Play the Zwift game to overcome cycle training pain!


Get serious about your cycle training and have fun at the same time with Zwift!

As most committed cyclists must now know, the most efficient way to build fitness for performance on the bike, particularly during the winter is to use an indoor turbo trainer and follow a power based structured training plan. However like many others the tedious and painful reality of suffering for hours, going nowhere has prevented me following this path to progress. In any one winter I probably would use my turbo trainer about 2-5 times. Each winter I would set out with great intentions until after about 10 sweaty minutes the reality set in once again and priorities were amended. This all changed this winter when I tried the Zwift virtual training world for cyclists.

In the unlikely event that you haven’t come across this new indoor training experience, imagine an online world populated with fellow indoor cycling sufferers all pedalling on their indoor trainers in various locations around the world, powering virtual cyclists around two spectacular road circuits. Built by a gaming company this virtual world is visually stunning with situations varying between the real road circuit used in the 2015 road world championships, to a fantasy island that includes underwater tunnels surrounded by swimming rays and whales and the other extreme a snow lined mountain pass in a blizzard. However the best aspect of this world is that the speed of your virtual cyclist is controlled by the power you apply to your pedals so your performance on the virtual road and in comparison to the other riders is similar to what you would achieve in real cycling. This means that not only do you get to grind up the climbs and swoop down the descents with the vistas changing all around you, you can also get competitive and chase down that guy 200 metres up the road or try to hang on to a team that speeds past you! Plus those clever geeks at Zwift have added realistic dynamic elements such as drafting so that you benefit from riding on the wheels of others just as you would in real world cycling. This means that the racing on Zwift has tactical elements just as in real racing plus plenty of opportunities for hanging on, suffering mightily and getting dropped!

All this richness and detail provides an experience for indoor training which makes it almost enjoyable, it motivates you to dig that little bit deeper and the result this winter was I did more turbo training than ever before. As a result I came into my first event feeling really strong, despite it being at the start of March when normally I would barely have turned a pedal in anger.

In my experimentations with Zwift I did come to some conclusions that may benefit other cyclists thinking about using this great system:

  • Having a real power meter on the bike is much better than using virtual power based on the turbo trainer you are using. This is an expensive reality but all your cycle training including outside will benefit from a power meter so start coming up with reasons / excuses to make that investment!
  • A USB extension lead to position your ANT+ dongle near to your power meter seems to make the Zwift system pick up changes in your power output much quicker and so your virtual rider will not lag in its response to your efforts when you are countering an attack by another rider. These extension cables can be picked up cheaply from Amazon. Another tip is to put the dongle end of the cable inside a plastic ziplock bag so your dripping sweat won’t cause any technical issues!
  • Have your mobile handy with the Zwift and a messaging app open if you intend to try to ride with others, particularly your mates. Typing messages while pedalling hard is tricky and leads to lots of typos but its worth it as the conversations are hilarious. The Zwift app provides various functionality but most importantly the ability to choose which way to go at junctions. There is nothing more frustrating than hanging on to a group to have them all turn left and you continue straight on.
  • While it is possible to arrange a meetup and group ride in Zwift it’s very chaotic and requires lots of patience and messaging. Three top tips: make sure everyone has used Zwift before, meet at the start line at a predetermined time rather than just expect to find each other and use an agreed messaging app as you will need to abuse each
  • The organised races are incredibly hard and depressing! When you feel ready you might want to try participating in an unofficial race such as the regular Zwift Training Ride Series. Meet the group at the start line at the right time warmed up and ready to pedal hard. If your level is similar to mine, choose the lower category group and then be prepared to suffer just to hang on. Doing a real outdoor event is much easier!
  • The Zwift workouts have for me been the best feature of the system that combines riding in the stunning virtual environment with the structure of a specific programme of power levels and intervals so you don’t have to make decisions while suffering. Just select the workout and follow the on screen instructions with the provided count downs and motivational messages. The start and end of intervals are even virtually marked on the course so you actually can see your goals as a personal start and finish lines. This really helps keep you motivated to the last pedal revolution of a painful interval.

Winter is hanging on here in the alps and so my indoor training may not yet be over for the 2016 season. With Zwift this is a prospect that is even a little bit attractive! Give it a go you may be surprised!

Oh and yes do think about training your body in ways other than pedalling too, using for instance BikeFit. Your cycling will benefit, honestly!

Tony Lowe