How To Combine Zwift With CrossFit

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I’ve owned a CrossFit gym for 11 years, and a personal training studio for 14. I’ve been a fitness coach since 1996.
Years before that, I was a cyclist. And now I’m a Zwifter.
Last summer, I started cycling again. Before long, it became all-consuming: I’d give up my CrossFit workouts to get on my bike most days. I thought I’d get back to CrossFit full-time when winter took me off the roads. But then I found Zwift, TrainerRoad and The Sufferfest. I brought my bike indoors, added a smart trainer, and haven’t been bored since. I ride around 4x/week on Zwift now.
The most compelling thing about Zwift for a CrossFitter is the data: you can track improvement in Wattage over time, for example. The AI engine changes my workouts as I improve, and the courses and group rides keep it novel.
The most compelling thing about CrossFit is the constant novelty and combination of strength training with HIIT. And while most CrossFit gyms don’t include much in the way of aerobic capacity building, I’m convinced that you can’t build strength on a bike in a meaningful way. CrossFit actually has some roots in cycling: its founder, Greg Glassman, was a part-time cyclist. And the Tabata protocol was developed for cyclists first; now it’s used almost weekly in many CrossFit gyms.
If you’re a cyclist trying to get stronger or improve your wattage threshold; or if you’re a CrossFitter who wants to ride a bike faster, this is how you do it.

  1. Strength Training – a little goes a long way. Stick to the major lifts (deadlift, squat, and press.) Don’t avoid quad-dominant lifts, but don’t specialize in them, either. Use weight training to balance out your musculature and avoid overuse injuries.
    And go heavy: you get plenty of reps on the bike.
  2. HIIT – replace some of your hill climbs or harder intervals on the bike with high-intensity anaerobic work. I don’t mean step class or a spin circuit. I mean thrusters and pull-ups with maximal effort for short duration. If you haven’t done CrossFit, you don’t know what “hard” is. Find out.
  3. Cycling – do your workouts on Zwift, TrainerRoad or The Sufferfest after your strength training. You’re not necessarily trying to prefatigue your muscles, because you’ll use different fibers and metabolic processes on the bike anyway. You’re simply doing your high-skill work while you’re fresh. And lifting weights is high-skill work.

Now, should you replace 1-2 of your workouts every week with CrossFit? Probably, at first.
If you’re a cyclist, you should start combining CrossFit into your workouts by joining a CrossFit gym and going through their OnRamp program. Here’s a map of over 500 gyms I recommend (not all CrossFit gyms adhere to the same standard of quality, unfortunately.)
Tell the coach your goal, and that you’d like to do CrossFit 1-2x per week. They’ll tell you which days to attend classes. Then they’ll review your goals every quarter, because your CrossFit prescription will change. Make sure you sign up for a nutrition program while you’re there!
If you want to add some strength training or mixed-modal HIIT training to your workout at home, follow these steps.

  1. Take OnRamp at a local CrossFit gym (or whatever they call their Intro program.) Learn the fundamental movements until you can do them under fatigue.
  2. Start with calisthenic movements like squats, lunges, pushups and burpees. Since your first adaptations will be neuromuscular, you don’t have to add external weights right away.
  3. When it’s time to add weight, buy a barbell or kettlebell or dumbbells. Do NOT buy a “home gym” or anything with levers. If you have room to add a pull-up bar, fantastic. Hip flexion movements (like leg raises) are really important for cyclists.

Here are a few suggestions to get started:

  1. Choose a shorter, circuitous route.
  2. Add bodyweight “calisthenic” movements into your ride.
  3. Monitor your heart rate and keep an eye on your wattage.
  4. Keep it simple.

Some CrossFit + Zwift workouts I’ve used:

  1. Volcano CCW Lap + 20 Squats
    Set up on the Volcano Flat CCW course. Ride in to the start line as your warmup, staying around 50% of your FTP. When you cross the start line, hop off your bike and do 20 air squats. Then ride the 4.1k lap as quickly as possible. When you cross the start line again, repeat.
    Your goal: do 5 laps (with 20 squats at the start of each) for time. Record your time.
  2. EMOM (Every Mile, On the Mile)
    This is great for artificially raising your heart rate, and then attempting to maintain output in that state.
    Use a heart rate monitor and try to maintain 80% of your FTP, at least.
    Ride a mile. Hop off the bike and quickly do 10 burpees. Note your heart rate.
    Click back into the bike and ride another mile. Every time you reach the mile mark (or 1.6km) do 10 burpees.
    Your heart rate should keep climbing. Your goal is to continue for a certain distance, like 30 miles.
    If you want to scale this workout (meaning modify it to last longer), base your total workout time on your wattage output. Continue only as long as you can keep your wattage output above 80% of FTP.
    Choose a flat route, like Greater London Flat.
  3. AMRAP (As Many Rounds As Possible)
    Give yourself one hour to complete the following as many times as possible:
    Ride the Richmond Flat Loop (5.0km) or similar
    Complete 30 pushups
    Complete 40 situps
    Complete 50 air squats
    Complete 60 jumping jacks.
    Then return to the bike and start again. Record your score.
  4. Tabata: 20 seconds of work, 10 seconds of rest
    After a warmup on the bike and some mobility work:
    Ride hard for 20 seconds (at least 3 watts/kg)
    Coast or ride very easy for 10 seconds (<1 watt/kg)
    Repeat for 8 rounds.
    Then hop off the bike.
    Do as many air squats as possible in 20 seconds.
    Rest for 10 seconds.
    Repeat for 8 rounds.
    Hop back on the bike, and repeat. Your wattage output will definitely dip on the second round of 8 Tabata sets.
    After 8 more sets on the bike, hop off and do 8 sets of step-ups or lunges.
    Your pattern should look like this:
    8 sets of Tabata (:20 on, :10 off) on the bike
    8 sets of Tabata squats
    8 sets of Tabata on the bike
    8 sets of Tabata step-ups or lunges
    8 sets on the bike
    8 sets of leg raises
    8 sets on the bike
    8 sets of planking
    8 sets on the bike.
    If you’re really pushing hard, this is MORE than enough, even though it’s short.
  5. “We Will Overcome”- complete the following for time
    11.5km ride – use the Astoria Line 8 route (New York)
    Complete 100 pull-ups, 200 pushups and 300 squats–break them up any way you like (I would usually do 20 rounds of 5 pull-ups, 10 pushups and 15 squats)
    11.5km ride – Astoria Line 8
    …for time.

Now, you’re probably going to be doing all of this stuff in cycling shoes. Make sure you have lots of space behind your bike to move around. Also try the half-variation of these first: cut everything (including the rides) in half.
These are also great replacement workouts on days you don’t have 90 minutes to ride your bike. On those days, focus on intensity: cut the above workouts down to half, and go hard.
Make sure you warm up first, and don’t do any of these workouts until you’ve been through an introductory program at one of the CrossFit gyms on this map. They might give you different workouts, or might tell you not to do these at all. Let a live coach be your guide unless you’ve been doing both cycling and CrossFit for awhile.
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