Trainer Road vs Zwift Workouts

Love it or hate it, the indoor trainer is often the only training option left to many of us, due to a number of reasons. This article sets out to look at two options open to us to make life on the trainer more effective and interesting. Trainer Road until now has probably been the most popular power based trainer software and recently, new kid on the block Zwift has introduced Zwift Workouts. Zwift workouts is still in beta at time of writing, but the feature set is already sufficient to be able to perform a comparative review.

Both of these two products set out to do pretty much the same thing, that is to give you a power based workout on an indoor trainer.

Trainer Road

Trainer Road has been around for a while now and many of you will already be familiar with how it works and what it is like. In order to make it work you need the following:

  • A bike
  • A computer
  • An Ant+ dongle
  • Either a power meter or a smart trainer or a speed calibrated trainer
  • Trainer Road software

How it works

Once you have everything installed on the computer and configured to work with your equipment, you fire up the Trainer Road software, pick a workout (you can filter by time, training zone, intensity or follow a training plan) and start the workout. The software is clever enough to wait for you to get on the bike and start pedaling before it starts the clock ticking.

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Most of the workouts follow a similar pattern; a warm up, some form of intervals for the main set (and these vary enormously depending on what you picked) and a cool down. All the workouts are power based and use your FTP (Functional Threshold Power) to work out how hard you should be working, so if you don’t know your FTP, you should start there first and do an FTP test.

Workouts will, in general, slowly ramp up the warm up power from an easy zone 1 power into about the middle of zone 2 power over a 15 minute period. The bulk of most workouts are the intervals in the main set, these vary from short 5 second high power efforts right up to and beyond 20 min threshold efforts. The software displays the power you should be hitting and the power you are actually producing, the idea being that you match the two. It’s fairly obvious when you don’t achieve this and you get on screen cues to address it.

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To complete the workout, it’s up to you to maintain the power that is displayed on screen and the difficulty of achieving that will vary with the workout you picked. Some are easy, others are brutal – you have been warned!

Trainer Road also allows you to ‘drop-in’ workout videos from third party suppliers to make the workout more interesting, although this will add to your monthly cost. In most cases, the videos match the workouts and will give you something to look at on screen other than just your power numbers.

 

Zwift Workouts (beta)

Zwift Workouts is built on the Zwift platform, if you haven’t seen Zwift go read this first. Zwift is new and quite different to any sort of training tool we’ve seen before, it’s more like a computer game than a traditional workout video based system.

How it works

You need a Zwift account to use the Workouts component, but it is all delivered through the same Zwift software on your PC. In order to make it work you need the following:

  • A bike
  • A computer
  • An Ant+ dongle
  • Either a power meter or a smart trainer or a speed calibrated trainer
  • Zwift software

If you already have a Zwift account and have logged in, you won’t have to do any further configuration, otherwise it’s the same sort of process as Trainer Road and involves installing software on your PC, connecting up the ANT+ dongle and pairing the various devices you have – the main one being the power meter or smart trainer.

zwift-workout1

Once you login, you have a new ‘Workouts’ option to choose from as well as the existing ride options. In the workouts section, you get to pick from a few individual workouts or from a workout in a plan. At time of writing, there are nowhere near as many workouts to choose from as Trainer Road, but I would imagine this would grow with time. Workouts can be filtered by time and discipline (TT workouts for example).

Pick the workout you want and hop on the bike, and like Trainer Road, it doesn’t start the workout until you start producing power. Workout format is very similar to Trainer Road (warmup, intervals, cool down). Target power levels appear clearly in the middle of the screen, your power is displayed alongside and if you don’t match the two, the software lets you know about it:

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One neat feature of the Zwift software is when you get close to the end of the interval, it puts a glowing archway across the road in front of you which marks the end of the interval. I found this to be a great motivator to get you to the end of the interval whilst still maintaining the correct power.

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Summary

Both of these options will give you a great workout and fundamentally work in much the same way. The key difference is that I found Zwift more fun to use, mainly because of the other riders riding in the Zwift world with you. Ultimately the decision is up to you, but I’ll be putting my money with Zwift rather than Trainer Road. Zwift is a great platform and I can only see it growing and offering more features in the future.

The only suggestion I have for improvement for Zwift is rather than sticking to a set power level, it would be nice to have to ‘chase’ another rider who is riding in front of you at the correct power levels.

  Trainer Road Zwift Workouts (Beta)
Cost $12/month USD10/month
Equipment Computer

Power Meter

Trainer or Smart Trainer

ANT+ dongle

HR monitor (optional)

Computer

Power Meter

Trainer or Smart Trainer

ANT+ dongle

HR monitor (optional)

Number of workouts 1000+ Limited (but growing)
Training plans Yes Yes
Support for smart trainers Yes Yes
Enjoyment factor ** ****