This article is produced in association with Zwift
There was a time, a little less than a decade ago, when the idea of turbo training in the winter was best defined as a necessary evil for many cyclists. “It was just a horrible thing,” says Scottish rider Gavin Dempster. Coach Ian Jenner is just as succinct: “It was incredibly boring,” he moans.
Today, though, we live in an era of Zwift where it’s possible to ride every hour of the year from the comfort of your own home, whether that’s group rides, indoor racing or structured workouts to maximise performance gains.
The advantages of Zwift are plentiful, but the single biggest benefit of the online training platform is how it has transformed winter riding. “If you go back 10 years when the weather was bad in the winter,” Jenner adds, “you wouldn’t go on the bike. It would remain in the corridor or the garage. Now, you can just jump on Zwift and it has allowed everyone who wants to be as fit as ever in the winter. Zwift’s changed the game dramatically.”
It’s not just in winter, however, that Zwift has its uses. It offers structured training to riders who’ve never had that before, has introduced racing to the masses, and even acts as a great social party.
So what can Zwift do for you?
For Dempster, a rider who has won many a Zwift race since 2017 and represented Great Britain in the 2022 UCI Esports World Championships, Zwift has allowed him to become a better racer on the road.
“From a purely racing perspective, Zwift allows me to try out different tactics and throw stuff at the wall, however daft they may be. You can’t risk as much in an outside race because there’s an entry fee and you don’t race as often so you don’t want to throw it all away.
“But you can race on Zwift for free every five minutes if you like so it allows you to be more experimental and to see what does and doesn’t stick. If it doesn’t work out, you’ve not lost anything. This helps when racing outside in the summer as I’ve practised an audacious move indoors multiple times. It can pay off big time.”
Racing on Zwift is now big business and it’s easy to see why. “You get the same buzz as racing outside but without the potential consequences of crashing,” Dempster says.
(Image by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)
“There’s no inconvenience to it: no travel fee, no three hours drive to get home, no entry fee, and within five minutes of finishing you’re showered and back on the sofa. It’s so easy and convenient, and being able to race virtually is incredibly motivational. My season is now 12 months long.”
Thanks to the hundreds of structured and focused workouts available on Zwift, some designed by pros and leading coaches, riders from across the world can better track their improvements and make significant gains.
“A lot of my riders find that a workout outside has more obstacles,” says coach Ben Thomas. “Finding a suitable route isn’t always easy and there are more interruptions, such as traffic lights, which means you can have a less effective workout.
“Training on Zwift has none of those obstacles to contend with so it makes it a much more useful way of training. It’s also a lot more time-effective: the bike is already set-up, the kit is laid out, the bottle is ready and off you go. Head outside in the winter and just putting all the layers on can take forever.”
The amount of structured workouts ensures that there is something for everyone, whether that’s the rider aiming to improve their FTP or returning from injury. “I’m struggling to think of any riders I coach who don’t use Zwift,” says Thomas.
Zwift’s interactive features are forever getting even better, but the original concept of moving up levels remains a big draw for any Zwifter. It’s simple to do, too: the further you ride, the more workouts and routes you ride, the more experience points (and achievement badges) you earn.
(Image by Alex Whitehead/SWPix.com)
It’s the variety of the platform that most impresses coach Jenner. “You can go up mountains, enter a few races, go for a ride with some mates or just have a pootle around. You can’t really be stuck for things to do.”
As Jenner points out, social group rides are a favourite activity for many, with riders able to choose the difficulty level, the route and with who they ride and chat to. “Somedays, especially at weekends, you can go on there and in some virtual worlds there’ll be thousands of people riding around at the same time,” says Thomas. “It’s a really social way of riding and interacting.”