Three Ways to Maximize your Zwift Training and Racing

Following a prescribed training plan is the most effective way to improve as a cyclist, and yet… riding and racing in Zwift can be super fun. Can you do both? Yes, yes you can.

Here to help us on our digital and IRL training journey is Coach Jake Rytlewski, our in-house Zwift master and father of five - because you know those two things are related. (Jake also raced professionally for years, so Zwift isn't the only trick in his bag.)

Coach Jake breaks down Three Ways to Maximize your Zwift Training and Racing:

  1. 9 tips for racing
  2. instructions on how to do OTS rides on Zwift
  3. how to best incorporate Zwift into your training plan, whether you work with a coach or are self-guided


Zwift Racing Tips 

Zwift racing is a fun way to get in a really hard workout and test your fitness. Expect to be riding at or near your threshold with many bursts over it for the duration of the race. The shorter the race, the higher the intensity factor will be. Most likely you will be full gas for the whole race. In Zwift there is no coasting or cruising in the group.

There are many races, racing leagues, Fondos, Tours, short races, long races, criteriums, time trials, etc to choose from. Knowing your category, which course you will be on and its elevation profile will help you determine which race is best for you. 

Follow these 9 tips for best results!  

9. Line up early

Some races will have only 10 - 15 riders, but some may have as many as 500+! You are lined up based on when you log in and join the event. Everyone is asked to auto join about 4 mins and 45secs before, so you will want to get logged in before this point. The bigger the event the sooner you will want to log in. Try to get to the start 10 - 15 minutes beforehand. You can use your head unit on your bike to track your riding time, power etc during the warm up.

8. Be ready for a fast start 

Zwift racing is known for their fast starts. You will need to be out of the saddle sprinting with 2 - 3 seconds to go before the start and hold it for at least 10 seconds, longer if you are at the back. Don’t immediately let up either as everyone will just go flying by you. Keep up the effort till the group or as its referred to on Zwift the blob forms.

7. Stay in the draft 

Don’t just hammer away as hard as you can. You can take advantage of the draft. It may not feel like much of a help but if you stay in the middle of your group you can pedal up to 1 w/kg less. Just float around the middle. If you pedal harder you will get stuck “into the wind”.

6. Don’t coast

You need to stay in the draft. This means staying within 5 meters of the rider in front of you. Zwift will let you know as you approach this point. The second you find yourself out of the draft it will be very difficult to nearly impossible to catch back on. You have to keep pedaling. There is no freewheel in Zwift racing. *Though some of the top racers may have found spots to ‘rest’ while maintaining in the group*

5. Know the course

Know where the hills are, no matter how big or small. Anytime there is a little rise on the road you can expect everyone to sprint over it, basically full gas. So be prepared for this. There are ‘flat’ routes that include 1 or 2 little punchers and you can expect to go as hard as you can just to stay with the group. You do not want to be on the front just before the hill as you want to use the draft of the group to help propel you up the hill. Also don’t let up as you crest the hill. The group will carry a lot of speed on the downhill and if you lose the wheel you will struggle to catch back on the draft.

4. Know the power ups

There are power ups on course you get every time you go through a banner, either sprint, KOM or lap banner. These can include a feather which makes you lighter, an aero helmet which makes you faster, a truck which improves your draft and a few others. You can use these at any time, but only once and they last for 15 seconds. You want to save each for key moments. The feather is great for climbs and the aero helmet is almost a necessity to win a sprint.

3. Know the finish

Knowing when and how to hit the finish of each course can be really critical in your final place. It’s about knowing when to hit it full gas, from where and how to use the group as a slingshot. Each finish has a bit of a different lead in. Some have a small hill or rise in the final mile or two that you also need to be prepared for. Knowing when to follow the wheels, maybe try a long attack or let the group bring you back up to a lone attacker

2. Don’t judge your fitness based on a Zwift result

Remember you will most likely not be fastest in the race. Use it as a good workout. Many factors come into play outside of just game play and riding such as accuracy of others power meters, trainers and the weight they inputted. Also as you go through the different levels by amount of time ridden you receive better bikes and wheels that make you faster in game as well. These races should be used as fun, motivators for a hard workout and a way to get that competitiveness out. Aka Training Races.

1. Limit your Zwift racing to once a week, twice at the most. Substitute a Zwift racing over top your plan's 'Hard Group Ride' but otherwise #FtFP. Yes you can get strong from this but it will burn you out. Also you will not end up getting better at anything in particular. You rarely hold specific power zones long enough during a race to benefit from any physiological adaptations that would happen if you were doing intervals such as Sweet spot or Vo2 Max.

