Indoor training used to be horrible – you stared at a wall and sweated all over the floor in the hopes of being fit by spring. Even the mentally calloused had a hard time making it past two hours. But that all changed with the advent of Zwift and many other virtual riding platforms. Instead of staring at a wall, you can get lost in a virtual cycling paradise – climbing up into the clouds of Watopia, pedalling around the Worlds course in Yorkshire, and sprinting along the Champs-Élysées.
The entertainment provided by Zwift is great, but the real reason that most of us are here – pedalling a stationary bike – is to get fit. The indoor trainer is perfect for interval workouts because it is simple, efficient, and distraction-free. No need to worry about cars, traffic lights, downhills, or bad weather – just jump on the turbo and knock out those numbers.
But how do you know which Zwift workouts are right for you? Zwift offers a seemingly endless array of workouts – 2,171 to be exact – anything from explosive micro-bursts to soul-sucking tempo slogs. With so many workouts to choose from, it can be easy to be paralyzed by the paradox of choice. Here is a quick guide to Zwift workouts, and how to find which workouts are best for you.
Sweet Spot and threshold intervals to help build up your aerobic engine. Ideal for building overall fitness, and for climbers and time triallists targeting sustained race efforts.
SST (Short) – Sweet Spot Over/Under Intervals (50min)
- Warm-up: 5 minutes building to 85% FTP (Functional Threshold Power)
- Intervals: four sets of 5-minute intervals alternating between 5 minutes “Over” Sweet Spot (96% FTP), and 5 minutes “Under” Sweet Spot (88% FTP); no rest in between sets
- Cooldown: 5 minutes decreasing to 55% FTP
The SST (Short) is a quick and effective Sweet Spot workout that is much more engaging than 2x20-minute efforts. The varying power targets will help keep your mind engaged and your legs guessing. Experiment with cadences at these Sweet Spot intensities for a bonus training effect.
2x20min FTP Intervals (1hr 20min)
- Warm-up: 10 minutes building to 85% FTP
- Intervals: two sets of 20-minute intervals at 100% FTP; 10 minutes rest (50% FTP) in between sets
- Cool-down: 15 minutes degrading to 55% FTP
I know I just bashed 2x20-minute efforts, but here’s the thing: they work. There’s no better way to train for a long, sustained race effort than to do them in training. This classic two-by-twenty workout is as tough mentally as it is physically, but it is the perfect preparation for climbers and time trialists who target long, sustained threshold efforts.
Over Unders (1hr 5min)
- Warm-up: 15 minutes building to 65% FTP, followed by 5min rest (52% FTP)
- Intervals: two sets of five times alternating between 30 seconds “Over” (115% FTP), and 2 minutes “Under” (100% FTP); 10 minutes rest (52% FTP) in between sets
- Cool-down: 10 minutes degrading to 45% FTP
Straight from the 2016 Zwift Academy, this workout is a demanding Threshold Over/Under interval session that targets both your VO2max and FTP training zones. This session is perfect for punchy race preparation – steep climbs, mountain bike racing, or cyclo-cross – when you are required to surge above threshold for short periods of time, and then settle back into a hard but sustained threshold effort.
Race simulation intervals
Lung-busting intervals that simulate the real-world effort of racing and breakaways.
Mat Hayman Paris Roubaix 1 (1hr 20min 30s)
- Warm-up: 5 minutes building to 62% FTP
- Interval Set #1: two sets of 10-second sprints (278% FTP) with one minute recovery (64% FTP)
- Interval Set #2: three minutes at low Tempo (75% FTP), then 20 minutes Tempo (81% FTP); 5 minutes rest (50% FTP)
- Interval Set #3: two sets of six sets of two minutes at Sweet Spot (88% FTP) and 20 seconds at high VO2max (140% FTP), then one minute at Sweet Spot (88% FTP); 5 minutes recovery (50% FTP)
- Cool-down: 10 minutes degrading to 25% FTP
The story of Mat Hayman’s 2016 Paris-Roubaix win is one of the most epic and memorable in the history of professional cycling – often lost in the story is the fact that Hayman trained almost exclusively on Zwift in the weeks preceding the race after breaking his wrist in a crash. Nevertheless, Hayman rode up to twenty hours a week on the indoor trainer and went on to win Paris-Roubaix over Tom Boonen in the final sprint.
