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Zwift vs TrainerRoad: Which is best for you?

Indoor training has been given a new lease of life!. We compare two of the main training apps

Indoor cycle training was once the preserve of the seriously dedicated racing cyclist but with the advent of smart trainers and interactive services like Zwift and TrainerRoad, indoor cycling has been given a new lease of life and more people are hitting the trainer than ever before.

Zwift and TrainerRoad both attempt to make indoor cycle training an attractive and useful option to ride outdoors when the weather is bad or you want to add more structured training to your riding. The work particularly well with the new breed of smart trainers as the resistance can be controlled by the software and the riding experience is reasonably realistic to actually riding along the road.

- 6 reasons why using a home trainer is the best way to get fit over the winter — and how to make it fun too

Both of these platforms are popular at the moment, but both serve their objectives with different approaches. Zwift turns cycling into a game while TrainerRoad offers a very serious and structured view on training. They are both paid subscription services – Zwift gives you a seven-day free trial so you can try it out, while TrainerRoad lets you reclaim your money within 30 days if you’re not happy with it – and both work on a plethora of devices, computers and smartphones. If you’re deciding between the two, we’re here to help with a guide to both and the pros and cons.

- Guide to getting started with Zwift

Zwift

Cost: £12.99/month with no contract
Pros: Immersive, fun, engaging, free trial, works on most devices, in-game racing and events
Cons: Workouts and training plans not as extensive as TrainerRoad

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Zwift’s biggest feature and its unique selling point is the ability to ride in a virtual world against or alongside other people from across the world. It’s totally immersive. It makes indoor cycling a game and the result is that it makes turbo training fun and engaging. If you use Zwift with a smart trainer, the level of resistance adjusts to match the terrain so when you're going up a climb, it really does feel like it.

You propel your avatar, dressed up in any cycling kit (even road.cc colours), bike and wheels of your choice, and cycle around one of a number of virtual locations. The main game world is called Watopia, and within that there's all the different types of terrain you could want, from a flat smash across the desert to a reproduction of the Alpe d'Huez in all its 21-switchback glory. 

There's a guest world every day, too. These are all real locations to a greater or lesser extent – London, Paris, Yorkshire, Innsbruck, Richmond, France – and the riding options are more limited.

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It’s a massive multiplayer game in essence, and you can race people from all over the world. There are many organised events, from training rides to races, so you can ride with people of a similar fitness and get a really good workout. The races are particularly realistic and can push you really hard, because it’s always motivating to chase someone, even in the virtual world.

If you want more structured training, Zwift also offers a wide range of workout modes and there’s everything from sprint intervals to sweet spot sessions. You can conduct an FTP test and follow one of the 12-week plans if you want to enjoy the benefits of a virtual coach to get you fit for a big sportive or race. You can also customise the workouts and make your own, too.

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You can use the Zwift companion smartphone app to communicate with other cyclists and send messages to people you’re cycling with. You can also high-five people with a Ride On real-time encouragement. The app also lets you browse the many events on offer and sign up to one get a reminder before it's about to kick off.

- Buyer's guide to smart trainers + seven of the best

The Zwift convert: John Stevenson

"I tried Zwift because I was interested in the idea of turning turbo training into a game, but didn’t expect to take to it. Now, however, I’m addicted. I’ve always had a turbo trainer kicking around but never used it at all seriously. I made the excuse that it was boring — which standard turbo training unarguably is — and said I’d far rather ride outside. But then I didn’t ride outside in the dark, cold and wet either.

"Zwift was a revelation, for three reasons. For a start, there’s something to look at aside from a bare wall, and unlike watching TV, what you’re seeing is relevant. More importantly for me, being told when to go hard and when to ease off in a training session, and getting constant information about your power output makes training much easier and — dare I say it? — fun.

"Then there’s the community. Getting Ride Ons from friends and strangers alike is enormously motivating, and I get a kick out of spotting other riders in road.cc kit. As my fitness improves, I’m looking forward to joining group rides and races too.

"It’s not perfect of course, but Zwift has fixed some of the earlier niggles. You no longer need to quit the whole application to restart a workout, or to switch from just messing around to doing a workout. And I haven't seen an utterly implausible power output for ages. I almost miss the giggles from having someone come past you at 22w/kg!

