#44 – Chris Schwenker, PT, Virtual Cycling’s Biggest Fan

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Our Guest Today: Chris Schwenker, P.T.:

“Indoor Virtual Cycling is the evolution of our great sport.  The Zommunique’ ( has it covered with in-depth reporting, eSports racing news, community features, cutting-edge training and performance research, tips, and suggestions.  The ZOM’s authoritative content team, led by its founder, Chris Schwenker, P.T., an avid virtual cyclist and Physical Therapist with over 25 years of experience, focuses on the athlete, the avatar, and everything in between.”

Chris Schwenker, P.T.

Chris Schwenker, P.T. background

  • Semi-retired as owner and director of his private Orthopedic Physical Therapy practice after over 20 years, Chris is blessed with the freedom to pursue his passion for virtual cycling and writing.
  • On a continual quest to give back to his bike for all the rewarding experiences and relationships it has provided him, he created a non-profit – The DIRT Dad Fund (www.DIRTDadFund) to support members of his online cycling team.  
  • Through the pages of his cycling and fitness blog site, The Zommunique’ (, Chris is committed to helping others with his bike.
  • Chris graduated with top honors as valedictorian of his hometown high school and received a full academic scholarship.  He attained a biology degree from Brandeis University, where he played Division 3 soccer as a Justice Brandeis Scholar.  Chris received his professional post-graduate degree from the SUNY-Stony Brook School of Physical Therapy and has been in private practice for over twenty years.  Chris has co-authored several research papers, been a guest on multiple fitness and cycling-related podcasts, and written and interviewed for many articles on the subject.  You will find him behind his desk when not riding on the North Fork of Long Island roads, where he lives with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two college student children.
  • Love all of virtual cycling, not just Zwift.
  • Always loved sports.  Soccer in college, then powerlifting.  Got big (192 lbs with very low body fat), and didn’t do any cardio.  When Chris’s father died young (before he met any of Chris’s children), Chris shifted into cardio sports.
  • Raced up and down the east coast.  Transformed his body:  from 192 lbs to 128 lbs with single digit body fat.  Now his son is 21 years old.
  • He now rides mostly indoors.  The original issue was the time constraint for when he could ride.  He only had a window early in the day, before the sun rose, so he was riding indoors mostly at 4 – 630am.   
  • Chris was also concerned about safety on the roads he had easy access to ride.
  • He did try freezing cold rides, but didn’t like it.
  • He is a member of the DIRT team, which has 10,000 members.  It’s the biggest club on Zwift.
  • Chris rides a lot.  15,000 miles last year.
  • Chris started virtual cycling to stay warm, and stay safe, but that isn’t why he does it now.  He now is attached to the community, camaraderie, ….his friends are on Zwift.  The racing teamwork is much better than real life in his amateur experience.  AND, you don’t have to crash.
  • Racing in virtual cycling is real racing.  The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat lives on in the virtual environment.
  • Chris’s team uses team tactics to make the virtual racing more exciting than real life racing.

Any advice for people transitioning from riding outdoors to riding indoors for the winter?

  1. Make sure the bike fits.  If you are using your “old bike” on the trainer, make sure it fits you properly, and like your regular bike fits you.  If you haven’t had a bike fit ever or in a while, get a bike fit.  It will pay off in comfort and healthcare bills.  Cycling is so repetitive, that even small problems can get magnified into painful issues.
  2. Beware going hard too often.  Virtual cycling makes it all the easier to feel competitive and to lose your training discipline.  You have to let your body recover, so you can’t go hard every day.  On your easy days, don’t chase every rabbit.  Periodize your training.
  3. And just like when you are riding outdoors, make sure you have sufficient flexibility, and that you have addressed muscle imbalances.  Make sure your core strength is addressed and is as strong as possible.
  4. The riding indoors is much more static than riding outdoors.  There are some devices that can help.  The Wahoo Climbr and others.  Deciding to get out of the saddle every 15 minutes or so can be a help to people who get saddle issues when riding indoors.  In fact, since you are riding indoors, aerodynamics isn’t an issue so make yourself comfortable on the bike.  Move your hand position often.  Raise your bars even to find more comfort.

Other differences:

  1. No steering.  There is a product (sterzio) that you can add on below your front wheel, but it isn’t like real steering obviously.
  2. Less movement of the bike underneath you.  You can build or buy “rocker plates” that provide some movement, but again it is not really like the natural movement of a bike out on the road, so it might help with comfort due to shifting on the saddle but won’t replace a real-life experience.


