Beginner (out of shape) rider and workout suggestions

(Nightyear) #1

Hello, I’m new to Zwift and new to disciplined cycling in general.  I’ve ridden a bike all of my life but I’m trying to unlearn some bad habits and get in better shape. 

I should start by saying I’m fairly overweight (250lbs/6’1") and have some heart issues, but my cardiologist has been impressed at how well my elevated resting heart rate has responded to exercise. I was regularly at 100bpm sitting in a chair, and now I’m down to 80bpm without medication. The goal is to avoid the meds if at all possible, and so far so good.  

As soon as I start pedaling I’m back up to 130-140bpm though, so it’s clear i’m not in good shape at all. I can get myself to about 180bpm fairly quickly, and if I stay there for more than 5 minutes I start getting headaches and dizziness, and I turn a lovely shade of purple. After a cardiac stress test the doc says I should stay from 130-150bpm, with occasional peaks at 160, so I’m trying to abide by that. I used to be very proud of my pain tolerance, but he’s observed that I am capable of ignoring serious health symptoms while working out, and I’m kinda enjoying being alive, so I’m doing my best to be good while trying to get in better shape.  

My kit is a Giant Revolt 2 bike fitted at the local bike shop, a Kurt Kinetic Rock and Roll smart trainer, a wahoo sc cadence meter, and an apple watch for heart rate. I used a chest strap with the cardiologist for a bit and he compared it to the apple watch, and found it was within 1-2bpm, which surprised him and me, but I prefer not wearing the chest strap if I don’t have to, and I deal with the finicky issues with pairing it.  I did my firmware updates and a few spin-down calibrations, and made sure there’s no slippage and I’m .3sec from the sweet spot as far as timing.  

I took an FTP test and I got to 143 by breaking the heart rate rules a little, which I realize is counterproductive but at least now I know my limits. Depressing, but I let myself get this way, so that’s where we are.  I signed up for the 6 week beginners FTP builder and have been struggling a little bit with technique or equipment issues this first week, and was curious if any of you have advice on these things: 

Cadence: Many of the workout goals have 90-100rpm cadence targets, even on rest segments at 60-70w. It’s really hard for me to do 90rpm without feeling like I’m out of control, and when I do get up to that pedal speed I’m at double that power output at the easiest gearing. I’ve tried to let the trainer (Kurt Rock& Roll Smart) spin down a bit then shift to an easier gear and try to get up to 90rpm but I feel like the flywheel is going faster and I’m free-spinning.  ECM mode doesn’t seem to help a lot. Honestly 75rpm is where I naturally fall back to that feels right, but I feel compelled to hit the assigned targets and get “credit” or stars for them.  Any advice?  Am I hitting the floor of that device or just doing something wrong?  I’m ok with an answer of “dude you’re just heavy and that’s how it’s gonna be for a bit” but figured I’d ask.  

Heart Rate: I’m noticing that all of the workouts tend to be constrained by power or cadence, but I’m looking for one specifically tailored for cardiovascular training. I realize I’m an edge case, and that a lot of Zwifters aren’t in my condition, but I figured I’d ask.  Is there anything with heart rate zone targets as the goals?  Is there something happening behind the scenes to either push or pull back the intensity goals based on where my heart rate is at?  

Form/technique: I’ve watched a few GCN videos on proper form, in an attempt to stop bouncing/rocking in the saddle, get rid of bad posture, and stop hunching up my shoulders such that my hands get numb. (numb tingly hands are one of the warning signs for a heart attack, I’d like to not get false positives on that.)  I’m fine at 70-80rpm for cadence but once I get above that I’m bouncing/rocking quite a bit.  Is this just a “perfect practice makes perfect, Danielsan” sorta thing? I’m thinking it’s my downstroke on my stronger leg trying to overcompensate, and trying to ease back and level that out a bit, but so far not having much luck at higher rpms.  Any advice?  

Thanks and seeya in Watopia,

JB “nightyear” 


(Zee Kryder) #2

There are far more riders on Zwift in your situation than many people realize. I would suggest using workouts that are mostly in the Blue and Green Zones (2 and 3) or that are set for about 50-70 % of your FTP.

WhatsonZwift has many you can download. I have tried to use much of the research in using cycling to lose weight and have a few workouts you can try as well. 


(Paul Allen) #3

I would NOT  suggest using any workouts on Zwift in since they are all power based. I would just suggest you use the Free Ride mode and just work on keeping your HR below 150 by adjusting your watts/cadence to do so.

I would also suggest using a cadence that is comfortable to you and not try to force a high one. Higher cadence usually equals high HR. I having been riding on Zwift for over 2 1/2 years and I have found that I am at my best comfort, HR and power by keeping my cadence between 70-75, well below what most would consider ideal (except for Brett Sutton, experience Triathlon coach, Low Cadence).


