This article is not so much a “review” but more my reflections and opinions on the CVR’s cycleFAST training plan (a structured 8-week training plan designed by Peaks Coaching and delivered through Zwift) which I undertook at the beginning of the year. I’ll tackle what didn’t work so well before discussing my personal performance improvement then making some recommendations on what to consider when thinking of signing up for the plan.
In late December I had just recovered from a bout of illness and the usual festive excesses when I got an email advertising the CVR (Cycligent Virtual Racing… I think) training plan. The subject line read as follows “Attention- CVR WC League Participants- Please Read.” The CVR World Cup League is a Zwift race series spanning 8 weeks for the main season. Races take place on Tuesdays across 8 time zones and there is a focus on encouraging live-streaming and turning Zwift racing into a true e-sport. Race categorizations are decided by your race history (much like IRL systems) and this attracted me as I have a good FTP but generally was getting my arse kicked in the A cat (see “Why am I getting beat by people with lower W/kg”)! Having signed up for the CVR league some weeks before I was intrigued and read on… “You are in the League. However, I want to help you punch your ticket to enter the ‘Performance’ bracket.” I had no idea what this meant but read on and what was being offered was the following:
- Pay $79 for an 8-week training plan designed by Hunter Allen and his team at Peak Coaching Group (I bought his book “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” when I got my first power meter 2 years ago so I knew his reputation).
- Get a chance to compete in the CVR World Cup Final in Los Angeles in the “performance bracket” which includes a cycling training camp and travel expenses.
The way the scoring for the live final selection works is a bit complex, but first riders are categorized based on their power profile from the data collected during the training plan. Then, within your category you score points to rank you against your power peers based on how many of the workouts you completed, race results in CVR races, attendance to some mandatory group workouts (more on this later) and your improvement from your initial to your final test results.
A power band for men and a power band for women is chosen at random and the top 10 people in the band get to go to camp and race in a live final!
To me this was a very much a “why not” type of situation. First of all I’d never done a structured training plan before but to me $79 for a plan designed and “tailored” by Hunter Allen sounded like a bargain. Then throw in the chance to go to a training camp and race in a live final… why not! I answered a brief questionnaire to determine which plan to put me on and signed up.
A Wobbly Start
The first day of the plan was the 1st of January which, as Hunter explained in a later webinar, was perhaps slightly ambitious. Basically things weren’t quite ready. It took me quite a while to work out how to access the “training app” and actually access the workout sessions. When I did run into problems I found the forum was very active and a good place to find help with Hunter himself making an effort to reply to the queries which was great to see. Overall the learning curve for getting up and running (or riding) wasn’t too steep.
So I embarked on my training quest. Week 1 was a testing week to establish your baseline fitness and your FTP which is used to scale the workouts to your ability. The testing brought more teething problems. The CVR workouts seemed to be transferred from Training Peaks and converted into a Zwift workout .zwo file. In the test file some of the free ride “test” periods had already been prescribed wattages (confusing and meaningless for erg mode), also some of the recovery steps had been removed and it was generally a bit of a mess. Luckily I had examined the file beforehand in the workout editor, spotted some of the mistakes and put them right. I managed to get 285W for my 20 minute effort (271W FTP) down from my all-time PB of 300W (285W FTP) achieved last summer. As the plan went on the workouts improved in terms of mistakes but there were still some problems and annoyances which I won’t bore you with here. Basically it looked like whoever was transferring workouts from Training Peaks to zwift were not familiar with performing or creating workouts in Zwift.
The rough template of the week for me was as follows:
|Typically scheduled||Typically completed|
|Mon||Rest day!||Rest day!|
|Tue||FTP workout (1.5 hrs)||CVR race (1hr + 0.5 WU+CD)|
|Wed||VO2 max, SST or endurance workout (1.5 hrs)||Spin legs to recover from race! (1-1.5hrs)|
|Thu||Group workout (1 hr)||Non scheduled in my timezone so solo workout of choice (1.5 hrs)|
|Fri||Rest day or endurance with sprints (1.5 hrs)||Rest day or endurance with sprints (1.5 hrs)|
|Sat||Outdoor ride with some efforts or endurance ride on trainer or training race weeks 4 and 8 (2-3 hrs)||Outdoor ride with some efforts or endurance ride on trainer or training race weeks 4 and 8 (2-3 hrs)|
|Sun||Outdoor ride with some efforts or endurance ride on trainer or training race weeks 4 and 8 (1-2 hrs)||Outdoor ride with some efforts or endurance ride on trainer or training race weeks 4 and 8 (1-2 hrs)|
In addition to this the 8 weeks were organized as follows:
|1||Testing week||Testing week|
|2||Training week||Training week|
|3||Training week||Training week|
|4||Rest week + weekend race||Training week + weekend race|
|5||Training week||Rest week|
|6||Training week||Training week|
|7||Training week||Training week|
|8||Testing week + weekend race||Testing week|
Goodbye Training Camp: Variable Mandatory Criteria!
Week 2 I did my second CVR race on Tuesday then noticed that each Thursday I had a group workout scheduled. I checked Zwift events to see which one I could attend… 12 noon and 2am CET on Wednesday/Thursday (I live in France). Given that I work full time and value a reasonable daily routine this was out of the question. Eventually the organizers responded and workouts were added on a Wednesday evening European time (although probably too early for UK riders to make it home from work) and on Saturday afternoon (which is fine if you have no plans). However, due to my schedule these “catch all” group workouts were introduced a bit too late in the program to be useful. In the end I managed 2 group workouts over the 8 weeks. This was despite it being revealed halfway through the plan that 5 group workouts were mandatory for a chance to go to the training camp.
It was originally stated that CVR racers (racing in the world cup league) would be scored on their top 2 race results and that the other participants would have to undertake 2 CVR training races.