"On the whole, though, Zwift’s been a game-changer for me. It’s made indoor training fun, and that’s something I never thought I’d say."

TrainerRoad

Cost: $12/month or $99/year (if you’re not 100% satisfied, get a full refund within the first 30 days)
Pros: Extensive training plans and workouts, Virtual Power, structured training, cheaper than Zwift
Cons: No free trial, not as immersive as Zwift

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TrainerRoad has been around for quite a few years and it’s a good alternative to Zwift if you want really well structured training plans and workouts to improve your fitness in a measurable way. TrainerRoad works best with a  power meter but if you don’t have one, it can use a speed sensor to provide a Virtual Power. If you have a smart trainer it'll control the resistance for you.

TrainerRoad uses a simple and clean graphical interface that provides all the metrics you need to track your efforts, from speed, any connected sensors like heart rate, cadence and power. A workout is displayed as a simple graph representing your intervals and a line moves across this graph identifying your progress. Motivational and instructional text is provided on-screen to help you stay focused and provide useful tips. It’s not as immersive as Zwift’s virtual world but it gives you clear and simple focus, and that’s a good thing when doing hard workouts.

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But by far TrainerRoad’s biggest appeal is the vast number of workouts and training plans it provides. There are a staggering 1,000+ workouts so there’ll be something for all tastes and requirements. You can also follow a training plan (there are 100+) with plans for every type of cyclist, covering early season base work to race preparation. Following a plan is the optimum way of improving your fitness, and it removes the guesswork so all you have to do is concentrate on following the plan.

Use TrainerRoad for the first time and you’ll need to complete an FTP test (unless you know it already) to find your benchmark which all workouts are based on. You can choose an 8 or 20-minute test, but TrainerRoad now recommend a shorter ramp test that takes about 25 minutes to complete.

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While Zwift is immersive and fun, it’s far too easy to just amble around the virtual roads roads without any real purpose, and if purpose of training is what you want, TrainerRoad is a good choice with its vast collection of workouts and training plans. The latest update also allows you to import your outdoor riding into the program from Strava, and add that to your calendar, to get a better idea of your overall training stress.

The TrainerRoad convert: Dave Atkinson

Dave is one of the founders of road.cc and has been racing for the past couple of years. He's been using TrainerRoad for a couple of years.

"When I'm training for racing or a specific event i basically move all of my training indoors: that means doing three or four sessions a week on the turbo. There are three main reasons for this. Firstly, it's more time efficient. If you have to do four hours of training a week, then save for faffing around with your heart rate strap beforehand and a quick shower afterwards, four hours is all you need. Going out and getting a comparable amount of hard effort on the road takes a lot longer. Secondly, it's much easier to work at the level you need to: when you ride with other people they're either ripping your legs off or you're easing up to stay as a group. When it's just you and a wiggly line, there's no distraction. Thirdly, it makes the outdoor rides more fun. You're not having to think about working at a certain level: you can just be out enjoying yourself, knowing that you've done your chores.

"TrainerRoad I've found to be excellent for training. Zwift is more fun, and I love the racing aspect, but if you're riding indoors with a goal in mind then the focus on structure and the progressive nature of the plans makes for higher-quality training. I used to struggle to complete 45 minutes on the turbo but now I can manage double that. Partly that's because the session is laid out before you and you can see what you're getting; partly it's because the on-screen commentary helps you to focus on why you're doing what you're doing, and what the rewards will be. The comparative power curve feature is great for benchmarking how you're doing against previous seasons."

How to use Zwift or TrainerRoad

Getting started on Zwift or TrainerRoad is fairly straightforward. Both are compatible with Windows PC and MacOS, as well as iOs and Android smartphones and tablets. Both apps offer extensive compatibility with many of the popular turbo trainers available. If you’re using a computer you’ll need an ANT+ dongle but the apps can use Bluetooth provided the sensors also use the wireless protocol.

- Turbo training tips — get the most from your home trainer

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You don’t even need an expensive smart trainer. The minimum you’ll need is a basic turbo trainer and a speed sensor, as both apps can calculate power. The more sensors – cadence, heart rate, power – you can add the better the experience will be. The big advantage of a smart trainer for both systems is ERG mode, where the program controls the resistance so you only have to concentrate on pedalling, you don't even need to change gears, it'll set the resistance based on your cadence.

