About a month ago I received an interesting note in my mailbox:

…My name is Philipp Diegner, I am a Sport Scientist from Germany working in cycling. During the last month, I have been putting together a Study that aims to investigate the effectiveness of Zwift as a training platform for cyclists following a structured training plan.

We have had more than 200 applications and have chosen 15 participants. They will receive completely planned training sessions throughout the study period (12-16 weeks)…

Their power profile will be assessed repeatedly during the study to track changes in performance and participants will report frequently on their experiences with Zwift. Everyone is encouraged to use Zwift’s features, especially races, group rides and the erg mode. We also survey riders frequently about their experiences with Zwift, their current motivation level etc. to get an image of how Zwift may affects the indoor training experience.

…a final report will be published in the German RennRad cycling magazine in print.

The idea of a Zwift-based study intrigued me (this is the first such study I’ve heard of), so I replied that I would love to feature Philipp’s study in a series of articles.

This is the first of that series, and will serve as an introduction to the study. Future posts will feature workouts from the study, as well as progress updates and eventually a concluding post summarizing Philipp’s findings.

Training calendar for the first 2 weeks of the study

Key Project Points:

  • How effective is Zwift as an indoor training tool, especially utilising its unique features, to make significant performance gains?
  • How does it affect motivation for indoor training, which is traditionally perceived as very tedious?

Study and Participant Characteristics:

  • 19 participants at the moment (all male cyclists with various degrees of experience)
  • A 12-16 week structured training plan published on Training Peaks (training started first week of January)
  • Instead of following a classic periodization model, the riders will do a mix of intense and steady sessions throughout the training period
  • All have completed 3 initial power profile tests that will be repeated to assess their development
  • Every participants owns a trainer listed here under smart trainer – and ideally a power meter on a road bike (for outdoor rides)
  • A monthly survey will be given to assess mental aspects of training
  • Most important: participants must all have motivation and willingness to suffer!

Quotes from study participants:

I live in what is one of the most bicycle hostile cities on Earth… Sydney, Australia. My job keeps me from training with groups/clubs in the mornings and I am too stress fatigued to do much meaningful solo stuff when I do have time. My main 2 pastimes throughout my life have been cycling and video games. Zwift gives me both at once. It makes me fit for when I can ride in bunches or go racing on weekends while giving me shelter from the arrogant and selfish drivers of Sydney. A 2 hour session on Zwift goes more quickly, with more enjoyability and effectiveness, than 30 mins riding on a ‘dumb’ stationery trainer alone. In addition to that, climate change is creating more and more periods of hostile weather. Training indoors will become more and more common in the coming years. Platforms like Zwift are the future of sustained fitness routines. ~ Jared

I find that Zwift helps alleviate my boredom of riding on a trainer for much longer than just doing intervals or even watching tv. Also, I find the other riders to be motivating and find myself riding faster and longer than I would otherwise (for better or worse). ~ Mike

… First with a dumb trainer and switched to the NEO after I was hooked. Never liked indoor training (string at the wall) but I’ve had no problem riding 2 to 3 hours on Zwift.

The community aspect definitely helps, even more so in the races where I really get that competitive drive and am able to suffer more. And I also have some colleagues that started using Zwift around the same time. ~ Marcel

… Towards the end of last year I started getting very bored with training so tried Zwift, loved the fact there are climbs of significant length and grade that are not outside my front door, and now also using the workout function (which is similar to TR) I can do both the specific intervals as well as possibly some races too. ~ Paul

Having a pretty full on life – running a business, wife, kids and dogs that require 3 hours of walking a day leaves me little time to get out on the bike. Zwift allows me to be able to grab an hour or so early morning or late evening with very little preparation time. ~ Brian