How to use Zwift and a smart trainer to lose weight

How to use Zwift and a smart trainer to lose weight

Losing weight isn't about punishing yourself; it's about finding ways to enjoy exercise. Here's how

Clock09:49, Sunday 15th October 2023

Zwift is a fitness technology company that allows users to interact, train and race on its virtual online cycling platform. Zwift has approximately one million subscribers and has completely changed how cyclists view training.

As many of us have found, losing weight can be hard work. Thankfully, smart trainers can make it that bit easier, by giving you a convenient, time-efficient and enjoyable way to workout.

Ultimately, the best weight loss plan is the one you stick with. That's why Zwift and other smart training programs are so effective. Once you've set up your smart trainer, jumping on for a session is so easy, and the sessions are so enjoyable (and often addictive), that there's a good chance you'll keep at it month after month.

Here's our guide for using a smart trainer to lose weight. We'll talk about the practical aspects, as well as give you some recommendations for what to do once you get on the bike.

Remember, whilst exercise is a really important part of a weight-loss plan, it only works if you're looking after your diet too. In fact, your diet will have a much greater impact on your weight than your training will. Ollie Bridgewood has explained this relationship in detail in his guide: Why you may be struggling to lose weight from cycling.

Read more: A beginner's guide to Zwift

Change your mindset

Change your mindset

All the advice in this guide points towards the same thing: find a way to enjoy exercising, and the weight loss will follow.

Don't get on your smart trainer to punish yourself for what you ate yesterday or for being inactive. Do it to enjoy yourself, meet people and feel good.

Try to resist weighing yourself often. Once a month is enough. If you don't give yourself time to improve, standing on the scales will just make you feel like you're not making any progress.

Make it convenient

Make working out at home convenient

If you need to spend time and effort setting up your smart trainer every time you use it, there's very little chance you'll do it as often as you need to.

Find a space to permanently set up your indoor trainer, so that when you need to use it, it's ready to go.

If space is restricted, store your bike and smart trainer so you can get set up in just a few minutes. If it's not convenient, you probably won't keep doing it.

Make it fun

Make it fun by trying Zwift events, challenges and routes

Virtual training programs like Zwift have revolutionised indoor training in recent years. Smart trainers make indoor cycling fun, interactive and immersive.

Try the different types of workout your smart trainer offers until you find something that you enjoy. For some, that'll be just riding around the virtual world. Make the most of the different worlds available within Zwift, and add a sense of adventure to your indoor riding.

For others, it could be racing or doing structured training. Find something you enjoy, and you're far more likely to train regularly.

Make it sociable

Make it sociable with Zwift group rides, clubs and teams

Training doesn't have to be something you do alone. Zwift offers group rides, events and clubs to suit every rider at every level.

The trick to making the most of the social side of Zwift is to find a group ride that's your level and attend it consistently each week. The chat usually happens in the companion app, so make sure you've got that open while you ride to see who else is there and what they're chatting about.

Consider joining a club or team. You'll see the same faces (or rather, 'avatars') ride after ride, and often the chat continues off the bike via Discord, Slack or Facebook groups. Building a community is a great way to incentivise yourself to get riding!

Try Zwift racing

Try Zwift racing

Even if you've never raced before, we'd suggest giving the Zwift races a go. Find which of the five categories suits your level, and let that competitive side emerge – Zwift racing can be addictive, which is no bad thing if you want to lose weight.

For your first race, be aware that the first few minutes of a Zwift race are often the hardest part. Everyone goes flat out from the gun to get a good position, then settles in, so don't be put off if the first few minutes are really tough!

Read more: 10 mistakes to avoid on Zwift

Consider high-intensity training

Consider high-intensity training

As we've covered, the trick to losing weight is making exercise fun and convenient, rather than thrashing yourself. Sometimes though, it's good to inject a tough session here or there to boost your fitness and burn some calories.

High-intensity training or interval training will burn a lot of calories in a short amount of time, so if you haven't got time for a longer ride, it's a good way to keep losing weight. Zwift and other smart training programs have loads of interval training sessions to choose from, and they'll guide you through the efforts and adjust the resistance of the trainer accordingly.

Don't do too much high-intensity training

Don't do too much high-intensity training

High-intensity training is great for burning a lot of calories in a short time. The problem is, it's so exhausting that if you do too much of it, you're going to wear yourself out.

Low-intensity or middle-intensity riding still burns calories, and they're easy enough that you'll want to get back on the bike the next day. For the long term, that's more important than the calorie burn rate for a single session.

Even more important is this: high-intensity training is tough, and few people can honestly say they enjoy it. If you start to associate exercise with pain and suffering, you're not going to be thrilled by the prospect of jumping on your smart trainer for a workout.

Fuel training properly

Fuel training properly

If you find that you have food cravings after exercising, the chances are you're not eating enough before and during your workouts. During exercise, your body will convert the calories you consume into energy, so you should fuel your rides properly. After you've finished exercising, your body will store the calories you consume, which will do no favours for your weight loss goals.

To find out how many calories you need to fuel your training, have a look at our guide: How many calories do you burn while cycling?

Top Tip

You don't need to use expensive sports nutrition on every ride. Bananas, dried fruits and other naturally sugary foods work well too.

Pair your Zwift riding with a healthy calorie deficit

Pair your Zwift riding with a healthy calorie deficit

Once you've built a positive, active lifestyle with your smart trainer, introduce a calorie deficit – that's when you burn more calories each day than you consume. To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume.

Ollie Bridgewood has made a guide for getting your calorie deficit right, so for more guidance on balancing food and exercise, have a look at this: Why you may be struggling to lose weight from cycling.

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