A smart trainer is an ideal setup but they are very expensive, and the market has exploded with choice in recent years. Though expensive, we know people that are investing in them instead of a winter bike for doing the bulk of their training on during the winter months. Another option could be to invest in a basic turbo trainer and a power meter that you can use both indoors and outdoors, especially useful if you want to also track your performance on the real roads.

Conclusion

It’s clear there are some key differences between the two services, but the outcome is that they both make indoor training a viable alternative to riding outdoors when you don't want to ride in the dark, wet and cold. And there's nothing wrong with that. You can rule five all you want but sometimes indoor training provides a more structured session, if it's training for a race or sportive that you want to undertake. Structured training, however you do it, is the best way to improve your fitness, and Zwift and TrainerRoad make it easy and accessible.

They’re both have their advantages, so which you choose comes down to personal preference. In our experience, each one suits difference people and their objectives differently, so our tip is to try them both before deciding which works for you.


There are plenty of alternative training services and we’ve listed 10 of the more popular ones in the article below.

- 10 personal training and coaching apps

David worked on the road.cc tech team from 2012-2020. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds, and you can now find him over on his own YouTube channel David Arthur - Just Ride Bikes

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72 comments

Avatar
cxmad | 5 years ago
0 likes

I use BKOOL. Does what I need it to. Easy to set up and use. I look at these other systems and they do the same as my BKOOL does. So why have more, or change to another, where I'd have the initial set-up hassle (and maybe costs), as well as the "discovery period" of getting used to it?

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Rick_Rude | 4 years ago
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I have my own range of custom workouts for Zwift. Sometimes i do a custom warm up in erg mode and then just ride normally after 10 minutes or so.

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BadgerBeaver | 4 years ago
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Zwift does not support Android, so that's 2 billion less potential customers.

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BadgerBeaver | 4 years ago
1 like

I used to ride Wattbikes in club night sessions using either Sufferfest or TrainerRoad. Both were excellent. 

Then I bought a Wahoo Kickr and subscribed to TrainerRoad at home. The Kickr had to go back due to design/manufacturing problems well documented elsewhere, and now I am back to the ole turbo plus power meter and still on TR. What a revelation that is: simulatenously harder (to hold consistent power) and easier (because of natural micro-rests when you change gears and cadence).

Turbo + TR + power meter = brilliant combo, don't know why I even bothered with the Kickr. I think perhaps TrainerRoad is best served with a generous helping of old school self-discipline.

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terrycojones | 4 years ago
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This article is dated April 27, 2019, so I read it expecting it to be up-to-date. But there are comments that are apparently 2 years old. What gives? Maybe the article was edited and its date got updated?

In any case, it lists TR as $12/month or $99/year but when I go to the TR site and think about signing up, I'm confronted with $19.95/month or $189/year, which is way more expensive! What happened to TR pricing between when this article was written (whenever that actually was) and today?

I could handle $12/month but for the higher price I think I'd rather just get a free British Cycling traing plan and follow that on the trainer with my Wahoo ELEMNT hooked up to it. It's a pity, because I'd be happy to use TR from the sounds of it. But the price feels prohibitive.

 

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fukawitribe | 4 years ago
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@terrycojones

Yes, it's just another regurgitated article with out-of-date information and little or no meaningful updates by the look of it. They're a proper Thing on road.cc these days, leads to some quite bizarre pieces.... 

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Boombang | 4 years ago
1 like

TR upped their prices recently, those on old pricing retained the old pricing for as long as they continuously subscribe (and the CEO is 'in power').

 

I ditched my TR membership as my experience was buggy (on Android) with no commitment to fix (Calendar scrolling issues, stuff not refreshing, connecting trainer was always a chore).

The move to Zwift hasn't been perfect though.  Zwift does just work, I start it up, turn on trainer and it all connects.  Can jump on a ride without any faff.  Training is going well and even though Zwift has less workouts I don't think that is detrimental.  The big issues is lack of ability to manage training plans.  It has in one way helped as forced me to train when really didn't have the time, but I know that I will miss some sessions if got ill or was away for a weekend.  For me even without the training it is a great alternative to a winter of constantly cleaning bikes just to keep riding.

