What is Zwift?
Zwift is a virtual world – actually, as of September 2023 Zwift offers ten virtual worlds – where you can simulate riding your bike as if you were, in fact, outdoors. Zwift adjusts your trainer resistance relative to the grade of the virtual road on which you are riding, so you are going uphill and downhill and shifting gears just like you would outdoors. In addition, Zwift has a workout mode that allows you to execute structured workouts in erg mode.
1. Create an account at zwift.com. Within the account, it’s of critical importance that you set your FTP (functional threshold power), and that you set it accurately.
2. Download the Zwift software/app to your laptop/tablet/phone/AppleTV.
3. Open the app and login. You’ll answer a few questions about how you plan on using Zwift and then you’ll pair your devices. You’ll want to set your smart trainer as the controllable trainer. You can use your smart trainer as the power source and cadence source (if your smart trainer does that) or you can use your power meter for those sources.
Optional: pair your HR monitor, so you collect all the data in a single location and it all uploads to TrainingPeaks in a single data file.
4. During this first Zwift session, you’ll also set up your profile and your avatar. You can update your avatar and equipment before future rides using the Zwift Garage.
Once that’s set up, you’ll be dropped into the Zwift tutorial. You need to ride 1.3 miles in the Zwift tutorial before you can exit and use the full features of the Zwift app.
Once you’ve completed that first ride, all of your subsequent rides will start by opening the app, logging in (if that’s not done automatically – which it usually is), and pairing your devices (which will also happen automatically if the device list from your last ride is once again available).
You’ll then arrive at the Zwift Home Screen.
The Home Screen is navigated using the icons in the upper left-hand corner: Home, Events, Worlds, and Workouts. The Events tab will include things like races and group rides, which you can sign up for in advance and/or jump into at the spur of the moment. The Worlds tab is where you can choose a route for a free ride, and the Workouts tab is where you can choose to ride either a Zwift-built or Training Peaks imported workout.
The Home Screen will also highlight featured multi-day events, such as the Tour de Zwift, upcoming Events, and an assortment of Workouts. Finally, you can choose to do a free ride with a Pace Partner, who will ride on a specific course at a steady watts/kg pace.
If You Want to Do a Free Ride
If you want to do a free ride – to simulate an outdoor ride while cycling indoors (ideal for long and/or endurance rides) – then start by clicking the Worlds icon in the upper left-hand corner. From there you’ll select a world from those that are available that day (typically Watopia plus two additional, rotating guest worlds). Once you’ve selected a world, you’ll be shown a list of route choices, from shortest to longest. Pay close attention to the elevation gain as you’ll be well aware of those climbs when you hit them! Once you select a route, your avatar will be dropped into the world and you can start riding.
If You Want to Do a Structured Workout
If you have a structured workout shown on your TrainingPeaks calendar, you can execute this in erg mode, or Workout Mode, within Zwift. In Workout Mode, your trainer will control your resistance to match the prescribed targets for each interval.
Before starting a ride in workout mode, make sure that your TrainingPeaks account is linked to Zwift:
1. Log into Zwift, navigate to your Profile, and view your Connections.
2. Click “Connect” under the TrainingPeaks heading and give Zwift permission to access your TrainingPeaks account.
Once your TrainingPeaks account is linked to Zwift, Zwift will automatically pull that day’s structured workout into the app. (If you connected your accounts after opening the app, you may need to close it and restart.
To find the workout, click the Workouts tab – the right-most icon of the four in the upper left-hand corner. The Workouts screen will show you folders of Workout Collections, and if you’re doing an FTP test this is where you’ll find those options. You may also see a folder icon at the top labeled “TrainingPeaks Custom Workouts,” and if you do then you’ll find today’s workout in that folder.
If you don’t see the folder there, click “Custom” in the left-hand column and it should appear. If it’s still not there, you can try some troubleshooting:
- Make sure the workout is scheduled for today; workouts scheduled for other days won’t appear.
- Make sure the workout is a structured workout using power; if it’s not a structured workout, or it is but uses another metric (such as heart rate), then it won’t appear in Zwift.
- Make sure the workout has a title; workouts without titles aren’t imported.
- If all else fails, disconnect and reconnect Zwift and TrainingPeaks.
Once you find and click on your TrainingPeaks workout (or any other workout you’ve chosen from their highlighted options or their training plans), your FTP is shown in the lower right-hand corner. Take a glance, because here’s your chance to update your FTP if the number in Zwift is not correct.
Click “Workout” to officially select that workout. You’ll then be shown a screen where you can choose what world and route to ride. You can choose ANY route – no matter the elevation gain – because you will be riding in erg mode. In other words, the resistance on your trainer will change based on the power targets, not on the grade of the road, so in this case the route is just decoration.
Finally, click “Start Workout” to actually begin the workout – which won’t begin until you start pedaling. Zwift provides a list of intervals included within the workout on the left of the screen, and there are also “+” and “-” buttons next to the current workout level of “100%” so you can make the workout harder or easier if you ABSOLUTELY need to.
Quick tip: to allow your smart trainer to hit the lower end (warm up/cool down/recovery) power targets, it’s best to have your gearing set very, very easy: little ring up front, 2nd or 3rd easiest gear on the cassette. Your trainer can ramp up the resistance to significant levels for those upper end power targets, but can only take off so much resistance in order to hit the lower numbers.