mornings, and it’s no secret that I resort to YouTube for my training. Zwift is the indoor cycling hotness right now, but paying a subscription turns me off, and I feel I won’t be able to maximize using the popular indoor cycling game platform unless I splurge on a better indoor training setup with power measurement. So yes, I am a cheapskate.

While I normally resort to my usual gauntlet of training videos from CTXC and the Global Cycling Network (GCN), it came to my attention that the latter have partnered with subscription-based indoor training service The Sufferfest. Again, I normally am not tempted to try subscriptions because I’d rather spend my coin elsewhere, but this latest partnership manifested itself as a series of about six indoor training videos on GCN, all workouts designed by The Sufferfest founder and main coach Neal Henderson. And they’re free.

So far I’ve tried a couple, both presented by resident sprinter Chris Opie, and a new presenter, track cyclist Manon Lloyd. If you’re looking for a way to kick your fitness into high gear, these indoor-specific workouts might be just the ticket.


“The Escalator” is a workout session lasting 31 minutes all in. It is purportedly a ramp-style workout, where after your initial warm-up, you steadily work your way up from 5/10 rate of perceived exertion all the way up to 9/10. In power terms, the intensity should rise in a crescendo to about 105% of your functional threshold power (FTP). Chris and Manon spend most of the interval work in the 90-100 rpm range, dipping to 80 for short recoveries.

Calling it a ramp workout is a little incorrect, in my opinion, as the effort resembles more of a stair-step upward progression. “The Escalator” really does seem to be a suitable name in that respect. With each step up in intensity, even the short recovery intervals stay consistent, not dropping away in effort so much.

Overall this was good stuff. The progression is predictable and easy enough to follow, but you’re definitely going to feel it at the end when your heart rate goes through the roof. You’re going to want to keep pedaling for a minute or so after the video ends for warm-down, as the workout has just 90 seconds of it in its run time.


This is the Sufferfest’s take on a “power pyramid” style workout, focusing on sprints, and lasting 40 minutes. After warming up, the efforts in the intervals start out relatively easy in terms of time spent at a certain effort, but they crescendo into a peak where you’re holding that effort for a longer duration. Gradually, they taper off into something resembling what you started with after the warm-up….at least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.

Compared to GCN’s own power pyramid workout, this is easily much, much harder. The main thing to note here is that after your deceptively easy and progressive thirteen-minute warm-up, you’re basically doing sprint micro-intervals followed by micro-recoveries. The first set of intervals are ten seconds at 9/10 effort or 120% FTP, then ten seconds at 1/10 effort…repeated for a total of six intervals. All the while, you’re alternating between 80 and 100 rpm, so you’re not getting any real “recovery” per se because it’s just too short and the advised cadence quite high. In between blocks of intervals, you do get recovery of about 90-120 seconds, but it doesn’t really feel like much at all. The “power pyramid” nature comes into play when the intervals lengthen from the initial 10 seconds on/10 seconds off to 30 seconds on/30 seconds off. By the time the intervals return to the 10 seconds on/10 seconds off variety, you’re being pushed into emptying the tank with a 200% FTP effort at 110 rpm.

“The Equalizer” is quite the monster to tame, especially for riders like me who tend toward the lower side of the cadence spectrum. Chris will helpfully yammer into your ear that “cadence is everything” constantly throughout the video’s run time. It’s something of a minor miracle that he’s doing so without running out of breath, as Manon spends the latter half of the workout relatively quiet. Resist the temptation to give up midway and you’re going to reap the benefits.


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