Virtual Worlds – Treadmill Apps for Runners

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My interest in smart treadmills is closely linked to the new possibilities to dive into virtual worlds for training. Just like cyclists have been able to do on their smart trainers for some time now.

In addition to the right hardware (i.e. a treadmill), you also need the right software. Nowadays, this means apps, of course, which you then have on a screen in front of you during the workout. The list is quite large, but in my experience so far, only a few apps are useful.

In fact, there are ultimately only three apps that I regularly (and happily) use on my runs on the Technogym MyRun.

Zwift

Zwift is certainly the top dog here. With over three million accounts, the platform has grown strongly since its founding in 2014. Originally, the service was only aimed at cyclists and was even originally only a software for the PC. Today, Zwift is available for all mobile platforms. Since 2018, with Zwift Run, there is also the possibility to run in the virtual worlds. In contrast to the $15 monthly fee for cyclists, we runners have so far been allowed to join in for free.

Setup

The Zwift software can be installed on PCs, modern Android and iOS devices. In addition to mobile phones and tablets, Apple TV also works as a basis. To transfer one’s own movement into the virtual world, one must connect a speed sensor. This can be a foot pod like the Stryd or the Zwift pod. Smart treadmills such as the MyRun can also be paired directly. Meanwhile, Garmin watches have their own sport profile for virtual runs, so that the watch can also serve as a source for pace, cadence and heart rate.

Strictly speaking, you don’t need a treadmill for Zwift ;). With your mobile phone in your pocket, you could also collect your miles for Zwift outside – but without really being able to follow what’s happening on the screen, of course.

Parallel to the main app, there is also Zwift Companion – something like Zwift’s own Facebook. Here you can follow each other, give likes, be notified of events and plan your next event.

Features

Zwift provides various virtual worlds, each with several different routes. When you start the app, you can freely choose one of them and basically just start running.

On the routes you are never completely alone, as you not only share them with other runners around the world, but also with the cyclists. So you usually have the feeling of running in a group. However, on some routes there are turns where you are free to choose a direction, so the group never really stays together.

The situation is different, of course, when you take part in a virtual event. As with a real race, there is a defined start time and a predefined route. You can even sort yourself into a desired pace group to stay with the other runners.

Normally, these are training endurance runs that you do in a virtual group instead of alone on the treadmill. But there are also real races and race series in which anyone can participate. Here, too, the aim is not necessarily to win, but rather to provide a motivational incentive.

This also includes the equipment of one’s avatar, for which one can gradually acquire new options. While for cyclists it is also about speed, for us runners it is only about a changed appearance. Nevertheless, this can also be an additional motivation to collect miles in Zwift.

But serious training is also possible with Zwift. In Workout Mode, runners have structured training sessions and even complete, free training plans at their disposal. Those who (like me) are actually at home on TrainingPeaks can even synchronise their workouts from there – if they are pace-based.

Experiences

I have to admit that Zwift really gave me a hard time at first. It took me a few attempts to find my way around the app. And even during the first few runs, question marks kept popping up, which I’m sure I still haven’t fully resolved.

Zwift

But in the end it is not that difficult and already during the first run I could see how I wanted to race the person in front of me ;) Running along or running away can be an additional motivation that brings variety into the training on the treadmill.

Via the Companion App I discovered quite early that many people I know are already running on Zwift. We even happened to be on the same run, which oddly enough made me very happy. Unfortunately, there is no possibility to talk to each other during the run. There are just two avatars running around in the same virtual world. ;)

In contrast, the level-ups were not able to motivate me in any way. Whether my avatar got a new cap or the next colour of socks, I only noticed marginally. But I don’t want to talk that down either: additional training goals can certainly arise from that.

Rouvy

At Rouvy you also move through virtual worlds, but they consist of real, filmed routes and artificial avatars. The Czech platform originally focused only on cyclists – runners are now also included with a free account.

Setup

Rouvy consists of three software components: Rouvy AR is the main application for immersing yourself in virtual worlds for training. It is available on all platforms – in addition to Android, iOS and Apple TV, there is also a Windows and macOS installer.

There are also Rouvy workouts and even a Route Editor to create your own routes. The connection for running sensors is just as complete as with Zwift: basically, all common Footpods or smart treadmills such as the MyRun can be paired. Of course, you can also record your cadence and heart rate.

Features

Before starting your run, you have two options: you can run a route or take part in an event. If you choose the route function, you can either start a training run or a timed run.

Rouvy
Rouvy

But i looks like there are not so many events for us runners… So far I have only seen cycling events. So, unlike Zwift, there is no opportunity to take part in group events every day to spice up your training routine.

Experiences

At first I found the filmed tracks more attractive than the entirely virtual worlds in Zwift. However, it also makes a big difference that you are alone on the track. This means that some motivating factors are missing…

Technogym LIVE

While Zwift and Rouvy are open platforms that can be used with a wide variety of hardware, Technogym LIVE is a manufacturer platform. So the app can only be used with equipment from Technogym – which includes all kinds of gym equipment as well as treadmills. It comes as a useful, but not essential, app with the Technogym MyRun, which I have been testing for some time.

But the platform is basically not just for home use. With my Technogym LIVE account, I could also log on to a cardio machine at the gym and continue my training plan there. However, I have only used it at home with the MyRun.

Features

The Technogym LIVE App is divided into five areas: Sessions, Custom, Routines, Outdoors and Strength. The last area is a new feature of the most recent update. For me, this is a big advantage in the separating of hardware and software: I always benefit directly from the latest developments at Technogym.

