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The Best Tips for Training for a Zwift Race

By Jiri Kaloc

Indoor training is no longer the strange winter activity only the most hard-core cyclists do. Thanks to platforms like Zwift, it’s actually a viable training tool as well as a place to test your mettle against other riders. Both training and racing on Zwift can be quite different from cycling outdoors.

Indoor training used to be a boring and painful way to stay in shape over the winter to be ready for the main racing season. Lately, it’s quite normal to be training indoors for indoor events. Despite the differences, it’s important to respect the basic sound principles of training that apply for outdoor as well as Zwift.

Don’t go hard all the time

Most virtual indoor races on Zwift and other platforms are short. Typically, around an hour of riding. That’s why it’s quite appealing to train in a similar way. Just get on your bike in your pain cave and go hard for an hour. Zwift is really good at making these types of sessions exciting. The problem is that this training is not very efficient. It is very demanding on your body, takes a lot of recovery, and doesn’t develop all aspects of your fitness.

Polarise your training

The answer to the first problem is to have a training plan. Ideally, try to do what most pros do – polarise your training. This is roughly how you should split your total training time with this approach.

  • 70-80% low intensity
  • 0-10% moderate intensity
  • 15-20% high intensity

The beginning of your preparation for a race should consist of more low-intensity rides to build your aerobic base. The time to include more intensity sessions is in the last few weeks before your main race.

Set a simple goal before each session

When you have a rough idea for your overall quantity of easy, medium, and hard sessions, you will have an easier time defining what to do each day. It’s really important to get on your bike with a clear intention – race, tempo or endurance. Otherwise, most of your days, you’ll end up racing in a random group ride and training only at your threshold.

Learn how to save power in a group

Zwift adds a virtual drafting effect in order to group riders with similar speed. That means there’s always a power output range in every group. Test the minimum workload needed to stay in the group. Slowly lower your effort and monitor what happens. This can save a few watts without losing contact with the group.

Know your power-ups

Power-ups are something unique to Zwift and they can significantly affect the outcome of any Zwift race if used right. Make sure to have plenty of practice using your power-up to learn when is the right time.

  • Helmet – decreases air resistance, use it at high speeds on flats and descents, almost a necessity to win a sprint
  • Feather – reduces a percentage of your weight, perfect to use for climbs
  • Van – cranks up the draft effect, use it to accelerate through the group in the final sprint
  • Burrito – disables drafting for riders around you, use it to prevent others from drafting during sprints or attacks
  • Ghost – turns you invisible to other riders, use it when you want to create a gap and break away

You should have no problems doing your training almost entirely on Zwift if you follow these principles. Our next article will focus on several more tactics and tricks you can use in a race to get an edge over your competition.