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New to Zwift? – What you need to know


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If you are reading this then the likelihood is that you have already heard of Zwift, the game changing indoor cycling platform that takes your cycling indoors in quite a unique way, helping to make you a stronger, faster and fitter version of yourself. Whether training for a local sportive, club rides or in preparation for taking on one of our events such as L’Etape du Tour or Tour of Flanders the likes of Zwift can assist. Read on for a quick run-down on all things Zwift.

What is it?

It’s a game and training tool, simple as that. Instead of sitting on the couch playing, you sit on your bike and with luck burn a few more calories than you would on the couch. Zwift allows anyone with a standard pedal cycle and an indoor trainer to (via laptop or tablet) connect to and cycle around a series of virtual worlds, some fictional (Watopia) and others based on real routes. (A traffic free London or Harrogate for example) You start by setting up your avatar, choosing your bike, entering your details and you are ready to move to the next step….

*What you need to do it?

A PC laptop, Macbook or tablet such as iPad will allow you to download the app and access the game. You can then view everything on device or via a monitor or TV. The power you produce from pedalling is accurately transferred to your avatar in game via either a Bluetooth or ANT+ connection. There are two main connectivity options to allow users to get set up. The quickest is via the use of a ‘smart trainer’. An indoor trainer that has power sensors built in making it easy to connect to Zwift. The other main option is via the use of a power meter on your bike, whether hub, crank or pedal based doesn’t matter, they should all connect to Zwift without issue. The force you put through the pedal is picked up and transferred to Your in game self – simple! For those with older ‘dumb’ trainers and/or no power devices on their bike it is also possible to use virtual power, which pretty accurately estimates the power being put out. This also allows for the use of rollers, although resistance is typically low making hill climbing tough. Oh and stationary bikes such as Wattbike and the new Wahoo versions are fully supported.

Zwift support pages (at the bottom of article) are a useful resource for bespoke set up information.

Why you should consider it?

Well as noted, it significantly reduces the boredom associated with training indoors. Moreover it opens the door to a literal world of training possibilities, with hundreds of individual workouts, training plans, organised group rides, races and leagues on top of the standard ‘just ride’ option. You can even meet up with your mates, wherever they are connected in the world for a social ride or one of the daily events. Its also a great option when you are either short on time but want to get a ride in or on those days when the weather maybe is less than hospitable. Lastly, you can get a lot done in a short space of time, especially if following a plan or one of the many individual sessions that are available. That’s because unlike riding outdoors, you are typically pedalling all the time, even at rest your body is working, ultimately giving more bang for your buck! It should never replace your outdoor riding, it can however complement those rides brilliantly and genuinely make you a fitter, faster rider.

What about gears?

If you have a controllable smart trainer (one with resistance) then you can use gears. When riding an event or just free riding in one of the worlds the trainer will automatically react to the gradient and you will be forced to change gear to match that gradient, just as you would do outdoors. However when it comes to individual workouts or plans, the system switches to ‘ERG’ mode. No need to change gear here, Zwift tells the trainer what the resistance should be at any given moment, you just have to keep those pedals spinning.

Can I build my own sessions or plans?

Yes you can. Zwift has an easy to use workout building tool that allows for just that. It’s possible to use the tool to build out sessions provided by a coach too. For example our training partner Vitfor- an intuitive online coach, allows for their sessions to be created in Zwift. There are also hundreds of pre-set workouts and plans developed by experienced riders and coaches, so there is no need to spend time creating your own if time is tight.

What are the limitations

It’s indoors, you are attached and not moving anywhere and will never recreate the joys of riding your favourite local route or the fun of riding with friends whilst having chat. You can have a coffee any time though!

At what cost?

It’s a monthly subscription model. After a free 7 day trial its around £12.99 a month for unlimited access to the platform and its events, plans and more.

Final top tips

  1. Use a fan – It can and will get warm indoors even with the window open. Too hot and your performance will be impaired. A fan is your friend!
  2. Download the Zwift companion app – It allows you to choose events, make changes, connect with otherzwifters in game and more
  3. Plan ahead – Get your water bottle, a towel, fan and any further entertainment you might like (wireless headphones are great) ready so you are good to go in double quick time.
  4. Do an FTP test – If planning to follow plans and/or training sessions then it pays to measure your fitness level via an industry standard FTP test. These platforms have them pre-loaded with instructions on what to do. Once the pain is over the game knows your FTP and plans are optimised to you your level automatically. If you already know it then you can set it without a test too.
  5. HR/cadence as well as power – Why not add other valuable data such as Heart rate and cadence, they all connect.
  6. Sync with Strava – Enter settings and allow your rides to auto upload to Strava post ride.
  7. Do an event – crits, hill climbs, Gran Fondos, Time Trials, Gender specific events, they all feature. Sign up and make sure you are in game close to the scheduled start and Zwift will prompt to ensure you hit the start line.
  8. Do recalibrate from time to time – some power meters/trainers say they don’t need recalibration. ATR recommends recalibrating via the manufaturers app at least every couple of weeks and definitely after a period of no use.

What else is out there?

There are a number of other options out there, all aimed at making you fitter and the indoors more fun, but our best of the rest has to be TrainerRoad. An online app, TraineRoad is ‘dedicated to making you a faster cyclist’ via structured training. It connects in the same way as Zwift and is (we feel) aimed at the enthusiast or racer, who simply wants to get fitter and faster. There is no virtual world or avatar but there are thousands of specific workouts, many with in ride coaching. There are also multiple level plans for almost all cycling discipline, from crits and gravel racing, to century rides and a very useful and intuitive plan builder that takes into account you targets for the season (based on dates and other information you give it) and creates a plan accordingly. You can now even take their workouts outside, downloading them to your Garmin or Wahoo to take on sessions in the great outdoors! Free trials are available.

The ATR view

Anything that gets us riding indoors or out is good in our book, but Zwift and TrainerRoad in particular really are a step on from the traditional indoor model. These don’t replace riding outside and they never should, they do however offer the opportunity to get work done indoors and make the whole experience that little bit more bearable and we like that. Set up is easier than it sounds and you can follow plans or ride on an ad-hoc basis as you wish. A few of the ATR team are regulars on these platforms and have seen genuine results, so we can also vouch for the fitness development on offer too!