Currently, Zwift workouts are essentially defined by three parameters: power, time, and repetition count. Whether it is a Zwift-prescribed or a custom workout, each component is defined by the power the rider must sustain (often calculated as a percent of FTP) and the duration of that sustained power. That component is then repeated some number of times. For example, “The Gorby” is a warm-up, followed by ~110% FTP for 5 minutes, followed by ~55% FTP for 5 minutes, repeated 5 times.
Such structured workouts are often designed to make one better in a race situation, in which efforts are often better approximated by intervals than by sustained steady-state output. The drawback of such structured workouts, however, is their predictability. Muscles may develop memory for the intervals themselves, and although structured workouts help build race form in many ways, they fail to replicate the unpredictability of a real race, in which one often faces explosions of power that have a seemingly random element in terms of both the degree of power as well as the duration over which it is sustained.
Here, I propose the development of a workout that incorporates a semi-random element to both the power and duration that would better approximate a real race situation. In other words, after a warm-up period, the workout would begin during which the rider would not know from one moment to the next how much power is required at any moment nor how long it must last. There would simply be a number showing the power required at that moment (would probably work best in erg mode).
At first pass this might sound awful. But, this is similar to what occurs in a race: seemingly random bursts of power, sometimes sustained and sometimes not for seemingly random durations of time. Of course, these are not truly random because there are limits to individual power and the duration it can be sustained. So, that is why I think this would be “semi” randomized, in that maximal power would be bound by some percent of the rider’s FTP and bound by some reasonable time period. So, although such a workout might sound awful, it should be doable.
Here’s an example based on an FTP of 296 watts. After a warm-up, the rider would suddenly be instructed to ride at 300 watts. The rider would now know how long he or she must sustain it, but, of course, the duration should make it difficult but still doable. This would be followed by some lower wattage for a semi-random duration before another burst is required, etc.