Zwift OTS rides 

Many of our training plans come with freestyle rides on Saturday. These rides are about achieving a certain OTS by riding at a suggested intensity whether it be Sweet Spot or high intensity like our attack style rides. If you are looking for a pre build workout when you open Zwift from us, like the weekday rides, you won’t find it. This is by design. We want the athletes to have some freedom and fun, less structure, all the while still being productive. For those that are able to get outdoors these are our group ride days. For those that are riding indoors on Zwift you are only limited to your imagination on how you complete these workouts. 

Here are three of my favorite options: 

Racing - There are numerous Zwift races happening throughout the day so no matter what time you need to ride you are more than likely to come across one that interest you. With this it is important to be aware of the type of race / event it is, the course and what you are trying to accomplish. If you are looking for a Sweet Spot day doing a short race such as a criterium might not be the best option. However one of the Fondos, Tours or even mountain routes might be your best options. This way you can focus on riding at a steady intensity that is mostly under your FTP. 

Pace Partners - Another option maybe choosing a pace partner. Again these are group rides that are ongoing throughout the day. You can jump into any pace partner group at any time. The pace is determined by watts / kg. So you can warm up on your own for 15 - 30 minutes of zone 2 and then choose a pace partner where the watts/kg is in your sweet spot range and hang on! 

We have a watt/kg calculator you can use on our website:

Instead of putting in your FTP put in your sweet spot target to detriment your w/kg at sweet spot. I would suggest a target that is 86% - 92% of your FTP to start with. Progress from hanging on for 30 minutes to maybe 60 - 90 minutes. For those that do more longer gravel races you might want to choose a pace that is slightly lower but holding that power in the group for 90 - 120 minutes. 

Freestyle - Just pick a route and go! There are numerous routes on Zwift to choose from. A side challenge could be completing all the routes on Zwift while doing OTS rides. You can use segments, laps or hills to make your efforts on.  Less time looking at a timer and just focusing on effort, pacing and how your body feels. 

When and How to do Scheduled Workouts on Zwift - 4 tips

Obviously we have many great plans designed for you within our Optimized App. There are even indoor plans and Zwift Racing plans. However if you are following our famous 16 week Sweet Spot plan or even an interval plan how should you incorporate Zwift into your schedule. 

FTFP - First follow the plan. Currently you can not export your FasCat workout from Optimized to Zwift, coming soon, so you will still need us to share the plan you are following through TrainingPeaks. Then you can choose TrainingPeaks workout from the Zwift homepage to complete your workout. 

Erg - Many riders like the convience of erg mode where the trainer controls the resistance and power based on the workout you have uploaded. This is fine for most workouts as you can set it and forget it. Personally I tend to like my athletes to not use this feature so they can feel efforts on their own. Know how to pace efforts by feel and producing your own resistance by going harder. Also with burst, sprints or higher intense efforts the target might be set too high or low as the variability with efforts over your FTP is much greater.  With the workouts such as tempo burst it is good to make that high effort but then know how to dial it back but still keep the pressure on. 

Racing - We typically recommend you only race once per week whether doing a sweet spot plan or interval plan. Racing is a great way to get intensity in and a workout. However, a lot of races the power will be variable so you won’t get any specific type of training. Though this is where knowing what certain races or events offer. Time trial or mountainous routes are great for getting really anything at FTP or below, for instance long sweet spot efforts. If looking for more an attack style race to get efforts above your FTP look to do shorter mini races, such as crits or a circuit with punchy climbs to get those 30 second to 2 minute full gas efforts. 

Scheduling - May this time of year may be trying to complete a series such as ZWL. How does that fit into a plan, such as the 16 weeks of sweet spot. If you are racing on Tuesday move Tuesday’s workout to Saturday and consider the racing as Saturday’s OTS ride. You might just want to make the Tuesdsay workout longer by adding Zone 2 since it will be on the weekend. If racing Thursday it gets a bit more complicated. Typically the key workouts for our plans are on Tuesday, so those will be the most intense. With racing on Thursday you would still want to move Tuesday to Saturday, Saturday is now your race day Thursday and do Wednesday/Thursdays workouts on Tuesday / Wednesday. Are you still following me? If not, just FtFP. 

About Jake Rytlewski

Jake Rytlewski grew up racing in Michigan at 15 after his Dad picked up cycling as a hobby. Not being able to clip in fast enough before being dropped he quickly found solutions such as double sided mountain bike pedals and track standing. Coaching was always in his blood. He accepted a cycling scholarship to Marian University in 2002 and while there spent a summer racing in Belgium and signed his first pro contract. Jake graduated in 2006 with a degree in sports management and continued to race as a pro for 9 years. He joined FasCat in 2013 and has been coaching full time since. Currently Jake is living the dream in Indiana raising his 3 kids, coaching others to make them faster and to reach their goals and racing in the full time Dad category on Zwift.

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