Training Goes Virtual: Running and Cycling Meet Virtual Reality with Zwift
Thanks to the coronavirus outbreak, we’re all looking for ways to keep training while social distancing. Whether your upcoming race got canceled and you’re looking for an alternative, or you just miss running and riding with others, you can bring the experience of group running and training indoors with Zwift. This app incorporates virtual reality in your day-to-day fitness experience and event training.
Unfortunately, you’ll still have to do the cardio work yourself, but Zwift lets you inject a virtual element into your training, bringing you new scenery, data tracking, and a community of other athletes for friendly competition and company. (A bonus if you’re trying to avoid sickness but miss the community of training with others.)
After initial beta testing in 2014, Zwift’s popularity exploded. Users, often called “Zwifters,” can run or bike all over the world from the comfort of their own home or the gym. The app also connects users to other popular training apps, such as Strava and TrainingPeaks, where users can upload and share their Zwift rides, races, and runs.
How Does It Work?
New users get a seven-day free trial of the Zwift app, after which the subscription fee is $14.99 per month, but you will need some gear. In addition to a bike for cyclists, or a treadmill for runners, you will need specific equipment to use Zwift. First, you need a device to connect to the Zwift app. The most popular device to use is an Apple iPad, but the app also works on PCs, Macs, iPhones, Apple TV, Android phones, and tablets.
After that, runners will need a device for tracking their runs. Many smart treadmills with Bluetooth capability connect directly with the Zwift app, making that a very easy option. For all other treadmills, runners can simply wear a cadence tracker, which typically clips onto the laces of your shoes to track your speed, distance, and cadence. Zwift works with many different brands of cadence trackers; one of the least expensive options is their own, the Zwift RunPod at $39.99. The NPE Run Tracker device makes any treadmill smart, by hooking to the side of your treadmill and measuring speed from your treadmill belt.
Cyclists will need their bike and a trainer. Trainers sit on the ground and connect to the back axle of the bike. The most basic trainers cost around $50, while a smart trainer that automatically adjusts resistance and measures speed, power, and distance can run well over $1000. Once in the app, you can acquire different Zwift bikes to maximize your performance on whatever virtual terrain you choose, just like choosing between Yoshi on a motorcycle or Bowser in a flame runner on Mario Kart.
Once you have all your tech set, you’re ready to go. In the app, create your own avatar and choose your training adventure. Users can select a structured workout—some are as little as 30 minutes—like a customized training plan created by coaches, a race or competition, or a free ride/run. Track your distance, speed, and other stats to drive your own progress, or just go for distance and enjoy the virtual scenery.
One of the most compelling aspects of the Zwift app is the various locations you can visit in your virtual training world. Run or bike in New York City, London, Innsbruck, Yorkshire, Richmond, Bologna, Crit City, or Watopia—the only fictional course created by Zwift, based on terrain found in the Solomon Islands. Group runs and rides are structured for athletes to go at their own pace, or push hard to beat others competing from all over the world. The ability to connect with others offers support and motivation without ever leaving your house.
Zwift truly ups the ante on indoor training, especially when the weather is less than fair. It can be used by any ability, from beginner to Tour de France athlete, and is available to you any time of day, whether you have hours to train or are fitting in a workout between work, making dinner, or picking the kids up from soccer practice. In an increasingly virtual world, Zwift is on its way to being the best way to train indoors.
Stay Healthy; Keep Training
Train with people around the world, without the fear of catching a virus or cold, with Zwift. Whether you’re feeling sick or want to avoid the spread of germs, you can stay home and still keep up with your group training or racing.
“Zwift shows how technology can be used to ride and run to further your training and racing while coming together with a global community that matches where you are in terms of fitness, time, and location. The community also helps to push fitness forward, from group workouts to races, so users can ride and run alone or enjoy being with others from across the world.” –Craig Taylor, Director of Growth Marketing, Running & Triathlon at Zwift