Indoor training with Zwift was a game changer for me!

Sandra in the Paincave

When I mention to friends that I am going to ride my trainer in the basement, often their response is:
“Really, it sounds so boring?”.
Yes, it can be boring until you find out what works for you.  It took me 3 years to get a system in place that I liked.  Now I don’t just like it, I look forward to the regular exercise and fitness gains. There are still some days that I groan about getting on the trainer, but 20 minutes in my mood has changed and I’m glad I did it.  It is space efficient too, you don’t need a lot of space to get started.

Why train indoors?
For some of you this will be the big question.  I train because I want to maintain my fitness over the winter so that I feel strong when mountain bike season starts in the spring.  Riding is much more fun for me when I feel fit.  When climbing every hill feels like a struggle, it is less fun.

Riding indoors on a trainer is also very time efficient.  It is a great workout that only takes about 5 minutes of pre-ride prep, versus loading up the car and packing up clothes, snacks, etc.  After a long drive home from work, sometimes I just don’t feel like getting back in my car again. During the school year, I also don’t enjoy cleaning my bike, it just adds onto my to-do list.


How did I get started?
3 years ago I bought a $100 used trainer online, set up my road bike on it, and started spinning to free online videos.  It got my legs moving, but didn't really feel like training.  I had to guess all the time about how much power I was using and also how fast my cadence was.  I hated it and barely noticed any impact on my fitness. 


2 years ago, I bought a Wahoo Kicr Snap on-wheel smart trainer.  (  It's one of the least expensive ways to get into the Smart Trainer scene.  Smart trainers have built-in power meters and they can control how hard it is to pedal.  I added a cadence sensor and a heart rate monitor so I could see every aspect of my training on-screen. 

What a difference with a power reading, cadence sensor and heart rate monitor.  I’m a numbers geek and loved to look at my heart rate on different rides.  I signed up for Trainer Road, ( a grueling training program that a lot of racer-types use.  I loved it and hated it all at the same time, but I decided that the workout intensity was too much for me.  Often 40 minutes into a workout I was struggling to keep my legs spinning, and the last 20 minutes was horrible.  So horrible, I dreaded every single ride, because there never seemed to be an easy workout, even though I was doing their easiest training plan.


Zwift Structured Workout


What about that Zwift thing?

In late February 2018, I tried another online training program called Zwift (  I kept seeing a lot of my Strava friends using it, so I thought it must be OK.  It was.  Zwift is an online, virtual cycling world with thousands of other riders, many different riding worlds, races, group rides, and it's own structured training workouts.  Right away, I loved the visual distraction it offered.  I loved that some routes go by big old growth forests, through volcanoes, into London and around Central Park in New York City.

I also mentally find it so much easier, because it is structured with both easy and hard workouts, and all of them are doable for me.  Even if I get on my bike tired, or stressed out, or sore from the day before.  I’ve finished all of my planned workouts without feeling like I’m going to explode at the end.  There is a good selection of training plans too, and I like that a professional has done the thinking for me.

This year I’ve selected the “Gravel Grinder” plan because I want to do some longer gravel rides, and maybe a couple of races.  Plus, it is most similar to mountain biking compared to the other specialized road biking plans.  


Zwift Structured Programs

Did I mention you can race too?

In March 2018, just before our annual mountain bike trip to Utah, I stumbled upon a fun Zwift racing team.   So after I got home, still smiling about the desert sun and feeling WAY less motivated to train, I decided to try a Zwift Race.  It was crazy hard!  But crazy fun!  It’s a little hard to explain, but something everyone should try.  There are 4 categories in each race (A, B, C, D),  each category has a mass start, and then you ride around the course, chasing other people and trying to draft other riders.  The mini-battles that ensue are stellar.   It’s incredibly challenging being well-matched with another racer and having to battle for an hour, giving it your all to the finish.  And you might come third last in your category, but it doesn’t matter because you have pushed yourself.  And there are detailed statistics to look at and geek out on through the Zwift Power Race site (  For me, it has been a good way to measure my training progress.  And I think it's pretty cool to race with riders from all over the world.

Zwift Strucured Workouts


This year the races draw about 300 riders each week, but there is a lack of women which I think is unfortunate.  It concerns me that women only make up 1-3% of the participants and I think it would be great to get more of us doing these races.  Theses races are for all fitness levels, are easy to join and are an incredibly good workout.  If you've ever wanted to try racing but haven't, Zwift is an easy and cool way to start right in your own basement.



How much is it?

If you’ve been curious about Zwift, it is great to do in the off season.  Ask around and you will probably find others who use it and many people enjoy it for the groups rides.  The monthly subscription is $18.99, which is much more affordable than a gym membership, and even cheaper then just one group spin class.  To get started you need an indoor trainer, a few bike sensors and a laptop or tablet.  You can start with a used dumb trainer, or buy a more advanced smart trainer if you want to jump-in with both feet.

Our next blog post will be about what equipment you can use to get started.   And we have a closed, novice indoor riding group on Facebook that you can join (, where you can ask questions and follow other like-minded cyclists.

Zwift is a great option if you are looking to build your general fitness in the off-season without any particular training in mind, and it also has structured training programs that you can try if you're ready to a bit more serious about riding better. 

But most of all for me, it's super fun.

About Sandra
Sandra Beaubien - Ride Ottawa InstructorSandra Beaubien is an MTB instructor with Ride Ottawa, a passionate lover of all forms of cycling, and a dedicated community builder and volunteer.  She rides bikes in all 4 seasons, trains indoors in the colder months, but also makes time to cross-country and downhill ski, skate and just loves to be outside in nature.

She is based in Ottawa, Canada.