Confession time: I’ve never done one of Zwift’s Training Plans.
There are multiple reasons for this, including:
- Zwift’s Training Plans when first released were quite inflexible. I didn’t want to commit to a plan then have the whole thing fail if I had to skip a workout or take a few days off.
- I don’t like structured training, so it’s hard for me to commit to any training plan.
- If I commit to a training plan, I want to know my personal journey is being overseen by a knowledgeable expert. I don’t like the nagging thought that I’m just plugging into a cookie-cutter plan that isn’t tailored to my needs.
Because of these reasons, I’ve only worked through training plans twice in my cycling career – but both times the plans were built and managed by a paid cycling coach. And while I saw some improvement from those structured training soirees, it didn’t feel like dramatic improvement.
Which is why I’ve spent the vast majority of my cycling life just doing the rides I want. Racing on Zwift or chasing a Strava KOM outdoors when I want hard efforts. Riding at a social pace with friends on easy days. It’s an easy, casual, fun approach to cycling… but it doesn’t lead to maximum fitness.
Time for a Change
This past winter, I realized I was lacking motivation and losing some fitness. Or at least, it felt like I was losing fitness.
Part of the issue was being stuck in a ZRL B1 league full of strong B’s, getting my butt kicked every week. Then there was the news that my daughter and her hubby are expecting our first grandchild in June 2023. Joyful news, to be sure! But at 43 years old I didn’t like the way “Grandpa Eric” sounded. Much too old.
Throw in a few weeks of being under the weather and with my astounding ability to pack on pounds quickly and I knew it was time for a change. I considered finding a coach to set up a structured program as I’ve done in the past, but in the end I opted to commit to the “Build Me Up” Zwift Training Program.
This program was designed by Shayne Gaffney of GC Coaching – the last guy who coached me. So I knew what the program would be like, and I trusted its designer. On top of that, most of the issues people have with training plan inflexibility in Zwift have been resolved in the past year, as Zwift now lets you do the plans on your schedule, mark them as finished if you do them outdoors, etc.
Planning My Training Plan
As I work through Zwift’s “Build Me Up” training plan, I’ll be recording myself riding each workout and documenting my progress with a weekly post here on Zwift Insider.
Writing about my progress through the plan has a four-fold purpose:
- Looking back and “journaling” my experience helps me maximize what I’m getting out of the plan.
- The content I put together may help some Zwifters who want to better understand what it looks like to go through a training plan.
- If I run into issues with how the plans work, I can share those and bend Zwift’s ear a bit, which may lead to improvements down the road.
- Committing to this series makes me accountable to you, dear reader. (Thanks in advance for the help!)
Intro to “Build Me Up”
“Build Me Up” is classified as an intermediate plan on Zwift, and I think that’s accurate. Due to the overall length of the plan, as well as the length of its workouts, this isn’t a plan for a beginner cyclist.
The plan is 12 weeks long, and most weeks contain 4 workouts totaling 5 hours of ride time. There are a few exceptions, though:
- Every 4th week (weeks 4, 8, and 12) is a recovery week with fewer and easier workouts.
- Weeks 7, 8, 10, and 11 contain 5 workouts and require more than 5 hours. Week 11, the longest week of the program, has 7 hours of workouts, including 2 2-hour sessions!
The training plan’s description includes this paragraph, which I think speaks to the strengths of Build Me Up and explains why I chose this particular training plan from Zwift’s library:
If you’ve struggled to sustain training load or progress for months, this plan provides a logical and structured approach to long-term improvement. If you want a coach’s guidance but don’t want the cost of accountability of hiring one, this plan offers rich instruction while still allowing you to do your own thing. You’ll come away from this both a better cyclist and a more-informed athlete.
Without further ado, let’s jump into this week’s workouts!
Daily Journal – Week 1
Saturday, March 18: Ramp Test
I hadn’t done a ramp test since the summer of 2022, and based on the way I’d been feeling in recent races, I figured my FTP would test out at 295-315W. But I surprised myself by holding out until 15 seconds into the 440W interval, for a 1-minute average of 430W. That means Zwift gave me an FTP of 321 (in the ramp test, your FTP Is 75% of your best 1-minute power).
