In my last post, I introduced a new tool that I have been playing with called Xert. In this post, I’ll describe why it can be the smartest coach you could have— and how to use it with Zwift. In my third (and last) post in this series, I’ll explain how I’ve been using Xert to track running in addition to cycling.
Why Use the Xert Workout Player
In my last post, I described how Xert can create workouts that bring you to an exact level of fatigue. The example I used was intervals set at a specific wattage that were designed to get me to a specific level of fatigue. If you’re riding outdoors, it’s just about impossible to hold a consistent wattage, particularly with changing terrain and as fatigue sets in. Even if you’re using an indoor trainer, holding exactly the same amount of watts is hard to do– even if you ride in ergometer mode (which is designed to hold a steady wattage). This means that the interval durations that Xert predicted would be necessary to get me to an exact level of fatigue may be off by a few seconds (if I managed to hold my watts pretty close to target) or a lot of seconds (if I didn’t).
Xert solves these problems with it’s Workout Player, which works on Android devices or the later Garmin Edge computers. If you don’t have one of the kind of devices, I’d suggest picking up an Edge 520 or an inexpensive Android device (I prefer the first option). I use an iPhone with an Edge 520 (with the Xert Workout Player) and it works great. The Workout Player downloads your current fitness signature from Xert together with your “selected” workout (you can select a workout using the “select” button in the workout editor on Xert online).
(1/17/18 Update: Xert recently released a Workout Player for iOS. I’ve been using it for the last few days and it works great with my Wahoo KICKR and integrates with Zwift really well. I like using it more than the Garmin 520 for indoor workouts controlling a trainer, but I’d prefer using the Garmin 520 for Xert workouts outdoors)
Then when you run your workout, the Xert Workout Player knows your fitness signature— and can track when you’re going too hard or too easy. It then becomes the smartest coach you could have because it makes the workout duration longer or shorter depending on how much your are slacking or going harder than recommended!
I find using the Workout Player is EXTREMELY motivating during hard “smart” workouts. Imagine that your workout calls for a hard interval to get you to 90% of MPA. You’re really uncomfortable and might even be thinking about taking it a little easier. But you know that, if you slack by even just a little, Xert will make this pain last longer! Conversely, say you’re training your body’s ability to process lactate and so you want your recovery portions to be quite hard (e.g. 90-95% of FTP) until you reach 98% of MPA. It’s late in the workout and you’re getting tired. You just finished the “hard” portion of the interval and you’re starting the “recovery” section. You may be tempted to slack off just a little for a few seconds. But the evil Workout Player will shorten your recovery if you do!
How to Set Up the Xert Workout Player
The easiest way of describing how to set up the Xert Workout Player on Garmin devices is provided by Xert. Just follow the following video.
You’ll notice that you need to start the workout before you select your trainer. To accommodate this, I usually add a short (e.g. 5-minute) section at the beginning of my workouts for “setup.” That way, I don’t mess up the beginning of my selected workout with dawdling as I set up Xert and Zwift.
Using the Xert Workout Player with Zwift
I love precise workouts. Plus I live in a pretty urban area that’s not known for the best weather (Seattle). But indoor workouts can be kinda dull, even with the motivation of the Xert Workout Player. Indoor workouts are much cooler if I can ride with other people— and for many people, this means riding in Zwift. Using Zwift with Xert is the best of both world because it gives you the highly motivating advantages of the Xert Workout Player with the interactive elecments of Zwift. Getting the two to play well, together isn’t entirely obvious but I’ve found a way to make them work easily together on a Mac or PC (sorry: I have yet to figure out how to do this on a mobile device successfully). And while you’re using you’re computer to run Zwift, you can simultaneously run the Xert Remote Player (not to be confused with the Xert Workout Player), which gives you a much bigger display of your workout instead of you (puny) Garmin screen.
Setting Up Xert with Zwift
Once you’ve selected your workout and started up the Xert Workout Player, you’ll need to set up Zwift. To do that, you just need to make the right set of choices in the Zwift set up screen.
As shown in the screenshot above, the trick is to select your trainer (or other power meter) as the “power source” and to also make sure that the options for your “controllable” trainer is left blank (you may have to “deselect” it to blank out the option). The reason for these choices is based on two points. By leaving the “controllable trainer” option blank is because you don’t want Zwift to add extra resistance for hills or reduce resistance when you’re drafting; instead, you want Xert to set your wattage goals. But don’t worry– by setting the “power source” to be your power meter (or the power from your smart trainer), you’ll be able to keep up with you Zwift colleagues because Zwift will automatically approximate your speed based on you power output.
Now, when you start your workout in Zwift, you’ll be running the Xert Workout player simultaneously. The Xert Workout Player will tell your smart trainer what wattage to ride at. Then, Zwift will let you crush your virtual opponents by approximating your speed in Zwift based on the number of watts that you are generating.
(1/23/18 Update: Xert recently released detailed instructions on how to set up Xert with Zwift. If you’re still confused– or want to set it up in a different way– be sure to check out their detailed instructions)
Adding in the Xert Remote Player
Great, so now you have Zwift and Xert playing well together, you might find it a little claustrophobic to be glued to your tiny Garmin Edge to determine each stage of your workout. After all, you’re riding in the interactive world of Zwift.
The Zwift Remote Player solves these problems. It might almost seem like magic, but Xert will display your workout in realtime as you’re riding it. So using this strategy, your Garmin will control your workout while Xert displays that same workout on your computer. The way it works is that, while the Xert Workout Player on your Garmin Edge controls your smart trainer, it also communicates with your smartphone, which communicates through the Internet to your servers on Zwift and displays your workout on the Zwift Remote Player. Pretty cool, huh?
To setup the Xert Remote Player, all you do is launch it from Xert online after you have set up your workout.
I have an external monitor connected to my laptop running Zwift so I find it much better to run the Xert Remote Player on one screen and Zwift on the other.
If you are running Zwift on one monitor, you’ll probably find it best to shrink the Zwift window to run alongside the Xert Remote Player or even place it on top of the your Zwift window. The Xert folks give an example of how that looks in the following video.
Now all there is to do is to start riding your workout! As you’re riding, you’ll be in ERG mode throughout the workout so you won’t feel any of the grades and you won’t have to shift gears. Don’t worry though, Xert will make sure you’re working hard enough.
So here’s a brief recap of the steps needed to get Xert and Zwift running together.
- Create your workout in Xert and “select” it,
- Load the Xert Workout Player on your Garmin Edge (you only have to do this once),
- Download the workout and your fitness signature to the Xert Workout Player,
- Start your workout in Xert Workout Player and connect your Garmin smart trainer,
- Launch Zwift and connect your smart trainer as a “power source” but make sure it isn’t connect as a “controllable” trainer,
- Launch the Xert Remote Player and setup all your windows exactly how you want them,
- Enjoy your workout!
I’ve been loving riding with Xert and Zwift at the same time. I hope you enjoy your workouts with Zwift and Xert!
Up til now, I have been talking about how I’ve been using Xert for my cycling activities. But a few folks have also been using Xert to help with their running. While I’m certainly no expert in using Xert for running, I’ll show in my next post how I’ve been doing it for the last few months, while balancing both my running and cycling.
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