This very tough session – it is simulating Paris-Roubaix to be fair! – gives us a little taste of what it’s like to race Paris-Roubaix. Beginning with three sprint efforts, the session then goes into a long tempo effort meant to build up fatigue at just below threshold. Next is two sets of Sweetspot efforts punctuated by VO2max surges every two minutes. If you can make it to the end of the session, I recommend throwing in one more sprint effort as if you’re rounding the final corner of the Roubaix Velodrome.
The Famous 40/20's (1hr)
- Warm-up: 10 minutes building to 73% FTP
- Interval Set #1: two sets of 12x one-minute efforts consisting of 40 seconds at VO2max (120% FTP) followed by 20 seconds recovery (55% FTP); 5 minutes rest (66% FTP) after each set
- Interval Set #2: one set of 6x one-minute efforts consisting of 40 seconds at VO2max (120% FTP) followed by 20 seconds recovery (55% FTP)
- Cool-down: 10 minutes degrading to 25% FTP
A classic high-intensity interval workout, straight from the training plans of Tour de France pros and into your pain cave. Be ready to hit this workout full gas – this session requires you to spend lots of time pedalling at your VO2max power, with just enough rest between each interval that your heart rate should level out to 90-95% of your max heart rate. Pros use this interval session in the final stages of race preparation, preferably on a climb to simulate the conditions of racing and following 500w attacks.
Strength and explosive power
Intervals to help build both leg strength and speed.
Session 3: Low Cadence Zone 3 Steps (1hr 28min)
- Warm-up: 10 minutes building to 65% FTP
- Intervals: five pyramiding sets (8/10/12/10/8 minutes) of low cadence (50-65rpm) Tempo (88% FTP) intervals, each effort 4 minutes recovery (52% FTP)
- Cool-down: 10 minutes degrading to 45% FTP
Another one from the 2016 Zwift Academy, this session targets the neuromuscular system and increased muscle recruitment using low cadence Tempo efforts. Focus on keeping a strong and smooth pedal stroke during the Tempo intervals to maximise performance benefits and increase overall pedalling efficiency.
Phosphate Sprints (45min)
- Warm-up: 9 minutes building to 83% FTP followed by 3 minutes recovery (55% FTP)
- Interval Set #1: five minutes at Sweet Spot (93% FTP) and low cadence (70rpm) followed by 6 minutes recovery (55% FTP)
- Interval Set #2: two sets of five, 10-second accelerations (200% FTP) followed by of 50 seconds recovery (55% FTP); 7 minutes recovery (55% FTP) in between sets
- Cool-down: 5 minutes at 55% FTP
A quick session from the 2019 Zwift Academy, Phosphate Sprints can be a great pre-race ride, or a sprint interval session. The sub-threshold effort and quick accelerations prime the body for a bigger effort coming soon, but you can also make this into a sprint workout by hitting the 10-second accelerations a little bit harder (250-350% FTP). This session is less about peak power than it is about repeatability – the ability to recover quickly and accelerate at the same 10-second power five times in just five minutes, similar to a punchy race effort, such as sprinting out of corners in a tight criterium.
- Warm-up: 5 minutes Free Ride
- Ramp Test: 1 minute at 100% FTP, increasing by +20% FTP on the minute until failure
- Cool-down: 10 minutes degrading to 75% FTP
While not exactly a “workout”, the Zwift Ramp test is the perfect avenue for testing, and re-testing, your aerobic fitness which is measured by FTP. This is a very tough session that will push you all the way to failure – so be prepared to suffer! But don’t worry, the suffering only lasts a few minutes. Push as hard as you can for as long as you can, and when you can’t push any longer, Zwift will pop your new FTP right up on the screen.
This version of the Ramp Test is meant for experienced riders, and may last only 5-20 minutes. Less experienced riders, who perhaps have never done a ramp test before, can try the Ramp Test Lite, which begins with 1 minute at 50% FTP, and increase by +10% FTP on the minute until failure.
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Zach is a freelance writer, the head of ZNehr Coaching, and an elite-level rider in road, track, and Zwift racing. He writes about everything cycling-related, from product reviews and advertorials, to feature articles and power analyses. After earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Exercise Science at Marian University-Indianapolis, Zach discovered a passion for writing that soon turned into a full-fledged career. In between articles, Zach spends his time working with endurance athletes of all abilities and ages at ZNehr Coaching. After entering the sport at age 17, Zach went on to have a wonderful road racing career that included winning the 2017 Collegiate National Time Trial Championships and a 9th place finish at the 2019 US Pro National Time Trial Championships.
Nowadays, Zach spends most of his ride time indoors, competing on RGT Cycling and racing in the Zwift Premier League with NeXT eSport.
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