I think ramp tests are friendly to me – I’m better at holding short-term power than long, steady stuff. Still XERT says my FTP is 316W, while Intervals.icu says 313W. So I think my FTP Is somewhere between 313 and 321W.
Bonus: I chose the La Reine route for the test, and it turned out to be timed perfectly so I grabbed the Petit KOM jersey since I was climbing the KOM during the toughest part of the test!
Saturday, March 18: Red Unicorn
I wasn’t sure how smart it was, but my legs felt good, so I decided to do the first tough workout of week 1 just after my ramp test.
Red Unicorn is a 90-minute workout, and the main set of intervals is 4 sets of 6 over-unders (OU) of 1 minute at 255W, 30s at 335W. (They’re called “over-under” because you’re under threshold, then over it.) Shayne’s a big fan of OU, and these “unicorn” workouts are some of the core weekly workouts for the first 4-week block of the plan, happening once a week but getting tougher each week.
My choice of La Reine for the day was perfect, as I finally crossed that route off of my badge list, and made it to the top of Ventoux just as my workout ended!
How tough was it? The power intervals themselves weren’t so bad, but following Shayne’s on-screen instructions for bike positioning and cadence changes made it much more challenging. Out of the saddle, down in an aero position, low cadence, high cadence… he makes you do it all! Which is a good thing – it got me out of my comfort zone, out of my rut.
Wednesday, March 22: Pedaling Drills
After a tough TTT for the ZRL finals on Tuesday, I opted for this 30-minute workout because it looked like an easy one that focused on cadence and form, not big power numbers.
The workout turned out a bit more challenging than I’d anticipated, but it still wasn’t anything leg-sapping. The one-legged drills were really interesting, as I tried to remove any dead spots in the pedal stroke. My left leg was especially challenging, and I found I needed to really lift up on the backstroke to kill any dead spots. Part of the challenge with the one-legged work was just getting in the right gear. The high cadence work was good, too. In the end, this was a recovery ride… with challenges!
Thursday, March 23: Devedeset
This 1-hour workout’s main set consisted of 3x 10-minute sweet spot intervals (90% of FTP, so 290W for me).
I chose the Road to Sky route for this workout, as I’ve always enjoyed the Alpe for sustained efforts. This workout wasn’t too bad – it was work, but didn’t push me to the limit. My heartrate bumped up a bit with each set.
One thing you don’t see in the pretty workout profile images are the instructions given on screen during the workout. And those can really change the feel of the workout! For example, on this workout you’re instructed to hold 85-95 RPM for the first 10-minute block, which is a cadence that feels great to me. But the next block is seated, at 70RPM… I don’t like that as much.
The third set was a mix of standing up (2x 1-minute intervals) and seated, with the final 4 minutes being high rpm (105+). The final minute was at max RPM (I was around 115) and it felt great, actually. Like I wasn’t even pushing hard – just spinning.
I made it ~9km up the 12km Alpe, but didn’t keep going to the top. (Next week’s sweet spot workout, called “Halvfems”, should just about get me there – it’s basically just like this workout, but with 12-minute blocks instead of 10.)
Friday, March 24: Zone Benchmarking
This workout looked pretty easy, which was good, because I needed a recovery day before hitting the Orange Unicorn hard the next day! This workout is done to test whether your FTP setting is accurate, so if you’re confident in your FTP setting, you could skip this without losing any valuable training.
Still, I thought it would be good to do the workout and see what it contained. In the end it was perhaps just a bit more effort than I would have preferred for an easy day, but I don’t think it’ll kill me for tomorrow’s hard workout.
Summing Up Week 1
I’m feeling motivated and happy with my progress after the first week. I’m sure after a few weeks I’ll want to skip a workout and jump into a Zwift race – and I’ll probably find a way to do that. But for now, I’m happy sticking to the plan and being pushed outside of my routine so I can build fresh fitness.
Coming Up Next Week
Four workouts next week, totaling 5 hours:
Questions or Comments?
Have you gone through “Build Me Up”? How was your experience? Share below!