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Zwift racing vs Base Building: Which is the best way to build fitness over winter? – Cycling Weekly

Posted: February 14, 2021 at 4:52 pm


The virtual world of Zwift has offered a much-needed outlet to cyclists stuck in their homes during this years lockdowns. It has filled the gap, providing opportunities to ride, train and race with others around the world. Provided you have a turbo-trainer, all you need to do is sign up to the service, log in and select your event. Whereas the vast majority of real-life races have been cancelled, the action on Zwift never ceases easily fitted into your schedule. Hardly surprising, then, that this form of cycling has provided the impetus to stay fit. But, given the high intensity of most Zwift races, are we inadvertently pushing too hard when we should be backing off and building a base?

Unlike real-life racing, Zwift competition happens throughout the day and year, with no pre-defined seasons or built-in precautions to stop you burning out. How much Zwifting can you get away with without taking liberties with your fitness and overdoing it? In short, is it really OK to race all year round? We asked a selection of training experts including Zwift specialist pro racer Ashleigh Moolman Pasio for their guidance.

As with all the best practices, planning ahead rather than deciding what to do on the spur of the moment ensures you get the best possible outcomes. If you dont decide what youre going to do until you turn on Zwift, youre more likely to choose an unsuitable event. Youre better off saving your racing legs for when they can do the most damage to your competitors, while preserving your long-term form.

Pick one race series at a time and stick to your decision. Look at the racing calendar and see which race series suits you best. Plan a rest or base period between that and the next Zwift series you do. How much racing you can do without burning out, or even just getting stale and plateauing rather than improving, really depends on your pedigree as a cyclist and how fit you are. How much racing would you typically do in real life? If youve never done a season of racing before and are relatively new to cycling, doing multiple Zwift races each week is quickly going to tire you out and be counter-productive. If youre a seasoned racer, youll know how to spot the signs of dwindling form turning into stale legs.

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Perhaps more important when it comes to a long winter of Zwifting, is maintaining your mental form. Keep yourself motivated for racing by limiting the amount you do each week, and build in rest weeks. Plan for harder blocks of racing, knowing youll have a well-deserved rest period afterwards.

Zwift group rides tend to turn into races, but that doesnt mean you have to go with the lead pack. These events are a great way to motivate yourself to do longer rides on the turbo, but should be used as endurance rides, not junk miles. Have a pre-planned average power or heart rate, or a threshold heart rate you wont go over, and stick to it. A group will form further back from the leaders; that may be the best one to ride with. There are, quite literally, no medals for winning the group ride.

As with racing outdoors, you need to listen to your body. If youre really not feeling it, dont race. A huge advantage of Zwift is there will always be another race to do. Delaying racing by a few days could be the difference between going stale and still feeling sprightly in a month or threes time.

Key signs of burnout? You just dont feel like racing. You cant hold the power you should be able to based on your current threshold. Youre getting worse, not better. Initially you may need a few days off. If you keep going despite the early warning signs, things could get serious. If you feel your sleep quality is getting worse, you dont feel refreshed when you wake in the morning and getting on the bike is more of a drag than a desire, its time for some time off.

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You might feel like racing is keeping you fit, but base training still has its place. Next summer, we may be allowed to race outside again, and if that is the case, you dont want to have missed out on those winter miles. Zwift races tend to be short and intense meaning youre missing out on the physiological benefits of base training. Do some long, steady miles outside over the winter and reap the rewards come spring. Plan now for a period where you wont race on Zwift at all, and instead will focus on long, endurance-pace miles.

Having said that, you could swap in some Zwift races to replace high-intensity interval sessions, i.e. if youre more motivated by racing than a pure training session. Just make sure youre replacing like with like the intensity, and total duration of that intensity, should match.

The good news is, Zwift racing can certainly improve your overall fitness and, provided you dont let your outdoor skills grow too rusty, that fitness will transfer seamlessly to the real world at least in certain types of racing. But just like in the real world, youll only get fitter if youre intentional with your time on Zwift and it forms part of a holistic plan. Schedule races thoughtfully, stick to your goals for each event, and enjoy the benefits once spring arrives. Ride on!

This featureoriginally appeared in the print edition of Cycling Weekly,on sale in newsagents and supermarkets, priced 3.25.

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Zwift racing vs Base Building: Which is the best way to build fitness over winter? - Cycling Weekly

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