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Make Zwift Sessions More Interesting

Adding indoor trainer sessions can be a great way to boost your bike performance.

Why? There is nowhere to hide.

It’s you, your trainer and the session. No traffic or traffic lights to interrupt intervals.

No need to carefully plan routes to avoid tail winds and downhill sections during your interval set.

If you live in a flat area with few hills you can manipulate your trainer to simulate hills and climbs.

If you own a smart trainer there is no shortage of apps like Zwift, Rouvy, Trainer Road Sufferfest to help pass the time. These apps have really helped athletes during the pandemic replacing races with virtual races.

Add in that most smart trainers have ERG mode that adds resistance to your effort.

You are locked into a fixed resistance. You effectively get a strength session where your legs do all the work. This can be manipulated further by decreasing your cadence to increase torque required for the interval. This allows you to perform strength endurance intervals that should be included in your Ironman training.

You can really use the indoor trainer to your advantage and here are just a couple of examples how to do so:

  • Don’t forget the time of year

  • Focus on weaknesses

  • Nutrition and Hydration

  • Interval training

  • Time Trial position

  • Training Environment & Clothing

  • Make it Social

Don’t forget the time of year

Easy endurance training (Zone 1 & 2) is still a vital part of your training programme. Don’t ignore this important component of training. It is recommended that at this time of year Ironman athletes follow a more polarised approach to training. 80 to 90% of training should be easy with the balance at a harder intensity.

With races canceled virtual racing has been used to fill the void. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of jumping on your trainer and straight into a race every time.

Don’t fall for it. If you plan to race make sure that you included it as part of an overall training strategy. Budget 10 or 20% of your overall training time to factor races in.

Focus on weaknesses

This is a great time to identify weaknesses. Analyse your previous race performances and look to see where you can improve. It’s a great way to perform some controlled testing if you are not sure what those weaknesses are.

Test. don’t guess. Identify what you want to improve then go to work.

If you already have your race booked for next season have a look at the bike course. You can then tailor your training to make sure you are working on the areas that are going to give you a strong bike leg.

You may even be able to ride sections of the course on a 3rd party app.

Is the course flat? Aerodynamics might be really important for this race.

Is it a hilly course? Strength will be a really important factor here.

Nutrition and Hydration

Now is a great time to test on the bike nutrition and hydration. It’s a great opportunity to try new nutrition products especially on longer turbo sessions.

You can also test and trial different electrolyte solutions.

If you want to change it up and try something a little different you could try to estimate your sweat loss. Asker Jeukendrup’s excellent mysportscience article will show you exactly how to do that. But the nuts and bolts are as follows:

  1. Pee before your turbo session and then weigh yourself. Weigh yourself without clothes on

  2. Complete your session and note how much you actually drank i.e one or 2 bottles

    1. You will need to weigh your water bottles pre session

    2. If there is any fluid left weigh the bottle post session

    3. Post session record any difference in weight a-b (1 gram = 1 millilitre)

  3. Post exercise dry yourself off and weigh yourself. Again with no clothes on, as I am sure it was a swaty session

  4. Compare the difference in pre and post session weight (Step 1-Step3)

  5. Calculate the weight of your fluid intake (Step 2c)

  6. Your sweat rate should be as follows

    1. (Step 4 + Step 5)/Time

If you can avoid going to the bathroom during the session, it’s not the end of the world but account for it. Estimate your fluid loss to be an extra 300ml or .3kg. Subtract this at the end.

Interval training

Quality interval training is really where indoor sessions can help you make big gains. If you have a smart trainer you can load pre planned sessions into your app of choice and use ERG mode. This is such an effective way to improve your strength on the bike.

If you test at regular intervals you can really dial in and focus on the specific intervals.

These may include a HIIT session of 30s on, 30s off interval based sessions.

Longer strength endurance intervals with cadence of 70-80 RPM.

Shorter high torque efforts where cadence is dropped to 50-60 RPM.

You can also cycle intervals during your endurance intervals. Work up and down your zone 2 range and also work on cadence here too. For example: 2 mins lower zone 2 90 RPM, 2 mins mid Zone 2 95 RPM, top of Zone 2 100 RPM

You could also introduce a multi-set where you do an interval on the bike and then jump off the bike and onto a treadmill if you have one. Don’t have a treadmill you could incorporate skipping or some core work instead.

Time Trial Position

The turbo trainer is a great way to practice your time trial position. You can get in and out of the TT bars. If you are able to set up in front of a mirror you can also get some good feedback on your position.

You can tweak things too, practice getting a lower head position.

You don’t need to spend the entire time in the TT position but you certainly can use the time to improve it.

Training Environment and Clothing

Turbo sessions can be sweat fests. We don’t get the same cooling effect as we do out on the road. It’s a good idea to have a fan or good ventilation. It can really help performance too if you are racing or doing a tough interval set. Overheating can decrease your performance.

Re clothing bib shorts and t-shirt is usually perfect. Avoid a cotton t-shirt this gets wet and you will get cold during rest efforts or once the session ends. Once your session is finished get change as quickly as you can and get warm again.

A towel to wipe down your brow is also a great idea. Choose one that is a little oversize so it will fit over your handlebars, stem and head tube. Sweat can do serious damage to your headset so to mitigate against some of it a towel can go a long way.

Make it Social

With apps like Zwift there are plenty of group ride options so make it social and join one. I like the group ride options that keep everyone together. This means if you have an interval session or an easy session planned you can do this in the group.

Everyone stays together regardless of your effort.

Add in Zoom or Discord and you have a full fledged group ride experience in your pain cave.

These are just a couple of thighs you can do to make your indoor training more interesting. Have you any suggestions that you would add?

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