TR 'secret sauce' as they call it is the breadth and depth of workouts available and how you progress through each one - but I think that is clever marketing on top of what are essentially a series of very similar workouts.  The progression is logical but so minor I am pretty sure my body won't respond materially differently with or without the small changes so long as rebaselining my 'FTP' appropriately.  

Either way I couldn't justify the cost of TR anymore as a recreational rider but find it easy to justify Zwift.

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tigersnapper | 3 years ago
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You need to update this.  Trainerroad is now $19.95/month or $189 / year.  This makes it extremely expensive now.

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Secret_squirrel | 3 years ago
2 likes

Wot no Sufferfest? Arguably a happy medium between the gamification of Zwift and the po-facedness of TR, providing you can get on with the humour.  Zwift whilst fun has never made me laugh out loud  

Sufferlandrian training sessions seemed to take me to the ragged edge a little bit more often than Zwift sessions. Not entirely sure that's a good thing mind you!

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sparrowlegs | 3 years ago
0 likes

TrainerRoad all the way for me.

I tried Zwift and it was too child like for me. I wanted to race myself on the same repeatable courses, like on Mario Kart when you race your shadow. Also, it rains in Watopia. It gets dark too. So the weather I'm actually riding inside to get away from is actually in the game. It's like a double kick in the balls.

TrainerRoad is exactly what I wanted. Repeatable. Numbers driven. Boring even but then again I ride on my own because I like riding on my own.

I won't go back to Zwift but I might try Sufferfest. 

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birzzles | 3 years ago
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i went through these decisions.  In the end i liked sufferfest most.  But what i now do is use a rouvy smart trainer - magnus m2 - with my road bike.  I have a wahoo heart rater monitor, and halfords cadence sensor.  The rouvy app on my iphone allows me to control the trainer resistance, and is free for 1 hour rides.  I then watch rpm classes on les mills, on an ipad.  The rouvy app records my heart rate, cadence power etc, and this automatically upoads to strava.  The les mills gives loads of different classes - i use body pump aswell, and yoga stuff, and is only £8 a month.  So i think it is ideal for me - i do about 3 x 1 hour sessions a week.

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fukawitribe replied to BadgerBeaver | 4 years ago
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BadgerBeaver wrote:

Zwift does not support Android, so that's 2 billion less potential customers.

It's available in beta on Android - not complete handset coverage but they're not alone in that...

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PRSboy replied to terrycojones | 3 years ago
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Wonder what he'll think now it's 2021!

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CXR94Di2 | 5 years ago
1 like

I combine both, trainer road control the trainer in ERG mode and Zwift gives visuals whilst doing the workout.

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andyp | 6 years ago
0 likes

Just finishing a month with Zwift. Spectacularly underwhelmed & won't be paying for another month. Gimmicky and fecking annoying, particularly the random chat stuff. But,  If that's what floats yer boat, more power to you. Speaking of which, how can Zwift's power readings be so spectacularly inaccurate?

 

meh. I'll stick with a fan, some good music and watching the (accurate) power values from my  meters.

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PRSboy replied to andyp | 3 years ago
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You can just connect your power meter to Zwift as the source for power readings, then you don't need to rely on ZPower

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CXR94Di2 | 6 years ago
1 like

My favourites by order and features

Trainer-Road, structured workouts, addictive

Zwift, Racing

Big Ring VR, Great HD video of the iconic climbs 

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Thump | 6 years ago
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I currently hold a subscription for Sufferfest, Zwift and Rouvy (used to be VirtualTrainer)

I enjoy them all depending on what mood I'm in and what I need out of my training, but Rouvy lets you ride real videos of the big climbs, so that holds my interest longer than Zwift.

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surly_by_name | 6 years ago
1 like

TrainerRoad, Wahoo Kickr and 'cross racing on YouTube. Although it sometimes gets hard to follow the race when you are melting your way through the back end of a set of intervals.

I used Sufferfest a bit a few years back and thought it was really good. Am tempted to give it a try again what with new interface.

Haven't tried Zwift..

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LarryDavidJr | 6 years ago
4 likes

+1 for Sufferfest.  Everything else just gets too dull too quickly.  You end up trying to scour out your own videos etc. to watch and how does watching 'When Harry Met Sally' get you fired up for a decent session?

I've used many of the 'fest videos multiple times and theres enough of them that you don't get 'bored'.  Plus the visual and sound cues add an extra dimension of 'immersion' for want of a better word.

