Zwift… A curse, or a blessing?

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I realise that for many training indoors is an essential way to make sure you can meet your training hours.  Whether it is because you live in the heart of the city and there is nowhere appropriate to run or ride, or because the climatic conditions (cold or hot) mean that training outdoors is virtually impossible.

A while back indoor training was the domain of the ‘gym bunny’ on the treadmill or the hard core rider on rollers or facing tedium of riding through glue on a turbo with zero momentum.  In recent times this has changed significantly with the explosion of availability of ‘smart’ trainers.  These have become increasing advanced, and led to all kinds on online offerings of cycling simulators such as Cycleops Virtual Trainer, FulGazTrainerRoad, and of course Zwift.

Training with Team WBR on Zwift

Of course each platform has its own merits, but Zwift seems to have an ever growing following with the game play platform allowing group rides, racing, structured training sessions and a variety of routes.  But is Zwift a blessing or a curse?  Many of my athletes have been using Zwift for a while, and been convincing me to look at virtual riding, rather than turbo tedium, so over the past few weeks I have immersed myself in the online platform and my thoughts are Zwift can be a great training tool:

  • Staring at a blank wall, listening to music or watching re-runs of your favourite TV series on a “dumb” trainer can be really valuable for fitness (especially when concentrating on a maintaining a heart rate, or hitting a power value), but the interactive element of Zwift has meant that I (and many of my athletes) have found the stimulation offered by Zwift very motivational.
  • Where else can you find training company 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year?  The ability to hop online at any time, and have other riders on the same road as you, whether you are passing them, being passed, or able to get yourself in a group has given me great focus.  So much so, that on some rides I haven’t wanted to climb off when I hit my ride target time!
  • I also really like the interactive nature of the smart trainer with changes in gradient, and the resistance on my turbo being increased or decreased.  This means that whilst I may still be looking to hold a constant power or heart rate my cadence is continually changing, and I feel comfortable both in and out of the saddle.  Much more like a traditional road ride.
  • ….and when we are talking traditional road rides, there aren’t any other cars to knock me off!
  • The gameplay element of Zwift unlocks new bikes, wheels and clothing the further you ride.  Or you can choose to “Everest” or meet distant targets (like riding across California) to unlock further specialised equipment (I really want a Tron bike!) .  It is also possible to set ride goals of distance or time each week or month to further help motivation to get on the bike.
  • Want still more motivation?  Zwift offers achievements for a variety of different skills mastered, like drafting, hitting big power numbers in sprints, riding fast, and riding daily etc, etc, etc.   All designed to keep you coming back for more!
  • Then we move onto the workout mode.  Not sure what session you want to do?  There are multiple offerings from a variety of different sources.  I’m not entirely convinced about the validity of some of the sessions, but they certainly can make your ride time pass by far faster.
    For me as a coach, I can set specific sessions for my clients, and it is very way of hitting a specific session without having to do the maths, or getting the intervals wrong! 🙂
  • In certain cases the workouts have also been incorporated into training plans, so if you want to build your FTP there’s a training block for you.  Whilst I am not a fan of the currently available plans, you may soon see some offerings from Sportstest appearing soon… (watch this space)
  • Now for me, by far the best bit of Zwift is the ability to undertake both races and group training rides.
    I have done a couple of races, and been able to successfully use these as high intensity training sessions.  As I move closer to the European Duathlon Championships I certainly will be doing far more of these events.  I also have a few of my coached athletes doing these both to push up the intensity of their sessions, and to think about the rigors of racing and race craft.
    In terms of the group sessions, I have done more than a few rides organised by the team from World Bike Relief (WBR).  These are organised and led rides, catering to riders of different abilities from steady group rides to high intensity interval sessions.  For both me and my clients these can be really useful, pushing with a group in an interval session often gets me working harder than I would solo, and on the other end of the scale, working with a group looking to hold a steady pace can often help keep me focus, and above all motivated to get on the bike and train.
  • There are some really positive and inspirational stories on the many Facebook groups associated with Zwift from massive improvements in fitness to fantastic stories of weight loss.
Zwift, turning a dull environment into a whole new virtual world…

So from both a personal perspective and for use with some of my coached cyclists and triathletes Zwift has proved to be highly motivational and given great focus in the riding.  So what are you waiting for, if you haven’t already, logon and get yourself an account.

But whoa, hang on, I have also seen Zwift be a real curse too!  Especially for those without a plan…..

  • It is not uncommon to see people racing nearly daily!  ….and sometimes even doing more than one race a day.
  • Many riders push themselves too hard to stay within a group ride.  Either because they have gone with a group that is too fast for their ability, or because the group has no ride leader.
  • The group rides are great because they can be incredibly social.  As a result many athletes will undertake some of the faster group rides on a daily basis.

All of these can easily lead to riders missing vital recovery days, or rest days.  Zwift itself doesn’t help as it actually offers “achievements” for riders who ride daily and complete a circuit for both 7 and 14 consecutive days.  This in my opinion can easily overtraining, and ultimately illness or injury.

I have two final concerns about the use of Zwift…

  • Novice riders may chose a training plan unsuitable for their specific needs….and you know my thoughts on this!


  • It’s great for fitness, but not brilliant for road skills.  Your group riding, descending ability, cornering all are not going to improve on Zwift….so don’t forget to get out and ride the roads IRL (in real life!).


