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How Zwift can make your outdoor rides better

Enjoy your outdoor rides more and flatten those hills with an efficient indoor training plan

Cyclists are a diverse bunch: we don’t agree on much. Aero vs lightweight, discs vs rim brakes, tubes vs tubeless, indoor vs outdoor… the list goes on and on. There are a few things we all want, though. And top of that list is: we want to have a great time on our rides.

Everyone knows it’s more enjoyable to be setting the pace than hanging off the back, and getting the base miles in over the winter means that you’ll be fitter and happier at the start of the next season. Indoor training on a platform like Zwift can be an integral part of that journey: here’s how to integrate indoor sessions into your schedule to get the most out of your winter training time. You’ll enjoy your outdoor rides more, and you’ll be ready to spring to the front of the pack come spring!

2023 Zwift winter training video riding shot

Sometimes it just isn't nice out

Why ride indoors in winter?

There are a number of reasons why indoor training is a great way to build your fitness over winter. Firstly, and most obviously, it’s not weather dependent. Those winter storms can be a real dampener of both your kit and your motivation, so it’s great to be able to commit to an hour on the bike and just know that you’ll be able to get it done. If it’s below zero out and the roads around you are a sheet of ice, you can still get your workout completed without fear of hitting the deck. Assuming you’ve set your turbo up properly! The ability to set yourself a schedule and keep to it is a key part of improving your fitness.

An hour on the turbo may not sound like much if you’re used to long rides outdoors, but remember that indoor training is much more efficient in terms of the work you’ll do. Say you have an hour for lunch and you want to get a ride in. If you’re like me then finding all the right clothes for the conditions, and your bike computer, and checking your bike over, and pumping up the tyres, and all the other faffing that comes with riding outside in the winter can easily eat up a big chunk of that time. Indoors you can sling on some shorts and fire up Zwift in next to no time, leaving you the best part of your hour for your workout. Even if you’ve only got half an hour spare there are loads of workouts in Zwift that will give you a warm up, a solid set of intervals and some time to cool down before your next Zoom meeting. Try Jon’s Short Mix if you don’t think that half an hour is enough for a proper workout!

Jon's Short Mix on Zwift

Jon's Short Mix is a punchy half hour on the trainer

Indoor training can give structure to your time on the bike. There are over three thousand different workouts in Zwift, and if even that isn’t enough you can make your own, exactly how you want them. You can pick workouts to target the areas in your cycling that you want to improve, and with FTP tests along the way you can track your progress. There are also loads of training plans that run from four weeks to a quarter of the year, so if you have a more specific goal in mind than just being quicker – a sportive you want to target, or a cycling holiday you want to be in peak form for – you can pick a plan to deliver you to the start line at the top of your game. You can train in a structured way outside of course, but there are other factors – traffic, junctions, topography – influencing what you can do. On Zwift – and especially if you’re on a smart trainer with ERG mode like the Zwift Hub One – you don’t have to worry about anything except hitting your numbers.

And lastly, remember that just like riding outside, it’s not just about hitting the numbers. Zwift is a community, and you can enjoy riding with your mates like you do outdoors, as well as with thousands of other riders from around the world. You could choose a group ride to all be a part of, and you can set up your own events too: invite your friends to a meetup, or set up a club and get some events on the calendar. On days when the conditions outdoors look a bit sketchy our riding group will often have a Zwift event scheduled as an alternative, and you can message in the game or hop on a voice app like DIscord to chat while you ride.

2023 Gorewear Distance Winter Bib Tights+ - 2

Done your chores on the turbo? Enjoy your time outside!

Indoor vs outdoor: find the perfect balance

One of the great things about putting a shift in on your indoor trainer is that when you do have the opportunity to ride outdoors, you can enjoy it more. Often during the darker months you can be leaving for work as it gets light, and it’s already dark by the time you get home. Sometimes (often, in my case) the motivation to get out for an hour in the cold and dark just isn’t there. So when the weekend rolls around and you have a few hours for a ride outdoors, all you can think about is: this is my last chance to get some training. I’d better make it count! That can turn your only decent ride of the week into a chore. And your ride mates might not thank you either.

