My First Zwift Training Programme: I Finally ‘Get It’

I am pleased to report that I just completed my first ever cycling training programme. Actually my first ever training programme full stop. And it was on Zwift, which seems to be popular with you cycling folk.

My only sports science qualification is a swimming 25 metres badge but it is my understanding that if you want to get fitter and faster on a bike, maybe lose a bit of weight, undertaking and completing an actual structured training programme is not a bad way to do it.

Anyway, I thought I’d share my learnings and some random tangential thoughts, for your entertainment and edification. The odd quorn nugget might be helpful.

Stick around to the end of the post to find out my results. If you’re lucky, and if I’ve run out of other ways to self-flagelate, I said flagellate, I may do another FTP test.

Onwards!

Watch The YouTube Video

The Zwift 6-Week FTP Builder Training Plan

So a little about the training programme. It’s a pretty basic one, namely the 6-week FTP builder.

Four sessions a week, with each week comprising 2 foundation sessions at low intensity and then 2 higher intensity sessions called things like ‘Strength’, ‘Tempo’ and ‘Threshold Development’. Which I guess I was after.

Zwift 6 week FTP builder training plan

Each session in week one was between 48 and 67 minutes, rising to 63 to 78 minutes in week 6. All four sessions for the week appear in the Zwift app every Monday morning and you can choose when you do them through the week.

I actually completed every session, although I did replace one of the Foundation sessions with a social ride with a mate and one of the sessions in week 4 wasn’t recorded because Zwift crashed at the end. I was able to recover the ride data though and, don’t panic, upload it to Strava.

Other than that one outdoor replacement ride, I only did Zwift rides on the training programme, so I wasn’t otherwise supplementing my fitness with secret squirrel trips to the gym or indeed the pool to swim the 25 metres I’m qualified for.

So that’s what I did. Channelling my secondary school science teacher, without the leather elbow pads and extraordinary beard, what did I find out?

Zwift Is Quite Entertaining, Innit?

Good grief I’ve always found riding indoors tedious.

Even in our previous house, where I had the turbo trainer in a sometimes boiling conservatory, with Tour de France highlights for entertainment, indoor riding was a real slog.

Indoor cycling in conservatory

Garage riding is even worse. A boring environment, combined with a sense of pointlessness to the whole endeavour, meant that indoor rides rarely lasted 35 minutes, never mind 1 hour plus.

Training in garage

Zwift, plus the self-assigned task of following the training programme instructions, has kept my interest level sufficiently high during each session. I find myself motivated to schedule in the next ride, rather than dread it and procrastinate.

Hmm, profound: a globally popular virtual platform that markets itself as an entertaining form of indoor cycling is, in fact, entertaining. This is the sort of insightful analysis you came for.

I Can Finish a Training Programme

Staying with the banal conclusions, it turns out that I can complete a full training programme, albeit a relatively short one.

Whilst I’ve started many a training programme in the past, hell I’ve even read books and created my own, Zwift has revealed the hero within and helped me to actually finish one.

Zwift training plan progress

And just to reiterate the benefits of a training programme, even a random one I’ve just picked off that there Zwift:

  • I’ve done more volume
  • I’ve trained more consistently
  • My training has been higher quality – each session has had a purpose. No junk rides here thenk yew.
  • I’ve experienced progressive overload, which is not an 80s prog rock band but instead a gradual increase in volume and intensity over the course of the programme
  • And, most importantly, I really haven’t had to think too much about it

So on that point…

I’ve Never Done This Much Riding in January and February

Again this is hardly surprising. But as an amateur statman (skibby dibby dibby dabby do) I found the actual numbers quite interesting.

Over the last two months, I’ve ridden 35 times for nearly 1,000km, although some of those are Zwift kms. A total of 36 hours nuts-to-saddle time.

2022 training Zwift

That’s over double a good outside year. 2019 was nice weather and 2021 was during a bike-friendly lockdown, and both are not even close.

And those were good years. 2022 blows 2017, 2018 and 2020 right out of the back of the peloton.

2016 is ‘interesting’, if you consider 6 year old Strava stats interesting. I decided to ride every day in January, either in the garage on the trainer or outside. My January volume is similar to this year but I recall it taking a lot of motivation each day, it wasn’t high quality training and my riding volume soon dropped off. Needless to say, I didn’t do this ride every day challenge again.

So I’m well ahead of my yearly target on Strava – the total distance I generally ride in a good year on the bike – which is nice.

Using Zwift With a Dumb Trainer is Doable.

The fact of the matter is that I’ve just completed a training programme, using Zwift with a non-smart Elite wheel-on indoor trainer that’s nearly 10 years old, and I’ve had a satisfying and, spoiler alert, fitness-improving experience.

Zwift on a non-smart trainer

So it’s definitely doable… but not optimal.

