4 Zwift Lessons I’m Learning This Winter to Get Faster Next Spring

I wish I’d learned these lessons 30 years ago.

Zwift wasn’t around when I was doing three or four-hour rides on my trainer in the basement or spare bedroom, watching races or plot-less action movies on videotape.

Now Zwift — and other online cycling software — is a game-changer for bike training.

  • There’s a purpose for training, like riding with friends, racing, completing a course. It’s easy to set daily goals and ride to achieve them.
  • There’s a community that can form. I’m “Zwift-friends” with people around the world. I haven’t quite learned how to do the chatting part yet, in Discord or using the Zwift app. You can also do Meetups with friends who are also on the platform.
  • The racing, group rides, and workouts provide a harder-than-you-expected effort that can “replace” a long ride. Or you can do long group rides as well.
  • Riding in another world on Zwift is safe and warm. There are no cars or narrow roads or ice on the ground. While I miss group rides in the winter, Zwift is far warmer!
Image created by author with photo from Unsplash

My Zwifting (is that a verb now?) lessons have been pretty basic so far

To learn some Zwift lesson, I’ve done some races, some group rides, and I tried the Ramp Test several months ago to compare it to the Inscyd software measurements.

I’m ready for some new Zwift lessons.

I have four goals in learning to use Zwift:

  1. Learn how to better draft. Zwift Insider suggests, “A quick way to get a feel for how it works is to approach a rider going a steady speed and try to draft them. Ease up a little to see your avatar drop back, and then gently add power to bring yourself back onto their wheel. Now see if you can pedal with the least effort while staying right behind them.”
  2. Try out the Race Partner for group rides
  3. Try out Rob Pickels’ advice on racing
  4. Learn how to communicate using Zwift Companion.

I’ll explain these last three Zwift lessons later.

The most important Zwift lesson: know your training plan

I bought a used Wahoo Kickr from a friend, and it turned out to be a great investment.

With a monthly Zwift subscription, I was soon riding in the Zwift online country of Watopia. (Why isn’t it Watt-opia?)

Zwift Lesson: you don’t need a smart trainer to use Zwift.

You can start just like I did with minimal knowledge and join rides, races, and workouts.

Once you log in, you choose your world or choose to Just Ride to do workouts.

While there are many options while riding on Zwift, you have essentially three choices to make before you start: you can do a specific workout like 2×20 tempo rides, a group ride, or a race.

What you choose depends on your training plan.

This is an important Zwift lesson: set your goal before you ride, otherwise, you’re likely to get into a group ride that turns into a race.

How to race on Zwift

There are usually five levels: A, B, C, D, and E.

As an old slow guy, I generally ride in the D group, and even that has been a lot of work at threshold to hang on in group rides.

My goal by the end of February is to finish a D race at the front and hang on in a C race.

An important Zwift lesson is that the start of a race is brutally fast.

So warm up appropriately. Get in a few hard efforts, get your HR popping.

If you plan to race to win, join the race early so you’re up near the front at the start.

Keep doing your warmup as usual, though.

Before the start, as the clock winds down to zero, pedal hard at eight seconds so you’re doing a flying start.

Rob Pickels, on Fast Talk Labs, offers several Zwift lessons about racing:

“In the Zwift universe, the laws of physics and pack dynamics are vastly different from the real world. It’s due to Zwift’s algorithm, which tries to group riders going similar speeds. This can have a large effect on your positioning in relation to other riders.”

“Here’s what to do:

  • Test the minimum workload needed to stay in the group. Slowly lower your effort to test how “sticky” the draft is.
  • Signal to the game that you want to move forward with a short burst of effort followed by a steady pace to prevent you from sticking to the riders around you.
  • When attacking in a smaller group, it can be useful to drop back to break the bond. When you launch your attack, you’ll sail past the group and into clean air.
  • Hide in higher groups if riding in a mixed-category race. Because of the draft, lower-level riders can often hang with stronger groups. Get into a faster group at the start of the race and then try to maintain that position as your actual race group drifts into the rear-view mirror.”

Another Zwift lesson Pickels suggests is knowing the course so you’re aware when there might be a surge up a climb or in a sprint.

Also, be aware of attacks. If it’s one person, he or she is less likely to make it stick. But if there are three or four riders, be ready to bridge to the break.

