Zwift App Review
Having been introduced into the market way back in 2014, you’d think we’d have gotten to a Zwift app review by now, wouldn’t you? Granted, Zwift isn’t your typical cardio-focused app, and it’s a far cry from the format we’ve become so familiar with from the likes of iFit, Peloton, and others. The Zwift app differentiates itself by bringing a gaming/virtual racing element to the mix, fuelling riders and runners to keep pace with the countless other app users from around the globe. After a solid testing session, it’s easy to say that Zwift is a fantastic option for those who have no interest in the live coach training method that has spread rapidly across the at-home fitness industry.
Because we’re an equipment-focused site, we’ve taken a particular approach to testing the Zwift app—focusing on integration with exercise bikes and treadmills—however most users being introduced to the app will be those looking for training options using their own road bikes and a compatible trainer. A full list of the “conventional” compatible trainers can be found here on the Zwift website, and you can find our top five bike trainers page here. however that’s not the only way to get connected and take advantage of training options. The Zwift app is compatible with Wahoo speed and cadence sensors, which can in turn be attached to just about any exercise bike out there, so long as it has an open flywheel (one that isn’t covered with a protective shroud). the speed sensor can be fitted on the flywheel, and the cadence sensor will strap onto the pedal arm, and off you go (more on that in a moment).
This ability to set Zwift up for use on a wide range of equipment makes it incredibly versatile, and combining it with the “gaming” nature of the platform makes for a very appealing combination. Strength trainers look elsewhere, as Zwift is 100% cardio focused, but if that’s the target at hand you’ll want to keep reading.
What You Need To Know
- Zwift takes you on running and cycling routes around the world, in a virtual gaming format rather than live pre-recorded video.
- Tail other runners/riders, ride solo, join groups, or follow programmed workouts—there’s no shortage of options.
- After a 7-day trial, subscription will cost you $14.99/month.
- Can pair with several other fitness apps, including Strava and many others.
- Will pair to fitness trackers for heart rate monitoring.
- User interface could still use some fine tuning—less than ideal on both Android and iPad, but worth the hassle.
Getting Started — What Equipment Do You Need?
Unlike many other apps, Zwift does require a certain level of equipment to get the ball rolling. If you’re a cyclist with a road bike, you’ll need a smart trainer, or a standard trainer and a set of the Wahoo cadence and speed sensors we mentioned above (or another alternative type of power meter). Otherwise, a spin-style indoor cycle with an exposed flywheel will be in order. Pretty much anything will do—you can go basic and follow the training on your smartphone, tablet, or smart TV with casting capability. If you want a more immersive experience, you can also run Zwift on either the Stryde Bike or MYX Fitness bike thanks to their unlocked screens. You’ll have to download a screen mirroring app for the bike, and then cast onto said screen from your smartphone or tablet. For runners, you’ll be running on a treadmill (obvious, considering the video element of this), and you’ll need either a treadmill that can communicate with Zwift (see the compatibility list here), or a smart sensor that attaches to one of your running shoes (available in the Zwift shop). Thankfully there are a lot of good treadmills that will communicate with the app, including options from Sole, Life Fitness, Bowflex, and others.
To be frank, going the smartphone route to run the Zwift app is a complete letdown, as you don’t really get to enjoy the immersive experience of the Zwift app on such a tiny screen. At a bare minimum, the tablet is the smartest route unless you’re also wanting to take advantage of the other training options available from Stryde or MYX. That said, if you go that route you’re then carrying the costs of two separate subscription services, which could be a bit much. For a range of options, take a spin through our list of best indoor cycles and look for options that don’t come with a built-in screen. At the top of our list would be the Bowflex C6, or the commercial cycling class grade Keiser M3.
Next on the list, specifically for the benefit of greater workout data capture, it won’t hurt to have a heart rate monitor on hand. You can connect a Fitbit, Garmin, Apple Watch or Polar heart rate monitor to the app, and your heart rate from your workout will be logged once you’ve finished your workout session.
What to Expect From a Zwift App Workout?
The expectation here is, more than anything, a proper challenge. Yes, you can ride at your own pace all you want, but Zwift is the land of competitive cyclists, to the point that many pro rides will train on the app when it’s the offseason and road riding isn’t in the cards. From the home screen of the app, you can see a healthy list of group races taking place, with a headcount of how many riders are in the group, and the skill level of riders. These levels are classed A through E, and you need to do a bit of math to figure that out. Basically, the groups are qualified by FTP (your Functional Threshold Power) calculated in watts/kilogram. To save you the headaches, the details of the tests and where to find it in the app can be found here: Where to find the Zwift App FTP Test
So that’s how you go racing, but that’s just the start of the home screen. There’s also your route and map selection options up top, the ride type section that opens up various pre-set workouts, the option to join other Zwifters, and even a goal section in the bottom right that let’s you set weekly or monthly goals that can either be time or distance based. There’s even a fun little toggle for the Zwift Academy—a section with pre-set orientation rides to help new riders get a feel for things.
