Experts Reveal the Best Zwift Workouts to Hit All Your Ride Goals

a person doing a workout on zwift
The Best Zwift WorkoutsTrevor Raab

There’s nothing wrong with focusing on building strength or other forms of cross training in the off-season—but if you want to keep (or potentially improve) your cycling fitness without losing your mind on trainer rides to nowhere, Zwift might just be your best friend.

“It’s excellent for the time-crunched athlete who has a job, a family, or both, or who lives in a busy or cold area where it’s hard to ride outside,” says Theia Friestedt, owner of 360 VELO Coaching and the 2024 USA Cycling E-sports age group national champion. Plus, for many cyclists, it provides a strong, motivating community, she says.

Whether you’re a long-time Zwift devotee or a Zwift newbie, the plethora of options offered within the platform can feel staggering. Between the multiple worlds, all the routes and rides available within those worlds, races, and structured workouts, you could easily spend a significant chunk of your workout time just figuring out where to begin.

And while access to a mind-boggling selection of engaging trainer rides is a great problem to have, that doesn’t make it any less overwhelming. To help simplify things, we asked experts which workouts they recommend, what they love about them, and what you need to know about each one before you hop on the saddle.

8 Zwift Workouts to Try Today

1. 24/7 Group Rides (1.0 to 1.5 W/kg)

Do this ride if… You need an active recovery workout but you have trouble keeping the intensity light enough.

Duration: As long or short as you want

Intensity: 1/5

What to know before you try it: There are several group rides you can join anytime you want. And while your typical outdoor group ride might serve as your weekly sufferfest, a Zwift group ride labeled as 1.0 to 1.5 W/kg can be the perfect way to get in an easy recovery ride.

“If you’re like a lot of people, you know you need to do a zone 1 ride but you’re not good at actually staying in zone 1, so this is a great option,” says USA Cycling certified coach Joe Dailey, who serves as head coach at Be Better Coaching. To make it even easier to maintain an easy pace, Dailey suggests finding a robopacer (a Zwift bot that rides at a consistent pace) to ride alongside or to draft behind.

Dailey also recommends checking to see how many riders are currently on the ride and how many feet of elevation the course includes before you join a ride. The more elevation, the harder it will be to keep the effort easy, and the more riders there are, the easier it will be. In other words, go low elevation and high participation.

2. Cadence Pyramid

Do this ride if… You need an easy spin after a hard ride or any day you need an easy ride and want to avoid boredom, or if you want to get more comfortable riding at different cadences.

Duration: 45 minutes

Intensity: 1/5

What to know before you try it: While the effort level stays minimal, ranging from zone 1 to zone 2, the cadence is constantly varying as you go from high to low rpms and low to high rpms. Featuring one- to two-minute segments and ranging from 60 to 100 rpm, this workout flies by fast, says Rob Pickels, a USA Cycling-certified coach, exercise physiologist, and consultant with Forever Endurance.

“I’m personally drawn to workouts with shorter intervals because I love looking for that next milestone. If that next milestone is 10 minutes down the road, it feels like it’s forever away. When it’s just 30 seconds or a minute away, life is grand,” says Pickels.

While it can be tempting to go hard every time you get on your trainer, that would be a mistake. After a hard effort, “we need easier workouts to give our bodies a chance to adapt to the stress,” otherwise we risk overtraining, plus our legs tend to feel fresher after a recovery workout, says Pickels.

Practicing different cadences can also improve your pedal stroke, boost efficiency, and help you out when it’s time to tackle the outdoors again.

3. Get it Done

Do this ride if... You want an endurance ride that focuses on your aerobic fitness, not your mental fortitude.

Duration: 60 minutes

Intensity: 2/5

What to know before you try it: Get it Done offers three 12-minute blocks of “tempo endurance,” which include alternating one-minute zone 3 segments followed by two-minute zone 2 segments. The short, frequent intervals will keep you engaged. Plus, they do a decent job of simulating outdoor riding, which rarely, if ever, lets you maintain a steady wattage for a significant period of time, says Pickels.

Don’t worry too much about going into this ride rested or well nourished, suggests Pickels. There’s a time and a place for optimizing for a successful workout, and an endurance ride isn’t it. “A lot of people try to be ‘too good’ all the time,’” says Pickels, which can create unnecessary stress that makes training unsustainable over the long-term.

4. Neuromuscular Power #1

Do this ride if... You want to boost your endurance but don’t have the time for a long, slow distance workout.

Duration: 60 to 80 minutes

Intensity: 3/5

What to know before you try it: “A very long endurance ride is not always practical, plus it’s [mentally] very hard to do on an indoor trainer,” says Friestedt. This workout, which features three-minute zone 3 intervals punctuated by 10-second, zone 6 surges, is an effective workout for the time-crunched cyclist.

Not only do all the surges (15 in total) break up the monotony of what would otherwise be 45 minutes of riding at tempo pace, it also simulates outdoor riding, which often includes undulating efforts and quick bursts of power needed to follow an attack or crest a short hill. Additionally, the short sprints are intense enough to give your body the chance to make important adaptations while being short enough to keep you from getting injured, says Friestadt.