Likewise, if the group you’re in starts to fragment, be ready to jump to the front group.

If you get dropped, you have the choice to put in a big effort to catch back on, or wait for the group behind to catch.

Riding solo is good for your training, but not for racing on Zwift.

What Zwift lessons do you need before riding?

I set up my trainer in the garage once I move my wife’s car outside.

That’s really the only space available in our two-bedroom condo, and it works well.

In the winter, I keep the garage door closed.

The rest of the year, I keep the door open.

You definitely need a fan, another Zwift lesson.

You don’t need anything special. I bought a Stanley work fan, and it’s all the power I need.

I have at least two water bottles in the bike cages.

If I’m riding longer, I will have more bottles in my jersey pockets or a table next to me.

You’ll also need several towels, both to protect your bike from sweat and to wipe your face.

You also need to know your FTP (functional threshold power) as well as your current weight.

You can figure out your FTP with a test on Zwift, or you can contact me for an Inscyd threshold test.

Zwift lessons for group rides

There are a ton of group rides, particularly on the weekend.

Since I can usually ride during the day, I join groups in Europe or in other parts of the world.

Again, I need to know my training goals for the day because even tame group rides can easily become a threshold training day.

In a previous Zwift lesson, I learned I can go to Zwift Companion, find an Event that looks promising at the time I want to ride and sign up.

The Race Partner bot offers a group ride at a consistent pace.

The Race Partner is a Zwift lesson I’m going to use this week.

Here’s what Bike Radar suggests:

“There are four Pace Partner bots in total, each riding a different route at a consistent pace:

  • D. Diesel: 1.5 W/kg. Casual group ride with a few gentle hills
  • C. Cadence: 2.5 W/kg. Moderately paced group ride with occasional hills
  • B. Brevet: 3.2 W/kg. Expert group ride with lots of climbs
  • A. Anquetil: 4.2 W/kg. Elite group ride on a hard route. Expect lots of tough climbs

Pace Partners roam Watopia and the Makuri Islands all day long, and can be joined by selecting one of them from the Home Screen, under the “join another Zwifter” panel.

You’ll be placed in the group alongside everyone else currently riding with each Pace Partner, and staying with the group simply requires you to hold the same watts per kilogram (W/kg) power output as the Pace Partner is set to.”

Repeating the Zwift lesson: training with Zwift requires discipline

It’s easy to get caught up in a race or a group ride that is going way harder than you planned.

And it’s easy to do really hard efforts every time you’re on Zwift.

That is not a good recipe for long-term fitness.

Do threshold or above sessions two or three times a week.

That’s it.

Doing tempo group rides, though, is fine.

So set a goal prior to your session: race, tempo, or endurance.

Workouts are another option for getting your training in

Training workouts can be done either as workouts or within group rides.

In the app, Pickles suggests the Zwift lesson of using the Watopia world courses like Tempus Fugit, Tick Tock, or even the Ocean Lava Cliffside.

If you want to do short efforts, he suggested the LaGuardia loop

But again, only do the work you planned to do in your goal.

It’s very easy to get caught up in a race or group and push way beyond what you planned.

There are also ways to create your own meetups or groups to do the kind of training you want to do.

Power-ups give you advantages on Zwift

I don’t understand the Zwift lessons of power-ups yet, but I’m trying them.

Pickels suggests holding onto effective “power-ups” until the decisive moment:

  • Cloaking (ghost icon): Use to create a gap by attacking unseen
  • Drafting (van icon): Use to accelerate through the group in the final sprint
  • Burrito: Use to prevent others from drafting during sprints/attacks
  • Reduced weight (feather icon): Use to attack on climbs
  • Aero boost (helmet icon): Use to gain a short advantage once you’re off the front of the group, either during an attack or during the sprint finish.

Or you can go to a site like Zwift Insider to learn tips and tricks to up your game.

Here’s another resource for all things Zwift

Still Curious About What You Can Achieve?

Contact me or sign up for Virtual Coffee so we can discuss your goals!

And if you want to learn more about keeping your training simple, sign up for the blog at the right.

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Contact me to ask questions and talk about making your endurance training more effective.

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Paul Warloski, Simple Endurance Coaching

Paul Warloski, Simple Endurance Coaching

I help everyday endurance athletes reach their adventure and challenge goals through personalized, holistic training, strength work, and yoga.

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