Swapping over to the running section for a moment, the offerings are nearly as vast, however you’ll immediately notice a difference in turnout. Where races in cycling will have hundreds of participants signed up on any given day, the average count for runners is more like dozens. Once again the workout options run deep, so unless you’re solely in it to run against other people, you’ll have no shortage of options. Even if you are looking for group runs, it’s not like the category is devoid of competition either. Long story short, we’d be first to recommend Zwift for cyclists, but it’s a mighty decent treadmill option as well.
To sum things up, what you can expect from the Zwift app as a first-timer is a bit of a sensory overload. This isn’t the kind of app you can just jump into blindly and expect to be any sort of competitive with. That said, if you just want an XP-accumulating gamer experience and don’t care about anyone else on the road, pair your sensors, hit a map, and just go. One of a number of upsides to this format—no one is stopping you, and as you’ll see on the map, you won’t be the only one. In our test runs there were often random bikes on the side of the road, the avatars of new riders who were still in the midst of figuring out this big old world full of bikes.
Zwift App Workout Types
Regardless of whether you’re a cyclist or runner, there are four main ways to get in a good workout via the Zwift app. Here’s a quick breakdown of how they all work.
Solo Ride or Run
For a lot of riders, especially those that are on the novice end of the spectrum, the best place to start will be on a solo ride or run on one of the open map routes available in the Zwift app. It’s worth noting here that Zwift does things a little differently than many other fitness apps. While there are a total of nine open world maps and two “event only” maps (reserved specifically for scheduled races/competitions), users do not have access to every map at all times. Generally running on a rotation of one to 4 days, these maps will switch availability and give users access to three world maps at a time. Watopia—Zwift’s own imaginary world—and two other world maps are on offer at any given day, Including France, Paris (yes, Paris is separate from the rest of France), London, Yorkshire, New York City, Richmond (Virginia), Makuri Islands (made up by Zwift, inspired by Japanese countryside), and Innsbruck.
Once you’ve chosen you map of preference, next comes route selection. Each map has its own pre-set routes with lap length and elevation data available on the selection page. You can also select “Group Riders Nearby” or “Surprise Me” to either be thrown into any packs of riders currently on the map, or be presented with a a random route as the app sees fit.
If you’re looking for more training guidance than just pedalling around a map and chasing other riders, this is your next destination. Just under the map selection is the “Ride Type” button that allows you to select from a ton of different workouts that can be run on the map of your choosing. There’s a “Workout of the Week” section, sections dedicated to time blocks between sub-30 minute and over 90 minute endurance rides, and also an archive of several past years of the “Zwift Academy” training series. Unfortunately these aren’t really filtered by skill level, but each workout comes with a description of its format and intensity. There is also a section dedicated to training plans, which has a great Zwift 101 series that would be highly recommended for any newer riders out there.
Group Rides and Races
A huge element of the Zwift sales pitch is its sense of community, and thus Group Rides and Races are available on the regular at all hours of the day and night. From the home screen, the top right corner has a scrollable list of rides and races that cover a range of skill levels (again going back to the aforementioned A through E competition classes). These live events can have hundreds of participants in them at any given time, and will occasionally take place on the “Event Only” maps of Bologna or Crit City. If you can keep an OK pace and you’ve got a competitive streak in you, this is the ideal place to hop on and pedal your heart out.
Our Experience With the Zwift App
After countless hours in front of apps with trainers in front of us providing guidance, this whole “follow the pack” video game workout experience was a refreshing one. While it’s clearly built with actual cyclists in mind, Zwift offers a compelling workout method that sucked me in quickly, and led me to explore more than I had anticipated.
I would argue that there are only two real quirks with the app that require some getting used to, and one is not really a fault with Zwift itself. Their user interface is a bit fussy and counterintuitive in some ways, and as you get started you’re likely to find yourself inadvertently starting a ride when you’re simply trying to navigate the app’s menu. In regards to this counterintuitive nature, here’s a prime example. When you select a group ride or race, after you’ve selected it and it shows you as “Going”, you then click the Ride button at the bottom of the screen. Rather than taking you directly to the ride, it will first take you to the map and route that was also selected on the screen, and it will then prompt you to join the group or race and take another step to navigate into it. If you’re part way in and decide you need to opt out or step away, ending the ride is also a two step process, as you have to first leave the group, and then leave the ride entirely.
The other quirk at hand comes down to how you set up to ride. Our set of Wahoo sensors worked reasonably well, but we seemed to have a fairly consistent delay when it came to registering changes in power and speed. This is again something that a ride will grow accustomed to over time, and will be able to work around, but it’s simply not the same “hop on and go” type of operation we’ve grown so accustomed to with other workout apps.
Is The Zwift App Worth It?
From time to time, these approvals require a caveat, and this couldn’t be more accurate when speaking of the Zwift App. In short, if you love cycling outdoors, riding with groups, or you prefer video games to spin classes, then this is your app. That said, if you aren’t so big on technology/apps/connected devices in the first place, there’s a good chance that the way Zwift runs will get on your nerves. Using Zwift takes some getting used to, but if you can handle the learning curve it’s definitely worth it.