Sufferfest on a CompuTrainer
(The Sufferfest ERG Spreadsheet has been updated a couple of times since the original version. The last couple of videos point out how critical it is to consider your personal power capabilities and the workout profile of each video when you set your power numbers in the spreadsheet)
As much as I hope to continue riding outside during the winter, the reality of winter in Ohio means I need a plan B. Last year I spent my trainer time putting myself through the pain of Sufferfest video workouts and spent more time on my trainer than I usually would. This year I’ve moved my indoor riding to a CompuTrainer and I have a pretty solid, power-based, workout plan to follow but I still want to include Sufferfest videos when they fit in the plan.
The Sufferfest workouts are interesting, challenging, motivational and, occasionally, fun. But, they suffer from the same problem as all “perceived exertion” based workouts. That is, they rely on me to determine if I’m working hard enough. I have great intentions when I talk about the workout and even when I climb on the bike, but when the screens says to go at level 9/10, am I really giving it 90% of my absolute best effort? So, with that in mind, I set out to combine the gut check of the Sufferfest video with the technology of the CompuTrainer.
The rest of this post has some of the details behind this project but, if you really don’t care how all of this works, just download the ERG Spreadsheet, read the short instructions in the file and get on your bike.
The CompuTrainer can be used in multiple ways. In addition to recording data for future analysis, it can be connected to a computer and programmed to generate a specific pattern of load/resistance. It is possible to configure a workout based on grade, distance and wind speed or, in the case of my plans for the Sufferfest, it can be programmed to generate specific wattage loads for certain amounts of time, in very fine increments. The data for programming the CompuTrainer in this way comes from a specifically formatted text file called an ERG file. An ERG file contains a header with information about the workout data and the workout data itself, indicating how many watts to produce for what period of time. Depending on the format of the data, the wattage will either remain constant for a period of time, gradually increase or decrease from one time point to the next or make a quick step change from one wattage to another.
My initial goal was to create an ERG file to match each of the Sufferfest videos. I could start the ERG session when I started the video and the computer would automatically adjust the resistance load on the trainer to match the recommended level of exertion on the video. Sounded simple enough. It was simply a matter of recording the time stamps in the video when each exertion level change occurred, determine what my wattage needed to be for each level and then create an ERG file with that information.
Almost immediately, I started to complicate the plan. As the winter season wears on, I hope that my power output will increase. So, the watts I’ll use in October will probably not match the watts I’ll want to use in December. That means making dozens of changes to each file every time I want a harder (or easier) workout. What if some of my friends want to use the files on their CompuTrainers? How would they use their power data, which is guaranteed to be different from mine? So, I began to work on how to automate the process of generating each ERG file.
I ended up with a spreadsheet that asks the rider for 3 pieces of information. Functional Threshold Power (FTP), the percentage of FTP that represents a perceived exertion level of 3/10 (easy recovery) and the percentage of FTP that represents a level of 10/10 (maximum exertion). I chose FTP because it is a value that is commonly used with power-based training and is remeasured and adjusted at various points in a training plan. As FTP changes during the year, it is a simple matter to change that one number in the spreadsheet and automatically recalculate all of the Sufferfest ERG files. I also made an executive decision to use 3/10 as the easy recovery base, even though there are a few places in some of the videos where level 2 or even level 1 are suggested. If you really need to go below level 3 to recover, just adjust that value lower when you set up the data.
Once that data has been filled in, the tab for each video will contain text that can be cut and pasted into a file to be used with the CompuTrainer Coaching software. Unless I got a time stamp wrong, the only editing necessary in the file is to set the 3 starting data points.
In order to give me time to start the video and then switch over to the CompuTrainer Coaching software to start the ERG File, I picked a place in the video where I can start the workout (by pressing F1 on the controller). The workout start is after the introductory screens and, in each case, is the point where the title of the video first appears on the screen. The exact time to start the workout is listed on the spreadsheet tab for each video. The time offset can easily be modified if you want to start the workout as soon as the video starts.
I’ve posted the file for anyone to try. Keep in mind that it isn’t intended to be a scientific, power-based workout. I simply wanted to use the technology of the CompuTrainer to take the guesswork (or cheating, depending on how you look at it) out of the perceived exertion guidelines in the video. It’s up to the rider to determine what their recovery and maximum levels should be. It’s a geek thing. Enjoy. Or suffer. Or both.