Written by Paul Ransome.
Recently, I traded my trusty Exocet for a more virtual bike on the popular online training program ‘Zwift’ in a quest to see if it can help me with my training over the winter. The reason I chose to try this is due to me getting an email from Strava saying that as a premium member I had until the end of the year to take up my free 2 month trial of zwift (usually 14 days) so I thought ‘why not?’ The question is, ‘will it make a difference?’
In short yes and no! It can motivate you to stay on the trainer for longer which is a good thing but it can make you turn a recovery session into a complete smash fest which can be detrimental. However, despite this I’m already an addicted fan as it has lots of features to keep you interested.
In more detail… we’ve all been there, when we have to do an hour on the turbo and not complete one of those fancy sweet spot pyramids or HIIT sessions that are designed to work you hard in a short period of time. What you can do is enter the virtual world of Zwift and ride with other people from around the world. One such day I chose to ride on a course that is packed with other riders and basically average zone 2 watts and pushed the top end for the hills at a lower cadence and bottom end on the downs at very high cadence and somewhere in between for the flats. This created a lower intensity recovery turbo session with pace control and varied cadence, it’s a lot harder to stay motivated doing this without the virtual backdrop. I also found a couple of riders who were going up hill at roughly the same pace as me so I had a little fun toying with them and towing them up as they were out of the saddle. An hour flew by in no time and at the end I felt great as I had managed to stick to the script!
Now the down side if you’re on a structured plan… they have some live segments in ‘Wattopia ‘ where you race others against the clock up a climb or in a sprint. These are hard to resist pushing that extra bit just to set a good time and could spoil the purpose of your workout, and yes I have given in to the temptation. There are races you can join but unless you’re a triathlete building towards a draft legal sprint or Olympic race steer clear as it involves a gradual wind up to gut busting watts to stay with the pack not very 70.3 or Ironman specific and likely to bring fatigue if you over do it. On the plus side there are a few 10 mile TT’s which can be good for a FTP test.
The whole ‘game’ is addictive due to the depth of the worlds, which as well as the scenery include KOM’s, hill climbs, sprints, mountains, tunnels, a virtual London and the ability to change between courses. There are also loads of items to unlock just like a computer game including; different bikes, wheels and kit. Some are unlocked simply by the equipment you pair with the game for example I unlocked the Wattbike kit by linking one. Including the group rides, races and structured workouts you can follow you could turn into one of those kids that locks themselves away for 6 months to complete the game, the good thing being you’re sat on a bike actually ‘working out’ your way through the game, maybe this is the way to solve the obesity epidemic?
All you need to get going is a recognised turbo trainer (doesn’t have to be smart or electric) a Bluetooth or Ant+ speed and cadence sensor and an Ant+ stock for your computer. This will allow you to utilse ‘Z Power’, essentially virtual power, which if accurately set will be as good as training with power or if you have a power meter you can just link that up.
So far training is going well using ‘Zwift’ It certainly takes some of the boredom out of those recovery sessions. Hit the trainer and give it a go.