If you’re new to cycling in the virtual world of Zwift, you might be understandably bewildered by the difference between a Group Ride, Group Workout, Meet-Up or Race. Hopefully this article will help to banish some of that confusion.
Along with installing Zwift onto your main device you’ll be running it on, you should also install the Companion App on your phone or tablet. This will let you find and sign-up for events, interact in-game and follow other Zwifters.
FTP (Functional Threshold Power) is your sustainable power – theoretically for an hour. Knowing it is essential for Workouts (see below) on Zwift and for knowing what rider category you’re in for Group Rides and Races. If you don’t know it, you can test it in Workouts (see below).
The key metric to understand on Zwift is w/kg. This is simply the watts you’re putting out divided by your weight. This is shown in the right hand side in-game and is the biggest factor in determining your avatar’s speed.
For Group Rides and Races, Zwift usually categorises based on your FTP w/kg. For me, my FTP is 350W and my weight is 80kg so my FTP w/kg is 4.4 w/kg.
Don’t fib about your weight or enter a weight you’d like to be, you’re only cheating yourself.
Once you’ve logged in and all your sensors are paired, if you just hit Ride, your avatar will be automatically spawned onto the roadside of whatever Guest World is scheduled for that day. Zwift will also automatically select a route for you within that World.
If before hitting Ride, you click on Routes, you can choose a particular route in that World that suits the type/distance of ride you want to do.
Along with the Guest World, Watopia is always available to ride in.
When Just Riding, you can draft other riders (unless you’re on the TT bike), they can draft off you and, if using a smart trainer, you’ll feel resistance change in accordance with the terrain. You can also choose where to go at junctions, either by clicking on-screen prompts or by using the Companion App – it’s really just like heading out and exploring in real life.
You will also receive Power-Ups when you go under certain banners. We will go through what these do in more detail in a later blog. Have a play with them though and see what effect they have on your avatar.
Top tip: If you find you’re having to change gear too much, go into settings and adjust the Trainer Difficulty slider. Default is 50% but, if you go down to 25%, you’ll find you should be able to stay in the big-ring. Obviously, if you want climbs to feel how they would outside, dial it up to 100%. No matter what setting you have it on, the speed of your avatar is determined by the watts you’re producing so, Difficulty is a bit of a misnomer – Trainer Feel would be a better description.
If you click on Training, you’ll enter the Workout Menu. Here you’ll find a full range of structured workouts and even training plans that you can try. Also, in Custom Workouts, if you have downloaded and added our HotChillee CC workouts (see here for details and how to do this) you’ll find these too. You can also build your own workouts but the workout builder on Zwift is a little clunky.
If using a smart trainer, you should also check that the Use ERG mode on this page is ticked. ERG modes means that your turbo will automatically hold you at the wattage target set by the workout.
All workouts are build around and based on FTP so it’s essential that you’ve tested for this recently and entered your current value in your settings. If you don’t know your FTP, you’ll find three test options in Workouts. For FTP tests, ERG mode should be OFF.
Once you’ve selected your workout, you’ll be back to the menu screen. As with Just Riding, you can choose your World and route and then, when you press Ride, you’ll be spawned roadside.
On the left hand side of the screen, you’ll see the structure of the workout you’re following and where you’re at in it.
Once you start pedalling, ERG will kick in and hold you at the required wattage. If not using a smart trainer or ERG mode, you just need to use your gears to hit the targets given.
In ERG mode you won’t feel changes in resistance from your trainer as you hit hills but your avatars speed will be affected by them. Also, you won’t feel a drafting effect from other riders but they can draft you. There are also no power-ups in Workouts.
Top tip: If you’ve bitten off more than you can chew and are struggling, you can dial down the intensity of the workout in-game using the Companion App or by clicking the down arrow at the bottom of the workout structure.
On Events on the Companion App, you can filter for and join a Group Workout. Log-on a few minutes before the start of your Workout and, on the menu screen, just hit Ride. You’ll then be given a prompt to join the Group Workout and will be re-spawned in a start pen on a virtual turbo.