This was then changed in week 3 and all racers had to do a special weekend race on week 4 or 8 (which I did on week 4). This was changed again in week 7 and all participants had to complete at least 2 special training races on weekends 4 or 8. I had known for some weeks that I would be away that final weekend so again I was unable to complete the second mandatory criteria for a shot at the final.
The final aspect of the scoring I want to discuss (complain about) was the “compliance” criteria based on how closely you had stuck to workouts. Again what wasn’t made clear from the beginning was that if there was a workout on your plan for a specific day you had to upload a .fit file of 90% or more of the planned duration to score compliance points. If you do 2 or 3 workouts that day that add up to the planned duration it doesn’t count unless 1 of the files is at least 90% of the length of the planned duration. I suspect this is from a wish to do everything “automagically” – as Hunter is fond of saying. But ultimately this seems nonsensical and surely it can’t be difficult to devise a system to add up activity durations… and again the scoring system for this only became clear towards the end of the plan. I think my compliance scoring was around 50% in the end despite exceeding the weekly hours on the plan in all weeks but 1.
The most annoying thing wasn’t that I’d failed to meet the criteria to go to LA because the criteria was never clearly communicated from the outset, it was the lack of an apology or admission from the organizers that they had made a mistake; instead the attitude was “just get on with it.”
Mistakes are to be expected. This is the first time, to my knowledge, that anyone has attempted the mass commercial distribution of training plans through Zwift or tried to work out how to rank trainees against each other, but my impression was that ultimately all this rule changing and moving goalposts were to make the organizer’s lives easier without a thought for the demands on the lives of the paying customers who are balancing training with work, their social life, family and relationships.
The Payoff: #statattack!
So that’s quite enough whinging about the scoring, the big question is: did I get any positives out of the training plan? In a word YES. Not only did I get to do some new sessions both indoors and outdoors (6×6 FTP session outdoors was one of my favorites), and get to try out a structured training plan, I also saw some impressive gains. First I accidentally took a PR on one of my favorite training climbs (I was going hard but not expecting a PR). I then targeted some other favorite climbs in the area and took convincing PBs. I also got a new PB in the final FTP test of 304 for the 20 mins (289). Watch my FTP test below…
For the data nerds here is a summary of my improvement over the plan duration:
|First week [W | W/kg]||Final week [W | W/kg]||% increase of W/kg|
The numbers don’t lie and I was ecstatic with the results I yielded over such a short period of time, going from feeling below my best to smashing summer PR’s on power numbers and Strava segments. I’m also performing a lot better in races, being initially placed in the D category in the CVR league (I had a low ranking based on previous race performance in conventional A cat – in reality I should have been placed in at least C but that’s another story). I will be competing in the B cat next season and have had much better results in some non CVR A races (i.e. not last!).
Also a shoutout for Zwift racing: I’m convinced that a large part of the improvement I saw was as a result of racing on Zwift. If you haven’t tried it yet I thoroughly recommend it for a fantastic workout. Another consideration is that the consistency of the training plan along with minor changes in my diet resulted in weight loss that helped improve my performance.
- I’ve learned a lot about the effectiveness of structured training and periodization and it’s given me the confidence and some baseline experience to devise my own annual plan.
- I’m now probably the strongest on the bike I’ve ever been. It’s only March.
- I enjoyed the sessions and there’s no better training motivation than knowing you’re being scored on your training (however flawed).
- Hunter was active in the forums and the team were quick to react to the early technical issues. I expect that they learned a hell of a lot from the first training plan and that things will only improve in future iterations.
- On each calendar week there was a summary of the main week goals which helped give the sense of working towards something instead of blindly following workouts.
The bad (with some additional points):
- Incompatibility with Apple TV and mobiIe IOS devices: due to the way the workouts are delivered into Zwift you really need to be on a PC or Mac to follow the sessions. Some Apple users on the forum paid their money only to realize they couldn’t access the workouts (when signing up it was stated you needed a computer but maybe they should have explicitly said that iOS devices were not supported).
- The initial teething problems were frustrating but I expect these to be solved in future iterations.
- In the workout descriptions there is a lot of jargon which those who are used to training with power may be familiar with but for the layman may be confusing.
- I feel that on the back end they are only scratching the surface of things they could do to add value to the experience. For instance at no point during the training plan was there any feedback on what I had been doing or an assessment of what type of rider I am and maybe where I should be focusing to reach my personal goals. This engagement, in my opinion, would add real value to the plan.
The ugly (i.e. the scoring):
- In the future, before purchasing the plan, the time slot requirements of the mandatory training aspects (races, group workouts) should be made very clear so if someone does want to go for live final they can assess whether their schedule permits it.
- The scoring system for compliance points should be transparent from the outset; my impression is they only worked this out for themselves towards the end of the plan (moving goalposts).
- For compliance this should be based on a combination of duration and intensity, simply the weekly duration rather than reaching a daily duration in a single .fit file. This would allow the flexibility for people to plan the training around their lives, and be more reflective of the actual work people are putting in.
- I still have no idea (4 weeks later) which power band was chosen for the live final. I don’t even know if it matters that I didn’t complete all the mandatory criteria as I know many others who didn’t as well.
Would I recommend the plan?
…yes and no.
Yes if your primary motivation is improving your training, getting stronger and getting a taste of what you can achieve with structured training and don’t already have a coach.
No if your primary motivation is getting to the live final and you also lead a busy life, work, travel, especially if you live in Europe (unless they address the aforementioned flaws which I hope they do).
Am I glad I paid my $79 and took part? Absolutely! I love that people are using Zwift to distribute quality training plans at a reasonable price to a global community and simultaneously trying to grow Zwift racing as an e-sport. I can’t wait to see how it develops and to follow the live finals.