Staying healthy as a masters cyclist

  1. Vary what you do.  You can’t just ride all the time.  
  2. Do weight bearing activities.  
  3. Do strength training. 
  4. Core strengthening
  5. Work on having enough flexibility
  6. Resolving muscle imbalances

Because cyclists are in a flexed position for so long, we experience adaptive shortening of the muscles in the front of the body that are in a shortened position, hip flexors, .  They get an accelerated shortening…a lose of flexibility.  

On the opposite side of the body, hamstrings, glutes, hip rotators, spinal extensor muscles, muscle get turned off due to being used in a stretch position so long.

Cyclists need to open up the hips.  Improve flexibility in hip flexors and hamstrings.  Do strengthening on glutes, spinal extensors.

Note:  see episode on Muscle Activation Technique for additional tips on addressing tight muscles and inactivated muscles.

Phil Cavell, Mid-life Cyclist.  Expert in pedal stroke and bike fitting.  Nordic / cross-country skiing is the ideal cross training for cyclists:  use of arms, upright trunk position for full extension.

Chris in his element


  1. poor air quality in the riding environment.  Not just temperature and humidity but CO2, particulates (can get particulates meters to test the air).    In Chris’s experiment, he closed the windows and then started riding.  The CO2 levels became unhealthy in a short period of time.  He couldn’t tell just by the feeling in his body.  Washer / dryer, oil burner.  Check it out.  Chris uses an air filtration device.
  2. Temperature and humidity.  A powerful fan is a key tool for inside riding.  Chris uses a power fan and an air conditioner that pulls air from and pushes untreated air outside.
  3. Riding a bike that doesn’t fit you.  Lot’s of people use their old bike on the indoor trainer.  The problem is the old bike has an old fit….a badly fitting bike will create problems.
  4. Make sure your shoes and pedal cleats and pedals are not worn out.  All of your power does through your feet and the pedals.  Why waste power and/or create body issues with unstable platform?
  5. Going too hard too often.  Zwift is a game.  It is built to make it addictive.  You score points by riding more, so you want to ride more.  You get your name at the top of lists (think real time Strava KOMs), so you want to go for it every time.  Plus the regular old chasing of rabbits that we do in real life.

Chris did a vEverest challenge.

  • He started riding at 3am (got up at 2am).  12 hours to complete for chris.  A fast time for pros is around 6 hours.
  • Virtual Everesting (29,032 feet of virtual climbing).  This has been done a lot in real life by picking a climbing circuit to repeat until climbing 29k feet of climbing.  It is also a Zwift thing where people do Alp du Zwift over and over again to collect the 29k feet of climbing.  You are allowed to get off the bike (generally while the bike is descending) and stretch and use the bathroom…which is a huge advantage.


Chris created a non-profit to help club members financially.  It is funded via sale of cub branded product sold to members.  DIRT members have been extremely generous.  They have helped families with cancer bills, college bills after the death of a parent.  Even just small gifts to people who deserve a celebration.    It’s a Schwenker family affair with both wife and children participating in the management of the non-profit. 


Virtual cycling is just a small fraction of all the ways cycling is a great sport.  The rider on a bike can just “lose themselves” mentally by riding along without thinking about work or other problems, or they can use the bike to get great exercise including exploring how their body works when they ride hard to get more fit or ride long to build endurance.  And you can just explore the world to find new experiences.  But virtual cycling adds to the total experience, and you should try it if you haven’t.

Another key to having a long cycling experience as a part of a long life, is that you have to take care of the engine.  Keep the body strong, resolve pain issues quickly, avoid getting hurt.  Virtual cycling can play a big role in extending the time in life we can ride our bike for fun and exercise.

Great review of the book, “The Midlife Athlete”:

The “Gain Cave”

Chris Schwenker, P.T.Webmaster / The Zommunique’

The DIRT Dad Fund

Chris was recently quoted in this article. form interview with Chris recently published.

The Midlife Cyclist by Phil Cavell book review by Chris
A Virtual Cyclist Reluctantly Takes a Vacation
Poor Indoor Air Quality Part One -The Invisible Danger to the Virtual Cyclist
Poor Indoor Air Quality Part Two – The Invisible Danger to the Virtual Cyclist
Rhabdomyolysis – A HIdden Risk of Virtual Cycling
Core Strengthening Page

The ever curious athlete who demands answers.
About the Author
Curious athlete who demands answers. Husband to Susan ( Father of 3 daughters. Athletic pursuits over time, in reverse order: cycling, skiing, mountaineering, rock climbing, triathlon, golf, tennis, football.

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