Product Reviews

A New Way for Serious Cyclists to Train Indoors This Winter

Confession: I never used The Sufferfest, a popular cycling training app that encourages users to apply maximal effort as they pedal through streaming workouts in the make-believe world of “Sufferlandria” on their stationary bikes. Being Outside on my mountain bike is my preferred training platform. Plus, I had the notion that The Sufferfest was geared toward ultra-competitive, sweaty cycling dudes battling it out on their trainers, which is sort of true. As its founder David McQuillen, a cyclist and former banker now based in Tasmania admits, the platform was “overly masculine.”

It was also, however, highly regarded for the sport science it brought to a training platform. So when I heard the news that Wahoo Fitness bought The Sufferfest in 2019, took two years to expand on the science, added a fully comprehensive tool kit beyond cycling—with components like yoga and mental toughness sessions—and changed the name to the more palatable SYSTM, I became intrigued.

The newly revamped training platform is being unveiled today, and I got the chance to take it for a prelaunch spin. The good news: The new SYSTM kept me fully engaged inside on a trainer during a week of gorgeous fall weather. The bad news: The new SYSTM kept me fully inside on a trainer during a week of gorgeous fall weather.

Photograph: Wahoo Fitness

The standout feature of the redesigned app, whose target audience is endurance athletes, is how deeply it dives into science to analyze your performance in the saddle. Headed up by Neal Henderson, the Boulder, Colorado-based coach to Olympic champions like Flora Duffy and many others, Henderson’s theory is that a traditional functional-threshold-power-based workout, which is an athlete’s ability to sustain the highest possible power output over the course of 45 to 60 minutes, isn’t enough to train effectively. To improve upon it, he developed “four-dimensional power” (4DP) which, in addition to FTP, uses neuromuscular power, anaerobic capacity, and maximal aerobic power to devise a more efficient, finely tuned, and customized workout.

To find that magic 4DP while using the app, athletes work up to the hour-long Full Frontal ramp test, an all-out, guts-on-the-ground effort. Once the test is complete, the app will customize a training plan going forward tailored to each specific athlete’s profile.

This all may sound too serious. Science and suffering aside, however, SYSTM is also a fun, educational, entertaining, and comprehensive cross-training platform that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It has five components: Cycling, Running, Swimming, Strength, Mental Training, and Yoga, all of which can be coordinated together in one place on the app’s easy-to-use calendar.

The device-agnostic SYSTM is available for Mac, PC, iOS, and Android devices. Since the app can be cast to a television or simply run on a phone or tablet, it’s compatible with Wahoo trainers and bikes, as well as bikes from other brands.

I focused on Cycling, a catalog of dozens of rides broken into five major categories. On Location is set in stunning environs. I liked the sound of Getting Away With It, a 44-minute effort. The goofy story line starts you at the office, where, after telling the boss a few little white lies, you miraculously make your way to a mountain road in the Pyrenees to climb 2,200-meter Arcalis and other passes with pro cyclist Dan Martin and Mike Cotty, founder of The Col Collective. The Spanish scenery is augmented by commentary from the guides, a tempo-appropriate playlist, nuggets of regional history and culture, cycling prompts that pop on the screen like “stand up,” and a litany of goofy jokes about the “Couchlandrians” back at the office. Spoiler: The boss ultimately catches on and you’re fired. There’s a lot going on, but it felt like a challenging ride while engaged with friends having fun rather than slogging it out in isolation wanting to slay the virtual opponent from the UK who keeps passing me, as is the case with other platforms I’ve used.

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