So for me, and my coached athletes, Zwift is a real blessing, especially when you take my advice on how to get the most from those indoor sessions, but please, please, please don’t overdo things!!!

So, if you fancy heading over the virtual world, come seek me out on one of the many Club WBR rides that I frequent!

See you soon

Ride on!


11 Responses

  1. bgddyjim

    Days off and rest days… what are they?! I understand the four words, but you put them in those two pairs and it’s just psssshhhhhttttt….. white noise.

    Kidding of course. Kind of. I ride a lot but I alternate easy, moderate and hard days so I don’t kill myself. If the pros can ride every day, faster and several times farther, so can I.

    I do know what you mean though – and two races a day is seriously nuts.

    • Sportstest

      I coach elites and make sure some of them get at least one full rest day, and sometimes two a week. The body really needs time to regenerate.
      Unless you have a daily visit from a massage therapist and no job to go to, don’t underestimate the value of REST 🙂

      • bgddyjim

        One I can live with, two if it rains twice in the week but that’s rare between May and September.

        The real difference is that I’m not elite. I’m fast but I ride for fun. I haven’t technically “trained” in two years. I have a group of friends and as long as I can keep up with them (and out-sprint them for City Limits signs) I’m happy as happy gets.


          I take rest days, but I much prefer a proper low intensity recovery spin on those days rather than nothing. Keep it Zone 1 on the rollers nice and steady. Seems to ease out any soreness and stiffness.


    I wouldn’t be anywhere near my current fitness without Zwift over the past couple of months. It allows me to train whenever I can and way more regularly, plus the sessions are WAY more intense than you can get on the road, hands down! I use rollers to Zwift to keep my bike handling on point too. The races are probably the toughest riding I’ve ever done, you NEED rest after them!

  3. TobinLovesYou (@TobinHatesYou)

    I have noticed that many people in Zwift have numbers indoors that do not correlate to their outdoor performance. The indoor numbers are inflated. Traditionally this has been the opposite as rigid stationary trainers sap you of sprint / standing power. I can only come to the conclusion that the hyper-competitive nature of the game and the ease of cheating has taken its toll. It’s all too easy for me to over inflate the tires on my Kickr Snap, tighten the roller 3 full turns instead of 2, then perform a spindown in the middle of the night when the trainer has not be warmed up. If the trainer then sets a spindown calibration of 6 seconds when a real spindown normally takes 12 seconds, then the calibration is way, way off. Once I loosen the roller back to 2 turns and allow the trainer to warm up, I would see somewhere in the vicinity of 50% higher wattage readings. That takes me from 240W FTP to 360W FTP.

    • Sportstest

      Indeed, there are many documented ways you can cheat on Zwift. Even by simply adjusting your height and weight. Unless you are a Type A personality, who wants to win at everything, whatever the cost (even if no-one else really cares)…..why would you bother? Might as well crack open the EPO to boost your Zwift performance!

      In my mind, I am not bothered about my ability on Zwift, other than how it can help my real life performance. 🙂


    Yep surely it’s just about improving yourself. The cheaters and obvious fliers don’t bother me even if I “lose” to them in a “race” as at the end of the day it’s all just virtual cycling. I know my numbers are on point (powermeter + correct weight) so that’s all that matters.

  5. jameszwift

    I am one of the ones which are having great success histories thanks to Zwift. Come from a cyclist family but hardly can go outdoors. I used dumbtrainer and rollers but never got a real improvement because not pushing myself. Since i discovered Zwift in december 2015 it was just an addiction. Why?
    – Came home and i have the working out and don’t have to go gym and lose a valuable time.
    – Every minute in Zwift it’s a work out, in real world there is a lot of 0 watts moments. 30 minutes indoor are like 1 hour outside.
    – It’s quite social and you usually find your e-friends, and they are from all over the world
    – I discovered that i’m highly competitive and zwift racing make me want to train and become stronger.

    Started with a Elite Turbo Muin trainer (the first one). It’s just amazing because of the fluid system that it’s so good for my injuried knee (too much running on concrete). The problem it’s the Zpower reading, hihgly inacurate because of the reading in the flywheel, not the actual crank. When i upgraded to powermeter in crank i went from FTP 330w to 240w (i lost a full ZwiftPower CAT). But i was motivated and i recovered to 275w (i’m the one from the Facebook group). I’m winning C races in the winter time, and it’s because Zwift push me to the limit -but, i ride carefull-.

    Since december 2015 i lost 22 pounds and get muscular, the back of my legs it’s completely different rightnow. This great improvement is just because i never worked out so hard in the past.

    Thank you for your blog and your advice to not overtrain. I am learning now concepts like base training, sweetspot and won’t race 5 times a week.

    Will continue training, and training hard, because that’s why i’m improving. I only have two concerns: i don’t want to injure myself and i wonder if it’s good for my heart to be at 170bpm 30 minutes being a 40 year old male.


      As long as you don’t have an underlying condition and it’s not causing you any pain then it shouldn’t be an issue, just be sure to get your recovery time in. Good work on the FTP improvements! I’ve been slowly moving up through the CAT levels to where I’m not getting totally humiliated in the B grade, hehe!

  6. Bob Coleman

    Zwift is a blessing