QUESTION: My cycling buddies say I should be doing intervals if I want to become a better cyclist. But I find them boring and painful. Can I just race on Zwift instead? – Landon J
RBR REPLIES: Why ride painful intervals when you can simply race on Zwift to increase your fitness? If you’re training so that you can race better, wouldn’t it make more sense to just train by racing all the time on Zwift?
Unfortunately it doesn’t exactly work that way. Zwift racing can be part of your training, but you’ll get a lot more benefits by training with structured intervals instead.
One problem with Zwift racing specifically is that it’s not very much like real life bicycle racing. So even if you get very good as a Zwift racer, it might not necessarily be the kind of fitness that is going to translate well to regular road cycling.
Zwift racing tends to be more like time trialing, where you go at your hardest pace for the entire race. So Zwift racing might help you get a lot better at keeping a very hard and steady pace at your limit for a long period of time, but it’s not going to help you improve as much for situations like repeated short and hard efforts in a race outside that forces you to go all out and then recover and be able to do it again and again.
Also, since Zwift racing generally requires such a hard sustained effort, it’s going to be very easy to overdo it and either overtrain, injure yourself, or get burned out.
With intervals, you can change the time and intensity of your intervals to focus on different aspects of your cycling fitness that you’ll need during races and group rides.
Sweet spot intervals can help increase your overall fitness and the ability to keep up at a challenging sustained pace over an entire ride. Shorter VO2 max intervals are intense efforts of around 3 to 8 minutes, designed to help you prepare for those situations like attacking, trying to bridge a gap, or going over shorter climbs. And even shorter maximum effort intervals of just a few seconds to a couple of minutes are all out efforts designed to build your sprint.
In a race or a competitive group ride, any of those situations can come up regularly. So by practicing different lengths of intervals, you’ll be prepared for a variety of situations.
What if you absolutely hate intervals and really enjoy Zwift racing though? Well, doing more Zwift racing will definitely make you better at racing on Zwift. And you’ll also increase your overall fitness, even if it’s not as specific as doing structured training. So if you truly can’t stand doing intervals and you’re careful not to race so often that you’re overtraining, you can still get very fit racing Zwift.