Zwift: Does it replace coaching?

We’ve probably all seen Zwift, or indeed Trainer Road, and a variety of other online indoor cycling programmes that work with your turbo (indoor trainer). For sure, I’ve been on Zwift since beta, and I’ve occasionally used some of the other systems. But, does Zwift (or the others) replace coaching, and can they be used concurrently?

Firstly, I want to clearly state that Zwift is amazing. I’ve been cycling and racing since 1984, and Zwift is one of the biggest changes to training I’ve seen over that time frame. I used to spend hours on the turbo staring at a blank wall while listening to my music and trying to crank out intervals. IT WAS BORING! Zwift has changes that and made indoor training so much better.

A few people that I speak to think that Zwift or TR etc replaces coaching. They’ve got built in training plans and they adjust to your own physiology in part. For some riders just doing regular training is all they need. If you’re just looking to get a bit fitter then this maybe you.

However, if you’re training for a specific event, maybe it’s the Etape, maybe you’re trying to improve in criteriums, or move up a race category or perhaps you’re trying to qualify for the UCI GR Road Race Worlds, then you may well need some training that’s more specific to your needs. Perhaps you also need feedback from a coach as well for other aspects of your performance (e.g. nutrition, psychology, skills, etc).

Nonetheless, can you use both together? Can you use Zwift (etc) and a coach (or a training plan)? Yes. This is something I frequently do. A few of the riders I work with are based in inhospitable environments where outdoor training isn’t always possible, or they don’t like it. Indoor training can take its place. Some of my athletes have a frozen winter in Scandinavia and they use Zwift like the road. You can ride around the various ‘worlds’ as if they were your local roads, doing an indoor endurance ride, or intervals or whatever else your coach has planned for you on that day.

Others I work with don’t always have great roads for going fast. For example some roads in a region can be constantly turning, and going up and down. This makes applying a constant power for several or more minutes somewhat difficult to achieve. Now, while training may need to be specific and if the races go over such constantly changing roads that require on/off power, you may still need to do constant load type training to improve yourself. The roads in Zwift are much easier to apply a constant load too (even without using ‘erg’ mode).

Of course there are other benefits too. I’ve given out sessions in training where riders may have to do 10 or more intervals at full gas. I don’t know about you, but in the middle of smashing out a ton of intervals it can be quite difficult to keep your brain thinking about simple things (“was that interval 6 or 7?”). Or, maybe that’s just me!? Completing an interval session on Zwift can be less bothersome because you can create training sessions where you get the system to tell you when each interval is coming up. You don’t need to keep track of which number interval you’re on!

The other great use for Zwift is programming in some testing. You can programme in a MAP test or whatever type of test you need to do. And, the software will tell you what you need to do as you ride through the session. If you’re lucky enough to have a smart turbo trainer then it’ll also control things for you as well. Jobs a good ‘un. Of course, as a coach I prefer to always test my athletes at our centre, but this isn’t always possible if it’s too far for you to get to.

Another aspect of Zwift is that of racing. It may not be real racing (or is it?) and it may lack the skills necessary to race outdoors but it’s a great way to test yourself against others of a similar ability all from the comfort of your own home.

Finally, why not join me for a ride on Zwift? I’m usually on at least several days a week, under my name of Richard Stern Sometimes I’m on for a social/steady ride, sometimes a recovery ride, and sometimes I’m grinding it out up Alpe d’Zwift! See you soon