IRL vs. Zwift

What is it about riding on trainer that seems so much different that IRL riding? I have ridden about 5K miles on Zwift (and many, many more trainer miles in my life) and it just seems that IRL riding gives me much better conditioning than on the trainer.

98% of my time on Zwift is racing, and it is very intense, but it really doesn’t seem to translate directly to on the road fitness and strength as I always expect, especially given the intensity of the Zwift races. I  suspect it is the static position and lack of other muscle engagement may be part of it. It also may be that Zwift promotes “grind it out”  total power output instead of snappy interval type riding (like in many races and road training.)

Does anyone else experience this? 

Sounds like you’re spending too much time racing and not enough time doing training. I do 95% of my riding indoors and almost exclusively following Trainerroad workouts and their training plans (Zwift running as well to keep me entertained). This has me placing well in real world races and events.

Wow. 95% indoors!! That’s hardcore. Do you live in a big city?

I am with Nigel. 


Long before zwift I did all of my training indoors on trainers and spinning bikes, only races was on the road and I did very good.

Staring at a piece of paper with training instructions, wish I had zwift back then.

I would suspect that you need more structure in your training. Some people can race them self into form but most need structure. 


No. I live in a rural town and I’ve got plenty of rural roads to ride on. I’m competing mainly in masters TT’s at local and national level but I do some road races as well. The indoor training gives me the most bang for my time. Sunday rides in summer are often outside. 

I think with Zwift racing you could easily get hooked and every race / ride you’re hammering it. Your body probably isn’t getting enough rest. With the training I’m doing it’s harder one day, easier the next. One rest day per week and one easy recovery ride on a Friday.

I applaud your fortitude. My mind would melt doing that many trainerroad hours.

I mostly just ride Zwift in the winter, but I did 3-4 races per week, which keeps me really motivated.  I expected my spring performance on the road to be better. I think I was pushing too hard sometimes, but riding on the trainer just is enough different (to me) that some muscles may not be getting engaged, especially on long, steep climbs I like to do…

I do a lot of intervals on the road and I find those extremely beneficial. Maybe I just can’t motivate that as well on the trainer. Like most things,it’s probably in my head…


Power output, whether indoors or outdoors, remains power output. So if you do not see any progress in power output indoors, outdoors you won’t be getting any advantage either.

And races generally aren’t the best way to train. You want to seek progression. This only works in races if you climb the ladder in race categories. So if you’d find yourself sticking around the same level, progress is less likely to be made despite it being fun.

Beyond that, climbing long steep hills IRL is not just so much a physical performance but also a mental performance. The pace is slow for the power output given. And it really can be a struggle to keep pushing forward through that. Whilst in terms of power output alone, it’s little different from riding on flats, the higher average velocity in the latter just feels so much more rewarding during the activity, rather than at the end.

Power output is indeed power output, but I think the dynamics and slight position differences or trainer riding are subtly different. I certainly get out of my saddle a lot more on the road. Maybe it’s a mental, but I think most experienced riders would not pick trainer over road.

I think there is hardly an argument as most (experienced or inexperienced) would choose to ride outdoors. Riding on a trainer is an alternative and Zwift provides us a means of an “outdoor” experience without having to go outdoors. No one said it was perfect, but for a guy with a newborn that can’t afford to spend hours away from home or be 20 miles away on a bike, it’s the next best thing.

As others mentioned, you gotta incorporate some training if you want to improve. Racing sounds fun, but there are faster and more efficient ways to improve on a trainer.

Good luck with the newborn. Small sacrifice for the joys of parenting!

I think some people DO choose/prefer to ride indoors (surprising to me too). I do enough training, but racing is what really makes you improve. Nothing pushes you harder and stimulates adaptation like races. Of course you can overdo it…

Another thing about trainer riding that I don’t think enough (men) think about is urologic health. It think the static position and lack of coasting may put even more stress on that outdoor riding.

Erectile dysfunction IS serious issue for cyclists, despite some propaganda against it by the cycling industry. Honest, serious discussions of this are sadly lacking. 

I wonder if the increase use of Zwift/trainers will exacerbate the problem. Should be studied.

Thanks! Parenthood is definitely exciting, and yes, the sacrifice is tiny compared to the time spent with your family.

Think of it this way. A crossfitter has a specific training regimen that they follow in order to do well at a crossfit competition. They don’t just keep competing in hopes to improve. They train, then compete. The same goes with any other sport. You train to perform better in competition.

A lot of experience can be gained through competition alone, as well as some physical gains, but it doesn’t negate the fact that training needs to be done to improve.