Sometimes, cycling training isn’t just about getting fitter or faster – it’s also about improving how you ride.
That was Jason Choua’s experience with Zwift Academy. Choua joined Zwift in January 2018 and completed his first Academy later that year. It was the first time he’d done any sort of structured training on the bike.
Though Choua was already athletic, the Australian didn’t have a lot of cycling-specific fitness. He preferred weight training, which he has been doing in the gym for over 15 years.
Thanks to Zwift Academy, not only was he getting stronger on the bike, he was getting better at actually riding it. That’s the benefit Choua notices most.
“Zwift Academy has had a positive effect on my road experience (by teaching me) to change into a more appropriate gear and keep the legs spinning, which in turn has reduced lower back fatigue and pain,” he says. “And it has made me more conscious of pacing my energy and power output, increasing my riding enjoyment.”
Zwift Academy is a community training program and talent search. As part of Zwift Academy Road 2021, participants are tasked with completing 6 structured workouts and 2 group rides. They’ll also do a baseline ride to see where they are at the start and a finish line ride to show how far they’ve come by the end. One man and one woman each year will be lucky enough to earn a pro contract!
Most people who participate aren’t after that prize, though. Like Choua, they’re just looking for a great group training experience – and maybe some sweet unlocks.
Getting In The Game
Choua first rode an adult-sized bicycle in 2016 in order to participate in a triathlon series. Before that, he hadn’t ridden since childhood. Choua started looking into indoor training options after an injury, and when he heard about Zwift from a friend, he decided to try it. He dove into Zwift Academy soon afterward.
“I joined because I thought it was a structured personal challenge,” says Choua. “Not to expect any improvement, but really just to experience a variety of riding. Also to feel accomplishment in completing a ‘video game’ and earning some upgrades!”
As someone without a lot of cycling experience, Choua got to practice fundamental skills like pacing, managing cadence, and knowing the feel of different power levels. Those lessons have stayed with him and helped his riding a lot, he says.
He was also inspired to buy a power meter for his outdoor bike – “taking Zwift to the road,” Choua calls it – so he can better use what he’s learned outside.
Choua, who enjoys video games, now has an idea for programs like Zwift Academy to help riders “level up.”
“If you ever played an RPG adventure style computer game, you would know that your character usually has many options to follow paths through the storyline,” he says. “Perhaps in the future users can choose a path (after a couple of generic base camp workouts), like ‘I want to be a climber’ or ‘I want to be a sprinter’ or ‘I want to be a good DS.’”
Back For More
After his first Zwift Academy, Choua came back to participate and lead Academy group rides for another two years. It’s hard for him to choose what he likes most about it.
“You can do the workouts as you have the time to do so,” says Choua. “It is all laid out so you just do it and not think about it. I am not going for the pro contract, so no pressure. People have a good laugh, and also you get some unique kit and (bike) skins to apply in-game to show off.”
Each of the years of Zwift Academy has been a little different, he says. In 2018, the program was longer and had tougher workouts, but there was less variety.
The year 2019 introduced more of a “self-test” or “self-discovery” format, Choua says, which continued this year. The workouts are more varied and focus on different aspects of your fitness. They don’t provide a lot of training stress on their own, but they’re still hard because you’re testing your limits!
“It is made to improve your fitness and skills, because each workout is so different to each other,” he says. “It is not focused on one particular area of improvement, which would normally take months.”
As a result, you can pick something you want to get better at – like sprinting or holding a faster cadence – and keep working on it even after the Academy is over. The workout text and additional guidance from coaches help riders understand the ideas behind their training so they can apply it themselves.
This format continued in 2020, but according to Choua, this Academy stands out for a different reason. The community has grown and is more active than ever. Some pros from Alpecin-Fenix and Canyon-SRAM have even dropped in to join the fun!
“This year has been the most fun I think, due to the sheer number of people to converse and chat with,” says Choua. “It has been nice riding with some big names too.”
Participants can message each other during the Zwift rides, and they also can keep chatting outside them by joining the Facebook groups (there’s one for men and one for women). Riders ask questions and encourage each other, creating a community that makes people like Choua look forward to the Academy every year.
“I have learned that there are so many good riders out there!” he says – and he isn’t just talking about their talent on a bike. “I have been a group ride leader for ZA in 2019 and 2020 now, and I have come to appreciate that mostly all the time almost everyone is here to ride and be friendly.”