Thursday, September 11, 2014

Video Review: The Sufferfest – Elements of Style

A Tweet from training video publishers The Sufferfest last week calling for reviews of their latest release, Elements of Style, provided an opportunity to delve in to the sadistic world of indoor cycle training…or so I thought. Despite The Sufferfest proudly touting their cherished roots in “PAIN, AGONY and MISERY,” apparently “this film is unlike any other Sufferfest video. If you go into it expecting to Suffer, you’ll be disappointed as that’s not what it’s about.”

The conditions were simple: “If you’re able to test out the video, write and publish a review by Monday, we’ll send you a pair of Sufferfest socks. :) ”

This was a fantastic offer, the skilful inclusion of a smiley face emoticon serving as a nice counterpoint to The Sufferfest logo – a stylised pair of bleeding eyeballs.

Unfortunately for me, I was already en route to a weekend away in the hills near Mount Baw Baw – although not for cycling – and there was no way I’d be able to get a decent review published by Monday. This presented me with a difficult choice – sacrifice a whole weekend away or review the video knowing full well there’d be no The Sufferfest socks to claim as a reward?

I deliberated over this for a while, imagining how these socks would look on my feet, craving the sensation of their fabric against my skin and yearning to wear them with sandals. Thankfully some skills picked up at a recent mindfulness mediation retreat allowed me to “simply let these feelings wash over me and disappear.”

Being relieved of this sock-induced desire allowed sufficient time to craft a review at my own leisurely pace – something that I could easily stretch out to 5 or 6 days – rather than ruin an entire weekend, which was certainly more my style.

Unfortunately I will never know this joy.

The Sufferfest is an Australian studio who create cycling and running training videos. They are well-produced, specific, targeted workouts that focus on improving different aspects of your cycling or running and claim to offer ‘THE HIGH INTENSITY, LOW VOLUME APPROACH TO SUCCESS.’

The videos are carefully catalogued on The Sufferfest’s comparison table, which includes this handy visual intensity graphic to give the uninitiated Sufferlandrian a preview of what each workout entails.

To me, they resemble a kind of colourful industrial city skyline and I would very much like to see future workouts modelled on actual famous cities from around the globe.

The full catalogue is produced in a quality high definition format, the downside being that the downloadable file for the 38-minute Elements of Style video came in at around 2GB. I sheepishly asked David from the office if he could provide me with a lower resolution copy that would be better suited to downloading at whatever free-Wi-Fi-enabled café I ended up at during the week. Thankfully, he delivered with a much more appropriately-sized (450MB) download.

Try to keep this in mind while reading, remembering that the actual video available for purchase will be around 5 times better resolution than what I saw. Undoubtedly, there will be some details that I have missed, whether it’s a rogue leg hair (that somehow evaded the razor’s edge) glistening with sweat in the morning sunlight or a moistened chamois letting off some steam as the intensity ramps up. But rest assured that when you download this video in crystal clear high definition, there’s nothing that will escape your gaze.

For example, take this screenshot from my low-resolution version of the video where the featured riders appear to be offering a friendly wave to a mountain biker riding towards them up the hill. Nothing appears particularly out of the ordinary until you access the official high-resolution version, where the stunning image is brought to life with detail that you won’t believe.

So I’ll apologise in advance if this review isn’t quite as sharp as it could be.

Once it finished downloading (which still required two soy lattes – I’ve sent an invoice to David in the hope of receiving some reimbursement in lieu of socks), I quickly slipped in to my favourite indoor training skinsuit, donned the headphones and immersed myself in the sensory overload that is Elements of Style.

While most of the other The Sufferfest training videos will push you to the point where you want to throw-up on your lounge room floor, this one is a bit different. It’s about form and pedalling technique on the road bike, and not so much about enduring the extended periods of extreme pain that are required to achieve fitness adaptations (and that make you want to throw-up on yourself).

The film was shot on some quite spectacular roads around Wanaka, which appears to be one of New Zealand’s busiest cities, and although the panoramic views are stunning, more often than not, the idyllic scene is ruined thanks to New Zealand’s infamous traffic congestion. I counted no less than 11 cars, 3 trucks, 2 vans and a bus during the video.

The opening title sequence warns users not to take the instructions referring to pain and suffering literally, which I thought was a nice touch. Following this is The Sufferfest’s excellently acronymised mission statement, IWBMYTTKYT and this quote from acclaimed German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder:
“It isn’t easy to accept that suffering can also be beautiful…it’s difficult.
It’s something you can only understand if you dig deeply into yourself.”
The quote is obviously some sort of homage to Italian cycling legend (and denim aficionado) Marco Pantani who, like Fassbinder, also died of a cocaine overdose – although more than 20 years later.

The video features Cycling Tips founder Wade Wallace, Australian cycling legend (and professional dog walker) Alan Iacuone and former elite Australian mountain bike and road cyclist Cal Britten. If you’re not familiar with Cal, he’s probably best known for his outstanding embodiment of the mullet hairstyle and famously planking an attractive female mountain biker whilst still a junior at the 2005 World Championships in Livigno, Italy. And if you’re unfamiliar with the word planking in this context, it’s the act of consciously restraining your limbs to prevent any inappropriate physical contact with someone whom you are sharing a bed.

While Alan also has a very impressive cycling résumé, what’s more notable is how often his name is either spelled or pronounced incorrectly – even by close friends.

When it comes to special effects and graphics, this video is certainly top-notch. There are a host of helpful dynamic overlays that serve to highlight pedalling actions and body movements including this curious red finger that appears to be poking Alan in the bum.

There are a few occasions however, where it appears the special effects team might have taken off early for a long lunch.

They probably could have gotten away with this cheeky mirror image too, if not for the fact that this pesky road bike has “S-Works” boldly emblazoned on the downtube as well as an annoyingly conventional RHS drivetrain configuration. But these are minor details, of course.

The dulcet tones of Eurosport’s Carlton Kirby expertly guide you on this journey towards “pedalling efficiency and awareness” against the spectacular backdrop of some of Wanaka’s (seemingly) busiest roads. The experienced trio of featured riders, clearly excited about a free cycling holiday in New Zealand, demonstrate the techniques and drills in a format that is easy to follow and visually pleasing.

Elements of Style was officially released on Tuesday 9th of September and you can purchase it on The Sufferfest website.

For anybody new to The Sufferfest this release provides an excellent taste of the professional production quality and straightforward instructional style of the video range. For experienced Sufferlandrians, it will come as a welcome change in that you probably won’t feel the urge to throw up on yourself by the time you get to the end…unless, like me, you were emotionally invested in Cal’s mullet and had a physical reaction to the realisation that it is now gone.

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