What can you do on Zwift in one hour? Train, race, Watopia, FTP tests and more

If you’re a time strapped-cyclist, Zwift is one of the most time-efficient ways to ride and train

Clock16:30, Friday 20th October 2023

Family, work and everyday commitments: we all love to ride our bikes but unfortunately life often gets in the way. When other priorities are taken care of, we’re often only left with a small window of an hour here and there when we can actually hop on the saddle and have a quick spin.

This process is made a little simpler by turbo trainers which aren’t weather dependent and are the most convenient solution for time-strapped cyclists. Even then, you may be questioning how much you can actually achieve in one hour of turbo training.

Read more: Cycling, running or the gym: what’s the best 30-minute workout?

There’s good news here as it’s a lot more than you may think. Thanks to training apps like Zwift, indoor cycling capabilities have never been broader, with plenty of features to keep you entertained and provide a thorough workout.

Need more convincing? From racing to exploring virtual worlds, here’s everything you can do in only one hour on Zwift.

Read more: Getting started with Zwift indoor training

Explore virtual cycling worlds: Watopia, London, Alpe du Zwift and more

If you simply want to hop on the bike with no specific plan and just ride, then you can easily do that on Zwift. The online training platform is home to a large number of routes which allow you to explore virtual worlds, many of which are based on real-world roads.

How many Zwift routes are there?

On current count there are 12 worlds, although that number is constantly growing. Together, they house over 100 routes, covering thousands of kilometres, more than enough to keep you entertained throughout a full winter of turbo training. This includes: Watopia, Richmond, London, New York, Innsbruck, Bologna TT, Yorkshire , Crit City, Makuri Islands, France, Paris and Scotland.

The biggest and most popular is Watopia which features Alpe du Zwift, a virtual climb modelled on Alpe d’Huez. Head there at any time of the day and you’ll find a long stream of people toiling up its slopes as they attempt to conquer their previous best time. To unlock the route, known as ‘Road to the Sky’, you’ll need to be level six, but this is easily achieved after spending a little time exploring other routes and worlds.

Currently, three of the worlds are available each day. Watopia is a permanent fixture while the other two slots alternate. You can check out the full Zwift world calendar here.

Workout and set up a Zwift training plan

While some cyclists just want to explore, others have specific fitness aims. It could be training for an event or trying to build foundation fitness for the coming season. When increasing power numbers is your goal, you need to make the most of the short riding time you have through high-quality training sessions.

Zwift has a comprehensive library of workouts packed with sub-one hour training sessions that will help you maximise every minute of riding time. These cover the whole spectrum of training zones and many are provided by WorldTour pros, like the selections from Ineos Grenadiers and the now-retired Annemiek van Vleuten.

While you can hop on and pick a workout prior to a session, it can be useful to have a structured plan in place. A long-term plan will provide focussed training that will lead to better fitness gains over the long-term, plus it can be more motivating knowing that you have a workout already lined up. Zwift has plenty of training plans for a variety of goals. Pick whichever one suits your needs and then schedule the workouts around your free time. Of course, life isn’t always so simple, but you can be flexible with a plan too, shifting workouts around as your free time changes.

Read more: Zwift training challenge - how fit can you get using a turbo trainer?

Zwift FTP tests

If you’re new to cycling, you may not have heard of an FTP (functional threshold power) test before. For anyone familiar, the term is enough to make your legs turn to jelly just thinking about it.

FTP is the maximum amount of power a rider can sustain for one hour of riding. Most training apps use it as a benchmark for fitness, basing their training workouts and plans around it, so it’s an important number to know.

Unfortunately, finding the number involves leg and lung-burning tests. While it’s possible to simply ride flat-out for one hour, it’s a lot of suffering, so most cyclists understandably steer clear.

The best alternative options are the more popular 20-minute or ramp tests and Zwift features variations of both. At the end of the flat-out 20-minute test, a rider’s average power is taken and 95% of that number is the FTP. 

Ramp tests are a little different. They start out at a really easy power before it slowly ramps up at one-minute intervals. The task is simple: ride for as long as possible until you can’t pedal anymore. Once you stop pedalling, Zwift will estimate your FTP. It can be a daunting task at first, so Zwift also offers the ‘Ramp Test Lite’ which is a little shorter.

As they’re only short tests, they’re easy to cram into an hour session.

Read more: 20-minute, one hour or ramp test: Which FTP test is best?

Take part in a Zwift race

The world of virtual riding has become so expansive that it’s now possible to race on Zwift. Even if you’re not competitive or particularly interested in racing, it's worth trying a race at some point as they’re a lot of fun.

Each race is displayed in the Zwift event calendar which shows the distance and elevation gain. Races are split into different categories based on fitness level, so you should end up racing against other riders matched to your ability.

Some races feature power ups that can be activated via the app during the race. These are randomly allocated at certain parts of a course and do everything from lowering your virtual rider’s weight so that you can fly up a climb faster to giving you a little extra relief from the virtual wind through an additional draft.

Once a race is finished you can check out the results on Zwift Power.

Be aware that you’ll need a smart trainer and a heart rate monitor to take part in races.

Read more: Turbo trainer vs exercise bike: Which is best for indoor cycling?

Group rides

Beyond all of the features - and there are a lot - there's a large community aspect on Zwift too. The platform is designed to be interactive, encouraging riders to communicate through the chat feature or by sending someone a ‘Ride on’ icon.

The heart of this community is the group rides and group workouts. These are also displayed in the Zwift event calendar and allow you to join other riders around the world in an online spin - so, it’s really easy to plan one in for when you have a free hour. Even better still, many group rides have a no-drop feature so that everyone stays together regardless of how many watts they’re putting out.

If large group rides aren’t your thing, you can arrange to ride with specific friends by arranging a ‘Meetup’. This is a group ride that you can arrange with specific Zwifters through the Zwift Companion App. You can also join individual riders through the ‘Join a Zwifter’ function which can be found under the ‘Just Ride’ tile on the app home screen.

Need more indoor cycling help or inspiration? GCN's ultimate guide to indoor cycling has you covered with advice and guides on everything from turbo training tech to workouts. Check it out here.

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