At start time, you’ll all roll-off and it’s essentially the same as following a Solo Workout regarding ERG mode except you’re in a group.
Regardless of FTP and ability, the group stays together. So, if doing a FTP interval, one rider could be at 4 w/kg another at 2 w/kg but they’d be going at the same speed
Top tip: More of a warning but, if you’re fussed about the virtual KM’s you cover, Group Workouts might not be for you. The speed of the bunch is determined by the slowest rider and, as such, distance covered can be disappointingly low.
Again these can found and signed up for on Events on the Companion App and, like Group Workouts, if you’ve signed up, once you’ve hit Ride on the menu screen you’ll be prompted to join the ride.
In terms of feel and settings, it’s the same as Just Riding but you’re in a group. There are loads of different types of Group rides including social spins, women only, sprint leadoffs and 100km sportives. Some, unsurprisingly, can get a bit “racy”.
Every Group Ride will have a description as to what it involves and will often refer to a w/kg target for the ride or sections of it. They will also sometimes use the following FTP w/kg categories.
• A = 4.0 w/kg and above
• B = 3.2-3.9 w/kg
• C = 2.5-3.1 w/kg
• D = 2.4 w/kg and below
For Group Rides, you can’t only enter rides that apply to your category but the pace will be at the category band given.
There’s also an E category which means everyone – read the description though as this doesn’t always mean easy!
You might also find on a Group ride that there’s a Fence in front of the ride that denotes the speed (w/kg) you should be doing. This is set by the ride leader and, if you pass it, you’ll get a countdown to return behind it or you’ll get booted from the ride.
Top tip: On many Group Rides you’ll all be in the same jersey and it can be quite easy to lose yourself. Head to your garage and pick some garish socks or big hair so you can spot yourself.
Find and sign-up on Events on the Companion App and, in most respects, a Race is no different to a Group Ride.
Most are based on the categories above but some are done on age-group bands but this will always be clear in the description.
There’s a load of different types of races including short crits, TT’s, handicap “Hare and Hounds” and epics up and down the Alpe de Zwift.
My advice is to try a few, don’t be intimidated and you’ll get a great workout. If you do get into racing, you might also want to sign up to ZwiftPower which tracks results and weeds out obvious cheats.
Top tip: Warm-up well before heading to the start pens and, with 5-10 seconds to go before the gun, ramp up your power. If you don’t do this, you’ll be left trying to chase a group that’s rapidly disappearing up the road.
Meet-ups are what we’re using for our HotChillee CC VirtChillee Rides and can take the form of Group Rides or Group Workouts. There are a few subtle differences but club members will have received an e-mail telling you all you need to know.
Safe indoor miles and don’t forget to keep an eye out on the Companion App for VirtChillee meet-up invites and on our blog for more Zwift How-to’s and general advice on how to get the most out of your indoor training!
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Glen is usually behind the scenes making sure that the Hotchillee Ride Captains and event participants have fully functioning bicycles to ride but he occasionally makes an appearance in front of the camera to share his wisdom. If he’s not fixing or building bikes he’ll be out riding in #SweetSussex. If you want to know anything about Cyclocross, Glen is the man to ask.
Consultant with British Cycling and author of the Road Cycling Performance Manual. Lover of cobbles, gravel and Siberian Pine – not so keen on climbs! Nik is the author of all of the Hotchillee Training Plans, Zwift workout files and regularly posts tips and advice on the Hotchillee app. He’s also the evil genius behind the now infamous Hotchillee Gain Train.
Adele has worked within the health and fitness industry for over 25 years starting with a ballet and dance background herself, she has progressed to training and teaching all styles of fitness and offers Pilates, barre & yoga. As a keen runner, Adele appreciates the need for a strong healthy body and mind and incorporates many elements of Pilates, yoga and barre into her own training to ensure her strength and stamina remain.