Contrast that with this: it comes to the weekend, and you’ve already put in a solid few hours on Zwift, some structured lunchtime and evening sessions, and even the odd pre-work spin just to keep the legs turning over. Suddenly it’s not so critical that you smash the pedals all the way round your Saturday loop: you can just enjoy it, in the knowledge that you’ve done your training for the week. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a go on the hills though! 

Top tips for planning your indoor riding

If you’ve never really trained indoors before, and with thousands of Zwift workouts to choose from, where to start? Here are our top tips for getting the most out of your pain cave:

zwift training plan

Training plans can give structure to your indoor riding

Have a plan and try and stick to it

There are loads of training plans on Zwift and they can be a great place to start, but in the first instance just work out a realistic plan that works for you. There’s no point saying you’ll train every night if other commitments mean you’re going to be out until late. Add the rides to your calendar so you (and the rest of your family) know what to expect from the week.

Think about your targets

What do you want to achieve from training? Just to generally get fitter? To work on your climbing? Your sprinting? You can choose training plans, workouts or other events to specifically target those areas of your outdoor riding you want to improve.

Set a baseline

Zwift workouts are based around percentages of your FTP, or Functional Threshold Power. FTP is an estimate of the power in Watts you could hold for a whole hour, and If you’ve been on Zwift long enough to do some hard group rides or races then Zwift will assign you a zFTP based on your last 90 days of data. If you’re starting from scratch then it’s best to do an FTP test to give yourself a baseline for your sessions. You won’t enjoy it, but it’s definitely worth it. Don’t worry, the test isn’t an hour long!

Zwift FTP Test - 1

An FTP test can help match your workouts to your fitness

Tailor the workout to the slot you have

You can roll out of bed and try and slog through a race or a super-intensive VO2 max interval session, but it’ll likely be horrible. Early mornings are a good time to get some base level miles in, and there’s evidence that a low-intensity ‘fasted’ ride before breakfast can be beneficial in training your body to use fat as an energy source. You can get a decent higher-intensity workout done over lunch, and evenings are good for racing or the really hard interval sessions: you can just hit the sofa afterwards!

Throw in the odd race or Zwift Fondo

There’s no doubt that being in a race brings out the competitive spirit in many of us. Zwift races start hard, and they stay hard! Zwift events like the Tour of Watopia and the various Fondos aren’t exactly races, but with so many people riding it’s usually pretty tasty at the front. And even if you’re not at the front, you’ll inevitably fall in with a group who can push you. You can choose a category based on your current fitness (A is the hardest, D the easiest) so you’re racing against people at a similar level to you.

2023 jamie zwift race tron bike

Have a go at a race or two to stretch yourself

Categories below your current one will be greyed out though, so sandbagging isn’t an option! If you’re going to race, then start with one a week and fit it into a schedule of easier rides and interval sessions. 

Indoors makes the outdoors better!

So, there are plenty of reasons to embrace indoor riding as part of your routine, and that time spent on the turbo will bear fruit when you’re out on the real roads. You can keep your riding consistent over the winter, and even ride with your mates indoors when the outdoors won’t allow it. You can target areas of your cycling you want to improve, and use time-efficient and structured workouts to get stronger. And when you do get outside you’ll enjoy it all the more!

If you’ve not signed up for Zwift yet and you fancy trying it out, then it currently costs £129.99 for a year’s subscription, with a 30-day money back guarantee so there’s no risk in trying it out. That equates to two months for free based on the current monthly subscription cost of £12.99. Head to to set up your account.

Dave is a founding father of, having previously worked on Cycling Plus and What Mountain Bike magazines back in the day. He also writes about e-bikes for our sister publication ebiketips. He's won three mountain bike bog snorkelling World Championships, and races at the back of the third cats.

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