What Specialty Phase to Crush Zwift? And should I bother

Riding outside doesn’t fit my schedule and I don’t have an outdoor bike.

I’ve been on TR since September and have worked my way up to 308 FTP, about 4 w/kg. Just loving it- I did a base plan and then a whole string of sustained power builds. I am in the middle of another now, and have also worked my way up to high volume. My goal has been to consistently increase FTP.

So the other day, I got the bright idea to try Zwift - and hated it! I didn’t know what was coming, they were pushing insane watts out of the gate and I got properly destroyed. Not having my trusty graphs made it extra tough mentally.

My questions are as follows:

  1. Is there a way to keep going with my current goal of increasing FTP consistently AND train for Zwift success at the same time? Any conflict there?

  2. If I were to change my goal to some kind of ranking on Zwift, what would be the best plan for me to do on TR? Would I choose a specialty and if so, which one?

  3. What is the best way to work in some Zwift rides to my high volume plan and not conflict, or lose benefit?

  4. Should I just forget about Zwift and go back to what I was doing and keep driving up my FTP until it won’t go any higher, then return to the Zwift world if I want? I would hate to throw a wrench into a very consistent and successful gain program.

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Like real world racing, there’s a whole range of events on Zwift - TTs, short crits, longer hilly road races, etc. Sounds like you might have been doing crit type races in which case the crit specialty would be the way to go.

In terms of balancing racing and training, just sub in the appropriate workout. A Zwift crit is basically VO2 Max training, it’s not structured but your oxygen uptake is going to be right up there for the duration of the race. Or sub a TT race for a threshold workout. Key is to not get overexcited by the smorgasbord of races available to you on every hour of every day, and have a balance of structured training vs racing.

As to whether you should bother? If you’re in lockdown then there isn’t much else to do right now! I wouldn’t take Zwift racing too seriously, there are a lot of questionable numbers out there on both the W and the kg side of the equation (as well as a lot of genuinely super strong racers). But as a training tool it’s fun and provides an outlet for your competitive side which may be hard to find elsewhere at the moment.

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TBH, most of the races I’ve been in have been crit-like. It hasn’t been much. It’s a mass start, so warm up, and then Anaerobic out of the gate, settle to VO2 Max for about 8 min, then settle into your cadence.

What’s your CTL? Here’s what I would do.

Low volume Sweet Spot Base plan.

  • move the Sat workout to Sun. Schedule a race every weekend. Fill with long Zone 1/2 work. Race Sat, then 1hr Z2 workout after. Do the Sat workout on Sun, add 1hr Z2 work. 1hr Low-Mid Z1 Mon. TR T add 1hr Z2, 90 min Z2 W, TR Th + 1hr Z2. 60 min Z1 Fr. Sat Race again!

Low volume Build plan, Short Power Build. The Sat workout becomes the Race. Fill with Z1/Z2 as above. Sun, long Z2.

Low volume Crit Specialty, or Off-Road Short Track plan. Same as above.

Sometimes you may want to skip a race, that’s fine. You can move the Sun workout back to Sat, but do it outdoors, and make it a long long long ride with intensity, but lots of recovery in mid-upper Z2 and work Z3 and Z4. 4+ hours. Sun 2 hr Z2.

Edit: Don’t forget recovery weeks every 3-4 weeks. Those will all just be long Z1 work, and then a longer Z2/Z3 ride on Sat and a long Z2 on Sun. I’d skip a race at that point, but up to you.

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It’s kind of hard to take Zwift too seriously. I mean you can weight dope to improve your watts/kg which I’m sure a lot of folks do. I could hack my wheel-on smart trainer by playing with the tension to get an extra 50+ watts if I wanted.

My advice is to keep to your training plan and insert Zwift rides for fun.

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That is indeed true. There was a Wahoo KICKR V1 hack too, when it was using the strain gauge, same for Magene.

I would use it as a training aid, mixing it up mentally. Just like you would have a weekly crit series with your local club, though the results (in this case) don’t really matter. You’re racing yourself.