Friestedt suggests extending the warmup by 10 minutes (do this by picking a flat route in any world and riding around for 10 minutes, then start the workout), and if you’re a new rider, break the workout up a bit by cutting the main block into four segments. That means that after every fourth round of three minutes in zone 3 followed by 10 seconds in zone 6, spin easy until you feel recovered enough to come back to the workout. (Modify the workout before you start riding.)

If you’re used to doing workouts on back-to-back days, you should be able to do this workout at any point in your training cycle. Otherwise, Freistedt suggests going into this workout with fresh legs. In any case, make sure you’re well fueled before the ride and that you have access to calories during the workout.

5. Nino Schurter Punchy Climbs

Do this ride if... You’re training for a course with frequent short, steep hills, or you just want a quality workout with lots of variety.

Duration: 40 minutes

Intensity: 3/5

What to know before you try it: Get ready for intense intervals made up of six minutes in zone 4, interspersed with 30-second zone 6 bursts every two minutes. You’ll do this cycle three times, with three minutes of zone 1 recovery between rounds.

While this workout was designed to help you tackle the punchy climbs, it can be great for a non-coached athlete who doesn’t have specific training goals, just because it’s short and offers so much variety, says Dailey.

Mainly, this workout is an excellent way to practice staying strong and focused until you reach the summit of every climb. “When you see the top of the hill, you tend to ease off, but this workout forces you not to do that,” says Dailey. And once that becomes a habit, hills can be your secret weapon. “By helping you surge forward when everyone else lets up, if you were toward the back of the pack, now you’re toward the front,” says Dailey.

Don’t be fooled by this workout’s short duration; it’s intense enough to warrant some pre-workout carbs, and a drink with some calories and electrolytes to get you through the final intervals, says Dailey.

6. Tabata Time

Do this workout if... You want a short workout that will boost your lactate threshold.

Duration: 40 to 50 minutes

Intensity: 3/5

What to know before you try it: A classic Tabata-style workout, this session presents four sets of eight 20-second, zone 6 efforts followed by a quick 10-second recovery, with each set followed by two minutes of easy riding.

“Depending on the type of rider you are, this may feel very difficult,” says Freistedt. “If you’re an explosive rider with a lot of type I muscle fibers, you’re going to love it. I race crits and cyclocross and I personally find it energizing. But if you’re more of a time trialist, all-arounder, or climber, this is going to feel very demanding and fatiguing.”

While Tabata Time is an excellent quality workout for a newbie, if you’re just starting to do structured workouts for the first time, you may want to extend the recovery time between rounds from two minutes to four minutes, says Freistedt. (Again, do this before you start.)

If you decide to do this workout, Freistedt recommends preceding it with an easy 10-minute warmup. And while she encourages cyclists make sure they have some carbs in their system beforehand, it’s not an absolute must.

7. Norseman Workout: Geilo

Do this ride if... You want to keep your skills sharp throughout the winter so you can come back in the spring fit and ready to ride.

Duration: 63 to 73 minutes

Intensity: 3/5

What to know before you try it: This challenging workout engages every single energy system—much like riding outdoors. The Norseman consists of four ten-minute, 30 second efforts. Although each 10.5-minute round is identical, the intensity varies within the round, getting increasingly harder as you approach the end of the 10.5-minute mark.

Starting with four minutes in zone 2, next you ride for three minutes in zone 3, followed by two minutes in zone 4, one minute in zone 5, 30 seconds in zone 6, and then immediately go into the next round, starting with four minutes in zone 2.

Freistedt loves this workout because it does an excellent job of “incorporating all your zones and is a great way to simulate outdoor riding, where you’re constantly having to put it all together.”

For all riders, she suggests adding a 10-minute warmup and consuming carbs both before and during the workout. Where you’d slot this into your week depends on your background and your goals, but most riders will benefit from sandwiching this ride between a couple of easy training sessions.

8. Lox

Do this ride if... You want to develop your VO2 max and you’re mentally and physically ready to work hard.

Duration: 60 minutes

Intensity: 4/5

What to know before you try it: Featuring five three-minute intervals in zone 5 separated by three minutes of recovery, this is an excellent ride for anyone who wants to improve their VO2 max, particularly those who are new to training in this zone, says Pickels.

“You might actually want these intervals to be longer than three minutes. Depending on the rider, you could conceivably hold this intensity for up to eight minutes. That said, it’s a great intro for anyone who is new to training or who is coming back after a break,” says Pickels.

Regardless of your fitness level, plan to come into this workout rested. In other words, save this workout for another day if you’re tired from the prior day’s workout or got poor sleep, are underfueled, or you’re dealing with major life stress.

“If you’re coming in with highly fatigued legs, you will not be able to do the work you need to do to breathe all the oxygen that you have to breathe,” says Pickels. “These workouts are not about suffering. VO2 max workouts are, one, about doing a lot of work, and two, about moving a lot of oxygen. And your body needs to be primed and ready for that.”

For any workout of this duration (an hour or more) and intensity, it’s also important to make sure you’ve had a carb-rich preworkout snack or meal beforehand. You’ll also want to keep a drink with some calories and electrolytes handy during your ride.

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