So you’ve got a smart trainer (or maybe even just a regular trainer) and you’re trying to decide which app to use with it. Which app should you use, and which one is best?
There’s really no right or wrong answer when it comes to bike trainer apps. It’s about choosing the one that works best for your own personal needs. In that respect, these three apps are quite different and give you a lot of options for training. You might even end up using more than one of them.
Sometimes these apps offer a free trial, so I recommend trying them for yourself and trying more than just one. Even if you don’t get a free trial, it’s worth the money to pay for a month if it means you end up with an app that you really like and use. You might be surprised at what you actually end up liking compared to what you think you might like best.
Zwift is the Swiss army knife of indoor cycling apps, and it does a little bit of everything.
You can use it to free ride around the virtual world and be around other cyclists who are riding at their own indoor location. You can chat with them through a companion app. You keep track of your real life friends who use the app, and join up in the Zwift world to ride together. This social aspect of the app is what has made it tremendously popular, because it has transformed riding on your bike trainer from a solitary and often boring activity into something that’s a lot more fun.
But there’s much, much more to Zwift than just randomly riding around with others. Zwift also offers both individual workouts and entire training plans that you can follow. So you could follow a multiple week plan to train for a future race or century ride. Or you could just pick and choose individual workouts to improve or keep your fitness in check. You can even build your own workout in the app, or upload workouts that come from a coach.
Zwift offers an FTP (functional threshold power) test so that it can then set the workouts at the proper level for your current fitness. If the app notices that you are riding even harder than this on one of your other rides like during a race, it will automatically update your settings with your current FTP. You can also manually downgrade it or take a new FTP test if you haven’t been riding and have lost fitness.
If freeriding and workouts aren’t enough for you, there are also organized group training rides. Some of the rides are set at a certain pace. Some might have group intervals that everyone does together. It all depends. It’s a little bit like the social feeling of a spin class.
And then there’s Zwift racing. There are many different length races scheduled throughout the day, so you can almost always find one to participate in. The races are set up by category so that you can race against others who are close to your own fitness level.
You can take the races very seriously and sign up at Zwiftpower to confirm that you use a smart trainer that accurately measures wattage and a heart rate monitor to ride against others who are also measuring. You can also just join the races anyway with your regular set up to experience the fun, but your results won’t appear on the leaderboards since nothing is verified.
You’re almost certain to find something about Zwift that makes riding indoors fun, helps improve your fitness, or both at the same time.
You can publish your Zwift workouts and rides on Strava.
Learn more at Zwift.com.
The Sufferfest started out as a series of workout videos with licensed pro cycling footage that you would play while riding the trainer, where you’d follow along with the intervals as you watched the pros attacking.
But the app has developed over the years into something with many more additional features, and now works best with a smart trainer. Wahoo purchased The Sufferfest in 2019, but you can use it with any brand of trainer.
The Sufferfest is designed for training alone, and does not have the social features of riding with other indoor riders around the world. There is a very active Facebook group where Sufferfest fans trade tips and talk about training with the app, however.
Most cycling workout apps are designed around your FTP (functional power threshold), which is basically the fastest pace / highest wattage that you can maintain during a one hour time trial. The Sufferfest takes it further with their 4DP system that measures your FTP along with your maximum 5 second power, 1 minute power and 5 minute power.
Some riders excel at long efforts but are weaker at shorter ones, or vice versa. By testing these four different aspects of your fitness, it will then effectively set each part of your workout so that it matches your fitness ability for that time period. It makes those intervals harder or easier depending on your needs, instead of just setting them all based on your 20 or 60 minute FTP test.
Sufferfest workouts often have a storyline that goes along with the type of workout, with pro cycling footage running on the screen so that you feel like you’re chasing down the pros during your workout. It’s really a lot more fun than just trying to pedal and hit a wattage target. However, the app does additional feature “no-vid” workouts if you just want to complete the workout while you listen to your own music or watch television while you’re riding indoors. You can also mute the music and sound effects of the video based workouts too.
I generally mute the Sufferfest music and play my own music, but still keep the sound effects turned on because they give you an audio cue about when your next interval is about the begin and when it is about to end.
Like Zwift, The Sufferfest offers long term workout plans for almost every type of cyclist, whether you’re a triathlete, mountain biker, criterium racer or century rider. Just pick the workout plan that matches your goals and you’re certain to get fitter as you follow it.
I am personally not currently racing, so I just pick out individual workouts and ride them several times a week to keep my general fitness level high enough so that I don’t have to struggle on fast group rides. I rotate between 5 to 8 workouts that I enjoy. Some of them are “sweet spot” types of workouts that are near your FTP. Some are short and hard interval workouts, such 15 second hard intervals followed by 15 seconds of rest, again and again (that one is called Half is Easy). And some give you longer intervals like The Bat, which is focused on 5 minute intervals with surges at the beginning and end of each one.
But there’s also more to The Sufferfest than cycling workouts. The app also offers a strength training program to follow that’s specifically designed to help you as a cyclist. And then there’s a yoga program too, to help with your flexibility. There’s even a mental training aspect, with short videos that help you prepare for the adversity that comes with cycling competition and helps you with positive thinking and mental toughness training exercises.
If you’re training for fitness and don’t mind training alone but would still like features to keep things interesting, The Sufferfest is a terrific app. It has become my app of choice that I use most of the time.
You can publish your Sufferfest workouts on Strava.
Learn more at The Sufferfest site.
If you’re all about getting to business and completing your assigned workouts, then TrainerRoad is the app for you. There’s no social aspect, and no fancy videos and music to keep you entertained. You’re just looking at a graph on the screen and hitting your wattage numbers for the prescribed amount of time. It’s very similar to The Sufferfest “no-vid” workouts, if you have used those.
You can overlay your own videos to watch while you’re riding with the software if you are using it on a laptop. If you’re using a tablet, you can do something like run the app on the tablet while listening to music or watching a movie on your phone or on a tv in the room.
Like with Zwift and The Sufferfest, TrainerRoad lets you choose a workout plan so that you can specifically train for a cycling event, whether that is a mountain bike race, criterium, gran fondo or road race. If you follow the plan, you will certainly see significant fitness gains over time.
If you use a Wahoo or a Garmin bike computer, you can load your TrainerRoad workouts onto your computer and do the workouts outside. This is a cool feature for those who like to do some of their structured workouts outside instead of on the trainer.
As with the other apps, TrainerRoad works best with a smart trainer that accurately measures your wattage. But you can also use it with a regular trainer and can get similarly good fitness results, even if your intervals might not be at exactly the prescribed wattages.
Update: TrainerRoad recently added a Group Workout feature, where you can ride your workout with up to four people and join them on a video call.
You can publish your completed workouts to Strava.
Learn more at the TrainerRoad site.
Why Choose Just One?
If you’re spending a lot of time doing indoor training, then it’s potentially worth the expense to choose more than one of these apps.
For the last six months, I’ve been using The Sufferfest most of the time, but I keep my Zwift subscription running so that I can do Zwift races if I feel like it. Zwift racing is motivates me to ride just as hard as a real race, so I like to race there to push myself now and then.
If I had to choose just one, I’d probably go with The Sufferfest, because I like the workouts there and the pro cycling videos, and I don’t race that much on Zwift anyway. But if the social aspect of indoor riding was the most important aspect for me, then it would have to be Zwift.