by Alan Dempsey
The immersive riding environments of Zwift have vastly improved the indoor cycling experience for thousands of riders across the globe. Zwift provides the platform and tools to really maximize your winter training so that you hit the pavement in spring in top-notch form. Group rides, races, workout mode—these are all excellent resources you can use in a Zwift winter-training plan to improve your fitness on the bike. But how do you put it all together in a way that is effective and useful? We had the coaches at humanpowerperformance.com put together a four-week training program that will help improve your FTP, put a little more snap in your legs and improve your endurance over the winter.
Before you get started with the Zwift winter-training plan, let’s sort out of the details. We’ve provided .zwo files that you can easily download and import into Zwift to use with the program’s workout mode. To learn how to do this, check out ZwiftInsider’s handy guide.
If you have a trainer with an erg mode, which sets resistance for you, that’s great. All you need to do is turn the pedals and your trainer will handle the resistance changes. No erg mode? No problem. But you’ll need to use your gearing to increase or decrease effort to match the power targets in workout mode.
Zone-based power training requires you to know one very important metric: functional threshold power (FTP). This baseline metric is how zones are built and how Zwift knows what specific power you need to be at for various types of efforts. Zwift’s workout mode features a standard FTP test that you can perform to determine and set your FTP within Zwift. If you don’t know your FTP or haven’t done an FTP test in the past three months, you will need to do this before you start your training plan. It’s not an easy test, so make sure you’re well rested, well hydrated, and properly fuelled.
For this program we’ll be using the zones as defined by the legendary Andy Coggan. To read more about the zones check out this great article by Dr. Coggan.
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Zwift winter-training plan outline
Cycling is an endurance sport and as such the fundamental purpose of training is improving your aerobic function. You do this by taxing your aerobic system with a variety of workouts at specific intensities. But that isn’t the only aspect of cycling fitness. You need to be able to go hard, to surge, to attack and to sprint for those town signs. This four-week plan incorporates elements of classic base training: long low-intensity rides. But it also makes sure that you are spending enough time developing your anaerobic fitness so that you can nail those short, hard segments and crush those punchy climbs.
We start the four-week cycle with focus on endurance and tempo riding and gradually reduce your volume while increasing intensity before giving you a week of rest to recover. You can repeat this four-week cycle as many times as you’d like throughout the winter making sure to re-test your FTP at the end of each cycle.
Zwift winter-training plan: Week 1
Approx. TSS: 330
This week we kick off with some shorter tempo and endurance workouts. High-intensity efforts are limited to a Zwift race on Wednesday.
Monday – Rest
Monday is going to be a rest day. Take a day off, or ride easy in Zone 1 for a maximum of 40 minutes. Rest days are a good time to spend 25 to 30 minutes doing some core-strength work off the bike. Planks, side planks, crunches, mountain climbers, bicycle crunches and leg raises are all great movements that will help strengthen and develop your core. Don’t be afraid of doing some push-ups! We won’t tell if you don’t.
Tuesday – Tempo Build
Time: 73 minutes
Tempo (Zone 3) is the bread and butter of improving aerobic fitness and raising your FTP. We’ll spend a lot of time working in this zone. (Download the Week 1 Tempo Build .zwo file here.)
Wednesday – Zwift Race using the Zwift Event module
Time: Approximately 40-60 minutes
Use the Zwift Event module to pick a race that is approximately 40 to 60 minutes in length. Warm up with 20 minutes of easy riding that incorporates two to three hard efforts lasting no more than one to two minutes. Cool down afterwards with 10 to 20 minutes of easy spinning.
While it’s important to focus on endurance and getting those low-intensity base miles in, we want to make sure we’re taxing our anaerobic systems and occasionally putting in hard efforts so we don’t forget how to suffer.
Thursday – Rolling Tempo
Time: 68 minutes
This workout is a little harder than the first workout. Your legs might be feeling a little tired from the race the day before. At a little over an hour this workout takes on a rollercoaster of efforts through the top of Zone 2 to the top of Zone 3. Tough this one and you get a rest day tomorrow. (Download the Week 1 Rolling Tempo .zwo file here.)
Friday – Rest Day
Rest Day! No workouts. Try to avoid any physical activity today. Rest as much as you can.
Saturday – Rolling Endurance
Time: 60 minutes
You put in some hard work already this week but today is all about those low-intensity endurance miles: a one-hour ride taking in mostly Zone 2 with short efforts in the upper ranges to keep you focused and engaged. (Download the Week 1 Rolling Endurance .zwo file here.)
Sunday – Free Ride Zwift
Time: 90 minutes
For this workout, do a free ride within Zwift for 90 minutes. Whatever course is available on this day (Richmond, Watopia or London), pick a hilly route (but not the Epic KOM or Volcano climb) and ride a steady endurance pace targeting the full range of Zone 2.
Congratulations. You’ve done Week 1. Next, check out Week 2.