Estimating Your Time for a Zwift Route
Best Bike Split website is an excellent resource to estimate the time it will take you to complete either an in real life or a Zwift route. The time estimate is based on your profile settings for weight, FTP and max HR. You can select from their library of IRL rides, Zwift routes, or upload your own GPX route file. Basic functionality is free, more advanced options requires a premium membership.
Select here to estimate your time for a Zwift Route.
Heart Rate Zones Explained
The Ride Report at the end of your Zwift ride includes a summary of your HR. The results use a standard HR zone color coding and are scaled based on your specific max HR. Understanding HR and power zones makes your training more effective and manages your effort during a ride.
Blue ---Zone 1
Green ---Zone 2
Yellow ---Zone 3
Orange ---Zone 4
Red ---Zone 5
Heart Rate Zone Efforts
The higher the zone, the less time you will be able to sustain that effort. Zone 2 Green is the level at which you can easily hold a conversation and maintain that effort 'indefinitely'. On the other hand, zone 5 Red can be maintained for only a few minutes. At zone 5, the lactic acid chemical buildup in your legs is transferred into your bloodstream and the brain uses this to send pain signals to back off the effort. In zone 5 you produce more lactic acid than your liver and kidneys can process, hence it is not sustainable. Sprinting or an aggressive climbing effort can take you into Zone 5.
With training, especially interval training, you can increase your lactic acid threshold (this used to be referred to as your anaerobic threshold) and stay longer in HR zones 3-5.
|Percentage of HRmax
Zwift calculates HR zones for you based on the maximum HR set in your Profile. Select here for a HR zone calculator that's based on your resting and max HR.
The more accepted way now is to train by power versus HR zones. If you're using Zwift with a smart trainer you'll get accurate power data. Your current power in watts is displayed on the upper left (watts) and on the leader board on the right (watts/kg). The color coded graph at the bottom shows the power history for your current ride.
These fall into 2 broad categories based on the input used to detect heart beat:
Uses infrared light to detect expansion and contraction of your arteries. They are worn on the upper arm and are very reliable. Polar OH1 is excellent, costing about $50.
Uses a sensor that measures changes in electrical current on the surface of the skin adjacent to the heart. They are worn around the chest. Sometimes they can be a little temperamental, influenced by sweat (salt changes conductivity). A Garmin HR monitor costs about $70
Measuring Power vs HR
Power is a better measurement of your effort than HR. Your heart rate is the indirect reaction to your muscles and cardio systems doing work. It lags behind the increases and decreases in your effort. For example as you start a climb, it takes several seconds before your heart rate increases to pump more blood and hence oxygen to your muscles. Similarly, when your effort typically reduces on the decent, it takes several seconds for your heart rate to reduce.
Conversely, power (watts) does not lag since it is the measurement of your direct action (force) at the pedals/crank. Measuring power is considerably more expensive than HR, costing upwards of $600 for power pedals or a power measuring crank. If you have multiple bikes, swapping a power measurement device isn't as convenient as compared to doing nothing if you use a HR monitor.
Workout Training Plans
Included with your Zwift subscription are Workout Training Plans. Designed by coaches, they are a great way to get back to fitness or to increase your fitness/performance.
Start Zwift, select WORKOUT ANYTIME, scroll all the way to the right, select Training Plans then pick your Plan.
Improving Your Riding Form for More Power
Zwift is a great way to check and improve your riding form and even break some bad habits. These changes will benefit your outdoor rides too.
When you're riding on the road, you can't easily determine how changes in riding style affect your performance. By watching your power in Zwift you can see in real time how a form change impacts it. In simple terms, the power your leg muscles generate is what allows you to counteract those annoying retarding forces that want to keep you at rest, hills, friction in your drive train, road/tire friction and moving you and your bike through the air (aerodynamic drag). Producing more power translates to higher speed. The power you are generating (in watts) is shown in the top left of your Zwift display. Your power fluctuates a lot compared say to your heart rate or cadence. Zwift shows your power continuously averaged over a 3 second period to smooth it out.
Riding miles, lifting weights, good nutrition and cardio efficiency can all improve the power of your 'engine' to generate more watts to get you up hills and ride longer/faster. Improving your form is an easy way to improve your power output.
Try these simple things next time you're Zwifting:
Pedal Circles. How many times have you heard this! You achieve it by putting more emphasis on pulling up on the pedals to distribute the load more evenly between your quads and hamstring/calf muscles. In Zwift, when you're on a flat section or going up a steady gradient, emphasize pulling up on the pedals and watch your power increase, this in turn will increase your cadence and hence speed. Saving your quads can also help improve endurance by enabling your other leg muscles to contribute more.
Position on the Seat. This can help you get to the top of a hill in less time! In general terms, you can move forward and backward by an inch or so on the seat to give your quad/hamstring muscles a break by using more of your glute muscles. Next time you're grimacing your way up a long Zwift climb, watch what happens to your power as you slide back and make your glutes do more work.
Cadence (RPM). Some smart trainers measure this directly. If yours doesn't, you'll need a separate cadence device attached to your crank arm (about $30). For most of us, our best efficiency is 80 RPM. Sure, there's debate about higher versus lower for highly trained pro riders versus the average amateur rider. If you're spinning at less than 80 RPM, check if your power increases as you up your cadence (hint, it likely will!). Yes, your heart rate will increase with cadence but heart muscle recovers faster than leg muscle. In Zwift, if you're avatar is out of the seat when climbing, there's a good chance your grinding in too big a gear!
Upper Body Angle. On a flat road section, experiment with changing the angle of your back or moving from the hoods to the drops and see what it does to your power. Riding with your upper body more horizontal changes your hip angle which in turn increases the engagement of your glutes resulting in more power. In real life, there's a significant aerodynamic advantage to being more horizontal that unfortunately you don't generally get on Zwift. The exception being if you're riding on a Zwift time trial bike.
Shoulder Position. You should ride with your shoulders lowered versus up around your ears! If your forearm is locked at the elbow, then your shoulders will be elevated. Locked arms and elevated shoulders are a common source of neck and back pain during and after a ride. Check your shoulder position often when Zwifting to get in the habit of keeping them down.
Lastly, don't underestimate the power of distraction. Listening to your favorite music while Zwifting hard can help you dig deeper. A big smile when you're deep in the red can also keep those watts coming.
Going up any hill is mostly about your power/weight ratio (w/kg). Riding, weight training, good nutrition and sleep recovery all help increase power. Weight, well we all know about that one... Make sure your weight is accurate in Zwift Settings so it feels closer to real life !
There aren't many tricks to make combating gravity easier. Make sure to keep those feather power ups for steep grades where you have a chance to catch that group in front. This power up will reduce your weight by 10% for 15 seconds. Another trick, just like riding outdoors is to get some speed on a preceding downhill or flat and Zwift will effectively give you virtual momentum to help launch you up the hill.
Going downhill, you'll want to ride in a group. Just as in real life, the Zwift peloton affect will give you at least 25% aerodynamic drag reduction which translates to higher speed and finishing sooner.