I've known about Zwift for a while but not wanting to spend the money on a smart trainer and not really having cycling as my main sport I didn't jump in early. My foot injury though had me looking for alternatives for my cardio habit and thinking back to last summer I was very happy with how spin class at SwetHaus kept me in shape during my summer of recovery. I stumbled upon a Black Friday sale at Wahoo where they were clearing out their old Kickr smart trainers as their new version had been released (from what I understand the difference is noise level and a handle in a different spot) and snapped one up at a considerable discount. This lead to my current Zwift addiction and I'm happy to report it's been keeping me very happy while I wait for my foot to allow me to run again.
Once you get a smart trainer (you can use Zwift with a "dumb trainer" and a power meter but that won't allow the Zwift program to control your resistance in reaction to the road) you just pop off your rear wheel, string the chain around the trainer and you're off and running. Zwift controls your trainer through bluetooth (or Ant+) via your phone, iPad and/or computer. I set mine up with a 9 year old MacBook Pro, an iPhone and mirrored the screen to a TV in my home gym. I found a cheap laptop table to hold the computer in front of my bike I'd recommend one lower than your bars so you can see it when in the crouch position) and I was ready to go. A handlebar holder for your phone is a good idea as you control Zwift turns, "Ride On" kudos to fellow riders, texting within the game and screen views via your phone. Zwift itself costs $10 a month which is very affordable compared to $100 per month I paid for spin classes. While I was able to snag my trainer for $800 US they typically run between $1,200 US for the Kickr and $1800 Canadian for the Tacx one (which I understand will vibrate with "bumpy" road conditions within the game, cool but hardly necessary). The Kickr comes with a cadence sensor you attach to your shoe to measure the revolutions per minute of your feet (generally you want to be around 90) and I've been using an old bluetooth heart rate monitor I bought a while back from Wahoo which I think is very helpful to gauge your workout intensity.
Once you start the phone app and your Zwift program on your computer (or iPad) all your bluetooth devices are found by the program (I believe it's the phone that controls all this, but the computer acts as your internet connection and display, I'm not entirely sure) and you simply click "Ride" to get rolling. You choose a course and can either free ride by yourself at your own pace, choose a set workout, or join a group ride. I haven't done a group ride yet, but intend to soon. When free riding Zwift reacts to incline on the course, drafting other riders and downhill portions to control resistance on your trainer. You can shift as normal just like you were on the road. Every once in a while you'll find another rider holding about the same pace as you and you can buddy up trading off being in front which adds nicely to the social aspect of the game. When you sign up for Zwift you enter your stats including your weight and it measures your watts/kg using it as a tool to gauge your speed in game. I'm sure some people hack this and understate their weight to gain an advantage, but even in doing so it doesn't ruin the experience as after all you are there for yourself. I've been alternating between riding freely and the workouts. Before you get rolling I'd recommend doing an FTP test to measure your beginning fitness. They have those in the workout section (make sure you are wearing a heart rate monitor) and it creates a baseline measure for you. Once you begin workouts you can use "ERG" mode in which you just start out in a neutral gear and can forget about shifting entirely, the trainer just changes the resistance as required for the specific workout ignoring hills and descents. This is nice as you can just concentrate on the workout at hand. I've been going through the beginners workout (I'm on week 3) which is great. I find the workouts very easy but that's helpful as I'm well known for working too hard on easy days, so I've looked at is as forced easy days. For a new rider it would be a brilliant progression.
Once you are done your ride you can set up Zwift to automatically upload your ride including map, elevation, heart rate etc to Strava where you can see all your stats. In the image above you can see on the left the guided workout for one of my rides. The program just steps you through it, no thinking required. On the right of the screen other riders are listed and you can text with them as you see fit. I'm not terribly social on Zwift but it's fun to have other real live people out there. Elevation and other information is scattered around the screen. My laptop is quite old so I'm on the lowest settings for graphics, but even still it's often quite beautiful to look at and provides a nice distraction from being stuck indoors on a bike. As you progress in levels you get new bikes, new jersey's and other snazzy items.
Zwift has been a great distraction for me while I can't run. I'm close to returning to my run program as the foot feels very close to healed but I plan to continue to use my virtual riding partner indefinitely. Of course cycling is low impact and is great cross training for runners looking to work on aerobic capacity without beating up the legs further. If the idea of sitting on a trainer staring at the wall is simply torture for you, I highly recommend it. I understand they are close to releasing Zwift for runners soon where you can use a treadmill instead of a bike trainer. I occasionally see runners on the Zwift roads so it must be in Beta. If you do join Zwift make friends with me (N. Gaudet from Canada) and I'll friend you back.
"Take Care of your body. It's the only place you have to live." - Jim Rohn