Dayton Kelly

If you love to cycle, there is no doubt you have found yourself on a cycle ergometer at some point, grinding away, stripped of the joys of riding outdoors.

Rainy days, cold winters, or the simple lack of riding spaces leave the serious rider and beginner alike wishing themselves off of the monotonous indoor trainer. An emerging company named Zwift wants to solve this problem.

What is Zwift?

Zwift Cycling: an indoor virtual cycling experience

Zwift is an online gaming environment to which cyclists can sync their indoor trainers or heart monitors and ride along virtual routes as a personalized avatar.

Compatibility with trainers and heart rate monitors means cyclists are not just watching virtual terrain go by; they are actively cycling at speeds corresponding to their generated watts or heart rate. Better yet, Zwift is designed to be a social platform where riders bike alongside other Zwift users from around the globe. Users can race, talk, and text while riding, making the overall experience one you can share with your friends.

Each day, Zwift offers one of three routes (more are promised to come!) that can be ridden with friends or strangers met on the platform. The company boasts that joining new riding groups can be a great way to meet new people and build friendships around the globe.

What riding options do I have?

Zwift Cycling: an indoor virtual cycling experience

While the casual cyclist may be satisfied with Zwift’s 3D routes and chatting with friends, the more serious cyclist will be excited to learn that Zwift offers both online workout programs and races in which you can compete for prizes.

Workouts can be selected from pre-generated lists and ridden in groups. Wattage, rpm, speed, time, distance, and heart rate are plotted on screen and can be recorded to track your progress over time.

While speed is already adjusted for body weight within the game, it can also be altered such that your avatar’s speed corresponds to your watts as a function of your max watts. Performing workouts or rides in this way allows for riders of different speeds to ride alongside each other while staying within the same target heart rate zone.

While the casual cyclist may be satisfied with Zwift’s 3D routes and chatting with friends, the more serious cyclist will be excited to learn that Zwift offers both online workout programs and races in which you can compete for prizes.

When you are feeling fit enough, Zwift offers races which anyone can join and compete in. Races are categorized by ability so that you can find a race that fits your level of fitness and allows you to succeed.

By competing in and winning races, you can climb Zwift’s leaderboards, level up your avatar, and unlock new riding gear to show off in the online community.

Related Article: An Alternative Approach to Sports Injuries

How do I get started?

To join the online Zwift community, you need first and foremost a Zwift membership. Memberships have recently risen to $15/month, but their policy allowing subscribers to quit at anytime means you could ride an entire winter season online for only $60 (USD). You’ll also

Next, you’ll need a screen (the bigger the better!) to watch the scenery while you ride, and a device (which may also be your screen) to download the Zwift app. The app is currently compatible with Android, Apple, and Windows devices allowing you to play on your smart phone, tablet, laptop, or smart TV alike.

Playing on a regular TV or projector will mean connecting your laptop or other device using a HDMI cord or similar connecting cable. To interact with your avatar and measure your speed you have a couple of options:.

If you wish to stick to a regular trainer or cycle ergometer, watt output can be estimated using a speed sensor/power meter. However, users report that the more realistic the smart trainer feels – such as the resistance changing with the terrain – the more enjoyable it is (hills can feel like the real thing!)

Finally, to connect your heart rate monitor/trainer/ergometer, you will need an ANT+ dongle that connects into the USB port of your Zwift streaming device. These are included when buying trainers from Zwift but can also be bought separately. Once you’ve gathered these things, you are ready to go!

What is great about Zwift?

 

  • Zwift’s virtual reality exercise is perceived as more fun and enjoyable than traditional indoor exercise

 

  • Zwift provides an instantaneous reward profile compared to that of regular training in which exercisers only see improvements in fitness over long periods

 

 

 

 

Research shows that virtual reality exercise is perceived as more fun and enjoyable than traditional indoor exercise (Bryanton, et al., 2006; Howard, 2017). By providing in-game incentives through leveling up avatars and unlocking gear, Zwift provides a more instantaneous reward profile than regular training in which exercisers only see improvements in fitness over long periods. Further, Zwift connects people; working out in groups can confer benefits to mental health over and above exercise alone (Kanamori, et al., 2016; Yorks, Frothingham, & Schuenke, 2017). For these reasons, Zwift can provide you a more enjoyable training experience that helps you stay committed to your training regimen.

Are there alternatives?

Definitely! While Zwift is a leading provider, numerous other companies such as Kinomaps, Tacx , and Sufferfest offer similar experiences for cyclists. Cycling through real recorded footage rather than virtual environments is also offered by the previously mentioned companies and others.

If cycling is not your thing, Zwift also offers an alternative for runners that works similarly. Shop around before deciding on the virtual experience that is right for you.

Recap

If you live in an area where the weather is constantly affecting your rides, consider investing in Zwift. After all, it is the next best thing to cycling outdoors. Happy training!

Related Article: Cycling Desks: Good for Your Body & Your Brain

 

References

Bryanton, C., Bosse, J., Brien, M., Mclean, J., McCormick, A., & Sveistrup, H. (2006). Feasibility, motivation, and selective motor control: Virtual reality compared to conventional home exercise in children with cerebral palsy. Cyberpsychology & behavior, 9(2), 123-128. doi:10.1089/cpb.2006.9.123.

Howard, M. C. (2017). A meta-analysis and systematic literature review of virtual reality rehabilitation programs. Computers in Human Behavior, 70, 317-327. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2017.01.013.

Kanamori, S., Takamiya, T., Inoue, S., Kai, Y., Kawachi, I., & Kondo, K. (2016). Exercising alone versus with others and associations with subjective health status in older Japanese: The JAGES cohort study. Scientific reports, 6, 39151. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/srep39151.

Yorks, D. M., Frothingham, C. A., & Schuenke, M. D. (2017). Effects of Group Fitness Classes on Stress and Quality of Life of Medical Students. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 117(11), e17-e25. doi:10.7556/jaoa.2017.140.

Images: https://zwift.com/media-kit/