Sessions

I initially made the mistake of dismissing the sessions as simple cardio workouts. But the video workouts offered here go far beyond that. There are currently nine trainers and ten series, each serving different topics: conditioning, strength, tension or even weight reduction. The six sessions in each series can either be done individually and independently of the series, or you can work through them like a training plan and get a varied training block.

In order to challenge each runner appropriately, you choose your performance level at the start of a session. If you have misjudged this, you can change it at any time during the training. This does not affect the duration, but of course the intensity.

Sessions

The preset speeds and gradients during the session are displayed and announced, but must be activated manually by tapping a button. You can therefore decide at any time to deviate from the defaults – if you do not want to change the level straight away.

Routines

Routines are also ready-made training sessions, but without a video trainer. You can choose from four categories: endurance training, flexibility training, weight loss training and leg training. Before starting, you can set the exact length of the workout (between 15 and 40 minutes) and the performance level in 25 grades between beginner and advanced.

The programme then runs automatically and changes speed and gradient according to the specifications. The changes due to the next stage are always displayed and the time of change is announced beforehand with beep tones.

Routinen

Of course, it is also possible here to adjust one’s performance level during the workout – which adjusts the speed to be run. Manual selection of speed or incline is not possible.

Outdoors

With the Technogym LIVE App you can also run filmed routes. Various landscape and city courses are available. In contrast to Zwift, however, you are running alone. Although the speed of the video adapts to the speed of the treadmill, nothing more happens with this function.

A large screen on the wall in front of the treadmill would be ideal for immersing yourself in the running track. You can also select the appropriate playlist in the app: either from the Technogym offer (I found it very good!), or via Spotify.

Custom

This option hides a multitude of functions that make it possible to run according to almost any targets. You can not only set a time or distance target for your session, but also train according to heart rate.

For interval training on the Technogym MyRun, the tempo change program is very suitable. Here you can set up to four speeds, between which you can then switch directly with the selector lever.

However, the necessary structure (times / distances) must then be set by the running watch, for example, according to the training plan. When changing pace, you only have to tap the lever of the treadmill once and you end up directly at the preset pace. However, no readjustment is possible during the training.

Strength

A brand new addition is the “Strength” option. Technogym offers several training series here in order to be able to do supporting exercises for the whole body. These are either bodyweight exercises, exercises with free weights (dumbbells, kettlebells) or exercises for the Technogym Bench – an all-in-one training bench.

The exercises are divided into three different difficulty levels, but these are fixed and cannot be adjusted.

Strava Training Sessions

This unique feature of the Technogym LIVE App deserves its own chapter. The app has always had a connection to Strava so that training sessions can be automatically uploaded there. But since the last update, the possibility has been added to re-run the runs saved there on the treadmill.

Of course, this also includes the runs you did outdoors! So I could always do my interval training of last week on the treadmill – with the speed recorded “back then” and all the inclines.

So, for example, if I have done a hill sprint workout, the treadmill will automatically set the recorded pace and incline (up to a maximum of 12% incline…). Just like that, if I had to take a break at the traffic lights, the belt will stop. ;)

The canned experience is accompanied by a large Google Map on which I can see the course and the “phantom runner” of the recording. This is particularly exciting when I decide that I would rather choose the pace freely. This way I can really compete against myself. The gradient cannot be controlled manually.

If there is also footage from Google StreetView available for the route you have run, this will also be displayed in a smaller window.

Some Tricks

The Technogym LIVE App uses the last 90 days of the connected Strava account for this function. So you can’t simply retrace the run from your holiday two years ago. But that doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t work at all… ;) In principle, training data can be exported, manipulated (date!) and uploaded again. In order not to mess up the neatly maintained Strava account, I simply created a second one and linked it to the Technogym app.

So I could re-run my run up the Brocken, or the half-marathon in Venlo, the local city run… Mind you, along with the opportunity to compete against my time from back then on the treadmill! Absolutely brilliant! :)

With a little trick you can also export other athletes’ runs. ;) So I could run Martin’s Schneiderrunde or Richard’s lap around the Alster – and compete against their pace in each case.

I noticed a small disadvantage of the treadmill: unfortunately, there is no downhill… ;) While I was just able to follow Martin uphill, I had no chance downhill.

Experiences

I’m not really a big fan of such manufacturer offers. But the Technogym package is indeed very convincing. The features under “Custom” actually represent everything I need to do my normal running workout comfortably on the treadmill. Routines and sessions can also bring variety and an extra portion of motivation into my daily training routine – which is especially helpful for treadmill sessions…

The new Strava functionality is an amazing feature. It’s really fun to play around with it and discover new possibilities. It has certainly made me skip one or two sessions outside. ;)

Conclusion

Let me be clear: I prefer to run outside and have lived quite well without a treadmill and the apps presented here for the last seven years. However, after my experience with the Technogym MyRun, I consider the treadmill a legitimate addition to running training. And the apps presented here can significantly enrich the running experience.

Zwift is definitely worth a closer look. Even if there are a few hurdles in using the app, the overall experience was convincing – and additionally motivating. I can well imagine that participation in virtual events can become a training goal in its own right.

Basically, I could get by with just Technogym LIVE. The manufacturer’s platform is very intuitive to use and offers really everything you could wish for in terms of additional services. Ok, except for community experiences like with Zwift. However, in the Sessions you have your own trainer as “compensation”, so to speak, as additional motivation. Not to mention the really ingenious Strava feature, which I really enjoy! Of course, this is all tied to the use of a Technogym treadmill… which is basically not the worst option. ;)

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Hi! It’s me, the Harlerunner.

This is where Thomas Pier writes about running and (much more than just the necessary) equipment. I don't run particularly fast or far. But I like to share my experiences as an ambitious recreational runner, curious early-adopter and as my own trainer.

I am happy about every digital contacting - but even more so about every kilometer run together.

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