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If Zwift has you motivated, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with focusing on it. Long term, gains are driven by consistency more than anything else. I’ve gone from 4wkg to 5 almost entirely on Zwift doing lots of aerobic work and racing for my intensity. Not a structured plan, but I do track CTL and work in blocks of specific focus.

If you’re on a HV TR plan I’d swap a race for a VO2/Anaerobic day, but be careful with the fatigue. At 4wkg if you’re racing As you’ll probably be spending A LOT of time at threshold to not get dropped. Most folks that race a lot at the pointy end of A/A+ are fit enough that races are tempo workouts with surges or even Z2.

Also, if you’re racing, get registered on zwiftpower. You can check the quality of a race/ride ahead of time and see who’s registered. This lets you avoid getting crushed if you’re not in the mood and find racers of similar ability. If you race enough you’ll get to know your competitors.

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Thanks!!

I see what you’re getting at there.

Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what exactly the races mean. Decoding it is not easy fo me. Like how long will the race be, what sort of intensity etc.

Ok thanks, this is helpful.

My CTL is 82 right now with TSB -17 and going into the final working week of Sustain Power Build High Volume (recovery week with the easy rides the week after).

I ride the 6 rides in HV plan Monday through Saturday, Sunday off.

Thanks - yes I have been following the plan that includes a recovery week every 3 weeks.

It’s not too hard to decode once you check stuff out. Look at the event tab through the companion app, or on Zwift.com/events

See what the race says, how long it is, and what category you’re racing. If you’re saying your ftp is 4 w/kg, if your race is 20-45 min are you going to be racing over 4 w/kg average? It’s a tough spot to be in because you’re on the verge of B or A racing. A will be a smash fest with some real monsters in it most likely. B will still be tough but you should be on the higher end of that.

For racing you need to ramp up your watts 10-20 seconds before the clock hits zero. Everyone else is doing that and when the clock hits zero if you only start pedaling then you’re already out the back. Then it’s going to be hard for several minutes While people are trying to burn off people. It settles a bit after that. Then it’s responding to attacks and a lot of SS/threshold efforts.

Stay in the draft unless attacking. Use power ups at the right time. And realize there will be some cheaters but Zwift power helps with that. It’s a fun thing to do with all the races canceled.

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Ok great thanks for this. I will start working it in on my calendar for the next build!

My feeling is who cares? Zwift is setup not at all like real bike racing. For one thing the race are way shorter than real races so it’s more of an anaerobic fest than real life. I use the plan that I want for outdoor rides where I live (In my case it’s rolling road race). I don’t care about Zwift results or ranking ( or Strava KOMs). I just compare to myself over time.

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I sub Zwift races for workouts for SST, threshold and V02. I do look at how many intervals I have and interval time in SST etc and at least do that time plus more. Just without the rests. So I stick to my plan as much as possible.

Now, some of the events, and leagues are different, for instance the USAC races are LEGIT hard. Lot of the names you may recognise from the USA Crit series. In A, unless your at 700w before the start holding 5-600w for the first minute then expect to go anaerobic for the first few minutes and be cooking at threshold. They are seriously hard. I get murdered at the start. I need to work on 30sec at 500w and settling into above threshold then into threshold. There is no rest, micro rests in these races its full gas.

Short power build and SST, and Threshold intervals is what I suggest. If your really serious then use plan builder, put in the races you want to do and let Plan Builder do the work for you.

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There are longer races - e.g. the Flanders Endurance series has ~100km events on hilly courses. And in “real bike racing” there are short course crit races which are every bit as much of an anaerobic fest as anything in Zwift, albeit with the added technical element of course.

Let’s be honest, unless you’re good enough to have sponsors, nobody apart from you, your team-mates and your close family care about your race results either indoors or out (and if they’re anything like mine the family and some of the team-mates are probably only feigning interest most of the time!). We race for our own selfish reasons - in my case it’s fun, it scratches my competitive itch, and it gives purpose to my training. I’d rather race outdoors, but right now Zwift is the next best thing. Like real riding Zwift is whatever you want it to be - you can race short, you can race long, you can TT, you can follow your structured workouts, you can ride with friends, you can collect badges, or you can just…ride around and enjoy the scenery.