Trying to hit the target power at the right cadence using just your gears is a challenge. You have to develop a feel for which gear combo corresponds to which power/cadence target. And remember that feel when brain is leaking out of your nose on a walnuts out effort.

Some targets just don’t work with my gear ratios. In these cases I tried to achieve the right cadence and went slightly higher on power.

Assuming I haven’t overtrained – I don’t think I have – this has possibly resulted in me getting more training impulse and therefore more fitness improvement effect than is perhaps implied by the plan.

It probably all comes out in the wash though.

Indoor Training is Better Inside a House Than a Garage

It’s taken a loonnnnggg time to get round to bringing the trainer into my house rather than labouring under the misapprehension that such static torture had to take place in my damp cold garage. Like 7 years long.

Zwift training

Like a ninja crossed with Marie Kondo and Lawrence Llewelyn Bowen, I’ve been slowly tidying and vajazzling my man cave, whilst trying to maintain the illusion to my wife that it’s my home office.

I finally broke cover at the start of 2022, brought in my trainer and bike, signed up for Zwift and entered the metaverse. Level 1, Zwifting whilst watching YouTube videos, unlocked.

I Want to Upgrade My Man Pain Cave

Which is possibly not the term I was reaching for.

Also, not really a learning. More a realisation.

Or a wanton desire to get stuff wrapped up in some sort of semi-rational justification that if you find yourself doing something consistently for 5+ hours a week, and it’s on balance good for you, that it might be something worth investing in.

I’m already on the upgrade pain train. Having dallianced initially with an old sheet, I quickly bought a trainer mat to protect the cave floor.

Indoor trainer on dust sheet

I’m going to need a fan. Or at the very least start using a towel.

Like many other Andrews, I don’t actually sweat that much, but towards the pointy end of a 70 minute threshold development session, my soaked t-shirt arm is only 10% functional as a sweat mopping up solution (lovely….).

I’ll leave the cave upgrade chat there. Hint hint there’s more to come in future posts.

Indoor Cycling Sessions Are Definitely More Convenient Than Outdoor Ones

Not least I don’t need to clean my bike ever again.

They’re generally more compact. 45 minutes on the training feels more worthwhile than the same time spent riding outdoors.

There’s less faff before and after, although I do always need a shower, and generally easier to fit into my work-unpaid taxi-driver-parent-remarkable lover timetable.

Indoor cyling training

If I’m doing a training programme, or just want to commit to a certain amount of time on the bike, I can plan each session into my diary at the start of the week knowing that weather conditions are generally pretty constant in my home office.

Indoor cycling sessions can also be done concurrently with my other passion, childcare. Two of our children need an adult to be present in the house. Whilst I confess that an FTP test means my focus isn’t 100% on their every need, at least I am complying with the law.

Clearly I’m not a full-time convert to indoors cycling. What would be the point of that. I do have a feeling I’ve crossed the rubicon towards being more of a fair weather one though.

So What Were My Results?

Moment of truth time. Did my first Zwift indoor training programme work?

In short, yes.

I mean, we’ve already seen that it’s worked in getting me to do far more winter bike riding than I otherwise would.

But in cold hard numbers. I did an FTP – functional threshold power – test on Zwift before starting the programme and I’m pretty sure I recorded 197W. Typically Zwift doesn’t keep historical records and neither do I.

Zwift FTP test result

My test at the end of the programme recorded an FTP of 227W. A mahoosive increase of 30W or 15%.

Losing weight wasn’t my objective, but for what it’s worth my distinctly inaccurate bathroom scales suggested I lost a kilo.

So in power-to-weight terms, which is important on Zwift and I guess in real life, my FTP moved from from 2.8 watts per kilo to 3.3.

But. And it’s a big but.

It Turns Out All These Numbers Are a Load of Test-ee-cles

Straight after I finished my training programme, I made a significant upgrade to my indoor training set up (hiding like Where’s Wally in the photo below):

Zwift pain cave upgrade That investment has already informed me that Zwift’s power estimates for my Elite non-smart trainer are, how we say, a little off.

But I’ll save that saga, and why I did two FTP tests in a week for another post (and video).

Be sure to subscribe to my newsletter and I’ll let you know when I publish it.

See you soon for the next porno from the pain cave (Zweep! Red card! Straight off!)

Monty - Sportive Cyclist
Monty is an enthusiastic road cyclist with only moderate talent. He started Sportive Cyclist in 2013 to record the journey to his first 100 mile ride, the RideLondon 100. Over time the blog has expanded to include training advice, gear reviews and road cycling tales, all from the perspective of a not-very-fit MAMIL. Since you're here, Monty would also like you to check out his YouTube channel. Also, Monty really needs to stop referring to himself in the third person.

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