My personal favourite?  The Omnium.

 

EDIT: In fact the more I think about it, the more I think that leaving out The 'fest is a somewhat serious omission.  Road.cc you need to update the article methinks.

@Sufferfest : Really really need that Android version! 

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Nevis the cat | 6 years ago
1 like

 

Dumb question, and I appreciate there will be no realtime change to resistance, but can you link a Wattbike to these apps?

 

I aks because my other half is Luddite slide rule analog, and aside from the faff of putting her bike on the trainer, would have a negative reality inversion when faced with anything more challenging than Frogger. 

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TheSufferfest replied to Nevis the cat | 6 years ago
0 likes
Nevis the cat wrote:

 

Dumb question, and I appreciate there will be no realtime change to resistance, but can you link a Wattbike to these apps?

 

You sure can. Here's how you can connect The Sufferfest app to your Wattbike (which is exactly what I do at home with my Wattbike)! https://thesufferfest.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/215757023-Connecting...

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andyp replied to Nevis the cat | 6 years ago
0 likes
Nevis the cat wrote:

 

Dumb question, and I appreciate there will be no realtime change to resistance, but can you link a Wattbike to these apps?

 

I aks because my other half is Luddite slide rule analog, and aside from the faff of putting her bike on the trainer, would have a negative reality inversion when faced with anything more challenging than Frogger. 

 

Nothing to do with turbos, but that reminded me to dig this out

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k8zao_e0ZiQ

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kitsunegari | 6 years ago
3 likes

The Sufferfest App has really matured recently and is my 'go to' training app now.

TrainerRoad is excellent for training.

Zwift I just couldn't get on with. The UI is horrible, and the social gimmicks just not for me.

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Simontuck | 6 years ago
2 likes

Another vote for Sufferfest. I like the idea of some of the training rides/ group rides that apparently happen on zwift, but cant be arsed to find out when they happen and whether I can integrate them into my day.

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bobinski | 6 years ago
3 likes

Why not download the Sufferfest app? It's free for a week and monthly for use after the trial.  That should be free enough for you.

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SNS1938 | 6 years ago
0 likes

Zwift vs TR.

TR by far has the better workouts and a much much much better podcast. However, really, if you can create your own Zwift training plans (which you can load into Zwift), then I really see TR as redundant. There were copies of complete TR plans/workouts floating around and being shared, but Nate who owns TR piped up and pointed out how that was against the TR agreement to not copy their workouts.

If only Zwift could buy TR or offer $1m to their head coach, Chad, and have him write a ton of training plans/workouts for Zwift.

 

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davel | 7 years ago
0 likes

Anyone got any experience of PerfPro?

I like the look of its segments, courses, plans and video integration, but the lack of syncing with other platforms could be a pain (think someone mentioned tapiriik for that earlier).

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tritecommentbot | 7 years ago
0 likes

Zwift does those drills too, weekly part of any workout plan.

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Pocoron | 7 years ago
3 likes

I am currently subscribed to both programs and each has it's own particular strengths.   My choice for training is TrainerRoad.  I really like the drills that TR sprinkles into the workouts; amongst the drills included are:

  • cadence (normalizing higher cadences)
  • sprinting (while maintaining form)
  • out of saddle (while maintaining power and cadence)
  • quadrant (smoothing power through the pedal stroke)

Since starting TR last winter, my ftp improved from 220 to 250.  I was still at 250 when resuming indoor training for this past winter and is now at 270.  At first blush, the static display might seem uninteresting but the text (including drills) is very effective in keeping me engaged.  The only time I struggle with maintaining interest is during the low intensity sessions which can be upwards of 150 minutes.

Probably the greatest strength of TR is the variety of training programs.  I would find it hard to believe that one could not find one close to your particular needs and the time you are willing to invest in your training. 

Zwifts' strengths is in it's ability to simulate 'real' riding - it is very immersive.  Nothing like having somebody pass you to get into chase mode.

I really do like both programs and am willing to indulge in two subscriptions.  However, if I were to choose just one for training, it would be TrainerRoad.  While training in Zwift has some good programs, I feel that TrainerRoad takes it to the next level.  Having said that, I can understand the appeal of Zwift for the more entertaining nature it has.

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