(Tomas S) #4

JB,thanks for sharing your story,makes me happy to read,it is never to late to change our lives to the better,if i were you i would just ride around at my own pace and not bother with any training programs,also 70-80rpm is fine,+100rpm is only for froome lovers!(imho)and im definitivly not one of them,it will only drive your pulse up,just keep riding and things will improve!

(Joe Daknis) #5

Everyone’s different, Thomas S. I’ve been using 165 mm crank arms on one of my bikes since last year, and find it very comfortable to spin up to 100 rpm+ and tend to ride between 95 - 105 most of the time (except where climbing makes that impossible for me).

Here’s a workout from last night:

Instructions were to keep cadence relatively steady throughout.  True that my HR creeps up with each training block (especially at the end) - but notice that it dips back down at each recovery interval, despite no significant change in cadence? 



(Steven D) #6

Hi Nightyear,

Lots of info you’ve provided there. Welcome to Zwift btw.

I’m going list some helpful links that you may find useful.

You can create your own custom workouts in Zwift and tailor them to your needs, changing the wattage and cadence targets as desired. Here’s our Zwift KB article on creating custom workouts:–Creating-Custom-Workouts

Since you may or may not have some health concerns I’m not aware of, I don’t want to get into advising specific workouts, however this site may have some downloadable 3rd party custom workouts that you may find fit your needs:

The following link is to a forum discussion about Heart Rate which may have some relevant information for you:

Sadly we don’t seem to have anything specific to cardio training but you could use that WhatsonZwift site to determine what to use to hit the zones you’re targeting.

If you’re spinning out during the workouts, then we may need to have more information and closer examination of your setup for Zwift. For that, I would encourage you to submit a support ticket and one of our Zwift support team members can help your further.

Also, we have an excellent article on our Zwift knowledge base which discusses how to use ERG mode in Workouts. You may find it quite informative, and here’s another very good article for understanding ERG mode and how it works in Zwift.

It’s important to remember that when using ERG mode, you shouldn’t need to change gears. Make sure you stay in a neutral gear, keep a steady cadence, and let the trainer do all the work for changing your resistance.

If you’re concerned that an FTP test will get your heart rate up too high, you can just do some SIM mode rides (Just Ride) and eventually Zwift will automatically provide an FTP based on your ride data. You can also edit your FTP manually if you have a general idea what it should be. 


Please give those things a try and let me know how it goes.

(Nightyear) #7

Thank you all for the advice and encouragement.  I’ve been doing the FTP builder for structure, and just letting go of those stars depending on how my heart rate is doing.  I kicked in ERG mode today and I should have given it more of a chance, with the Kinetic Rock and Roll that’s actually pretty cool and I think it’s working as intended.  

I may just stick with that since the overall way the workouts/schedule is structured works for me, and I don’t do as well with the “just ride around” as far as work/rest intervals, think it’s just my lack of focus/discipline a bit. 

Anyway, thanks again,


(Tim Camden WBR (C)) #8

Another suggestion.

You might want repeat an FTP test but adhere to your HR constraints.

You stated your FTP test was 143 but you exceeded you HR ceiling.

From that, all your goals in a workout will based upon a goal that was physically beyond your desired HR goal.

An adjusted FTP might make it easier for you to stay within your goals.

It also sound like your trainer may not be providing enough resistance for some reason.

There are some low cadence workouts in zwift, I think they are buried in the Grand Fondo workouts.

I found that for a given power output, the lower the cadence, my HR would actually decrease compared to that same power output at a higher cadence.

I now use that info to “rest” on road rides when I need to get my HR down.

(Tim Camden WBR (C)) #9

OK it is in the Zwift Fondo Bambino week 3.

(Nightyear) #10

Just wanted to follow up with a quick bit of info.

  • Already seeing better heart rate recovery statx, and the same workout that used to push me to 155 bpm sustained now puts me at 140-150 during pushes and 135 during rests.  In general I just feel better too.  
  • I’m also learning how to let the flywheel spin down a bit while still pedaling to get credit for shorter rest intervals without feeling like I’m out of control and freewheeling.  
  • ERG mode is working better with the big gear in the front crankset and the middle gear in the back sprocket. It’s a Shimano HG400 11x34 and an FSA Omega 32/48.  I’m not sure why it works better though, but I can do 87 RPM comfortably and am right on the power numbers for a given interval in a workout, so I’m going with it.  
  • I’m using rounder pedal strokes after watching a few pedaling technique videos.  That’s also helping with stability on the rock-and-roll trainer, and in general giving me smoother power stats.  
  • The 10 second sprints in workouts still suck, seems like it’s a roll of the dice whether I get credit for them, but I remind myself that this isn’t about stars and to just be happy I’m getting in better shape.