This article was produced in partnership with Zwift
There was a time, just under a decade ago, when the idea of turbo training in the winter was best defined as a necessary evil for many cyclists. “It was a horrible thing,” says Scottish pilot Gavin Dempster. Coach Ian Jenner is just as happy: “It was incredibly boring,” he moans.
Today, however, we live in a Zwift era where it’s possible to ride at all hours of the year from the comfort of your own home, whether it’s group rides, indoor runs or structured workouts to maximize performance gains.
The benefits of Zwift are numerous, 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,” adds Jenner, “you wouldn’t get on the bike. It would be in the hallway or the garage. Now, you can just jump on Zwift and it’s made it possible for anyone who wants to be as fit as ever in the winter. Zwift has changed the game dramatically.”
However, it’s not just in winter that Zwift has its uses. It offers structured training to riders who have never done it before, 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 Zwift races since 2017 and represented Great Britain at the 2022 UCI Sport World Championships, Zwift has enabled him to become a better rider on the road.
“From a purely racing perspective, Zwift allows me to try different tactics and throw things at the wall, no matter how silly they are. You can’t take as many risks in an outdoor race because there’s an entry fee and you don’t run as often so you don’t want to throw it all away.
“But you can run for free on Zwift every five minutes if you want, so it allows you to be more experimental and see what sticks and what doesn’t. If it doesn’t work, you haven’t lost anything. That helps when running outside in the summer, as I’ve done a bold move indoors several times. It can pay off big.”
Racing on Zwift is now big business and it’s easy to see why. “You get the same buzz as running outside, but without the potential consequences of a crash,” says Dempster.
(Image by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)
“There’s no downside: no travel costs, no three-hour drive home, no entry fee, and five minutes after it’s over, you shower and go back to the couch. It’s so easy and convenient, and being able to run virtually is incredibly motivating. My season is now 12 months.”
Thanks to the hundreds of structured and focused workouts available on Zwift, some designed by leading professionals and coaches, runners around the world can better track their improvements and make significant gains.
“A lot of my riders find that an outdoor workout has more obstacles,” says trainer Ben Thomas. “Finding a suitable route is not always easy and there are more interruptions, such as traffic lights, which means you can do a less effective workout.
“Training on Zwift doesn’t have any of those obstacles to contend with, so it makes it a much more useful form of training. It’s also much more time-efficient: the bike is ready, the kit is ready, the bottle is ready and you’re done. You go out in the winter and just putting on all the layers can take forever.”
The amount of structured training ensures that there is something for everyone, whether you are a rider looking to improve your FTP or coming back from injury. “I’m struggling to think of any rider I train who doesn’t use Zwift,” says Thomas.
Zwift’s interactive features are forever improving, but the original concept of leveling up remains a huge draw for any Zwifter. It’s also simple to do: the more trips, training and routes you do, the more experience points (and achievement badges) you’ll earn.
(Image by Alex Whitehead/SWPix.com)
It’s the variety of the platform that impresses Coach Jenner the most. “You can climb mountains, take part in a few races, go for a walk with some mates or just have a pootle. You can’t really get stuck for things to do.”
As Jenner points out, social group rides are a favorite activity for many, as riders can choose the difficulty level, the route, and who they ride and chat with. “Someday, especially on the weekends, you can go there and in some virtual worlds there will be thousands of people riding at the same time,” says Thomas. “It’s a really social way to ride and interact.”