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Great thank you. I’ll try to hunt down some longer races around 1:30 or 2:00 hr!

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sub Zwift races for workouts for SST, threshold and V02. I do look at how many intervals I have and interval time in SST etc and at least do that time plus more. Just without the rests. So I stick to my plan as much as possible.

So on Monday I have Monadnock +5 scheduled which is 6x4 min. VO2 Max intervals at 115% FTP. So that’s 24 min. at 115% FTP. So I would just make sure to do those intervals at some point during the race if I’m following your concept?

So… Zwift races are… …well, Zwift races. They’re similar to real races in that they take place on a bike (maybe???). However- right now, they’re the only races we have- so there is that. For “real” results- Id use zwiftpower.com. Most events use that for actual scoring. They have some programming filters to help with cheaters.

My $.02. Just like “real” races, Zwift events have a learning curve. Took me a bit to figure that out, despite a long history racing outdoors.

  1. I would HIGHLY suggest racing down in category at first. If youre border line A/B- race B. Take those events and learn how to race on there. Same advice when you start racing outdoors- race lower categories and learn how to race. Dont sandbag and race low just to win, but since youre borderline, Id race down to get the hang of it. Hopefully that makes sense. Zwiftpower will tell you when to upgrade into the higher category.

  2. Events start FAST. Like you, and others, have said- its hard straight out of the gate. When you line up matters- just like outdoor racing. Show up close to event start and youre in the back. Dont warm up and you’ll pay for it. So warm up well and ramp up your power just before it starts- hit the gate at a pretty strong effort to launch to the front.

  3. It will settle down after a few minutes. But be prepared for the suck.

  4. In “settings” take that slider bar and set it up about 1/2 to 2/3 for the gradient setting for racing. I use it at full for training and general riding, but move it back a bit for racing. It’ll make the transitions easier for gradient and less shocking in resistance. You still have to do the power, its just a trainer feel adjustment in the programming.

  5. Start your sprit early. 200m is WAY too late.

  6. Have fun. 20-30 minutes seems like forever when youre racing, but just like 8-weeks of lockdown, it’ll seem short when its over.

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24mins at V02 isn’t really feasible I would do the intervals and continue the race. Use the race as motivation. You could between intervals instead of 130w, sit at 230w (not knowing your FTP) and by riding in your Z2/3 there is good gains to be made. It is also more like a race when you need to go over a berg at 115% and continue riding.

Very good advice. I was told by a Zwift rep that it takes about 4-6 secs for sprint power to rev up. So start the sprint earlier than the 200m line.

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Check out zwiftpower.com as you can view events and filter based on hilliness, duration, race/ride/tt/etc. If you are looking for a long, climby race or a short flat race, they are easy to find on the front page.

Don’t race down a category and sandbag. Race based on WKG at 95% of your current 20min max or WKG at FTP. There are tons of threads of people doing D/C/B category races and complaining about people finishing way over the category WKG limit. Don’t be that person. If you end up setting a PR and going over the limits or whatever, thats fine because you had a breakthrough performance or didn’t know. But don’t knowingly cat down.

My understanding of VO2 Max training is that it’s not about accumulating time at X% of FTP, it’s about accumulating time with your body in a state of maximal oxygen uptake. Zwift races get you into that state extremely quickly thanks to the fast starts, and you likely never or rarely drop back out of it. You get a few respites, but few or none that are long or easy enough to allow anything like a proper recovery where your breathing and HR return to comfortable levels.

So while it might not be possible to accumulate 24 minutes of VO2 in a Zwift race as measured from a neat power chart, it might well be possible to accumulate 24 minutes of being in a state where your body is working overtime to process every single molecule of O2 that it can!