To ERG or not to ERG…. that is the question 😤

Happy New Year Everyone, It’s been a while since our last On the Couch note and today I want to talk to you briefly on whether to use the ERG function on your smart trainer with software. It’s January and a quick look at my Strava Activity feed last night confirmed that a great many people are currently indoors on their smart trainers, many of them using the ERG mode.

The ERGometer function will set your trainer’s resistance¬†for you rather than you making the decision by changing your combination of cadence¬†and gear.¬†

When in ERG mode, your trainer will keep you at a set power regardless of your speed or cadence. Let’s say you want to ride at 150 watts. You choose your gear and start pedalling at 90rpm. The trainer will adjust the resistance to keep you at 150 watts. If you decrease your cadence to 80 rpm in ERG mode, your trainer will make adjustments to resistance until you are back to 150 watts.

And here is the biggest issue that I see with ERG mode….. It does not allow for really good or bad days……so we see people routinely ‘fail’ workouts because as their cadence¬†slows, the trainer increases resistance to keep the power output¬†at ‘target’.¬† On the other hand on really good days the ERG restricts amazing performance!!

I have a real problem with the word ‘target’. We are all human beings and have good days physically and bad days, for a variety of reasons, many of them you know so I won’t go into them now. Some days your legs feel great, other days less so. A specific¬†target wattage takes no account of this and this is why we set all of our workouts with¬†power ranges. On good days you can hit the top, on less good days you have plenty of range to play with. In ERG mode you are stuck at a predetermined wattage.¬†

For this reason any workout at a high power, say above 95% of FTP, I would not use ERG mode ever with the risk of workout failure is high as you fatigue and your cadence grinds down to zero!

Secondly ERG mode absolutely sucks at any sudden change in power.¬†ERG mode has a time lag to respond, that can be up to 30 seconds, so any training session that has sudden changes of power should be avoided in ERG mode. Just go and try and do a 15:15 repeat sprint session and let me know how you get on 🤣

I love all the modern technology and hardware available today. It was only a few years ago that I was training with a piece of paper stuck to the wall ahead of me following instructions based on perceived effort. Now many of us have Zwift, power meters, kit to simulate hills, wind…..With my indoor set up, alongside my Wattbike, one piece of equipment remains….my old Lemond Trainer belt driven turbo. No bells or whistles, zero smart functionality and it’s about as loud as a Boeing 737! But it is the smoothest trainer I have ever ridden on and I can ride any session on it. I have to change gears, just like real life, and control my cadence, just in real life. So call me old fashioned but again I see this as a reason to ditch ERG, to keep learning the art of cadence and gear selection, something¬†we often see wanting out on the road!

So is ERG any good at anything? YES!

I think ERG does have a place for sub threshold, steady state efforts, such as tempo or sweet spot sessions. In these relatively easy sessions it is easy to let the mind wander and for power delivery to become erratic. In ERG mode you have to keep mentally focused and keep your cadence at a constant. This can really help with smoothing your pedalling technique as well.

So in summary ERG mode for me has significant limitation and bad unintended consequences for a variety of training rides. It is not a tool for many jobs but used in the right situation, it can help, with focus, concentration and technique. 

Have a great week everyone

Rob Wakefield / Founder & Coach / 07779136840