You can typically cut a room of cyclists in half with those who “love ERG” and those who “hate ERG”. So which side is right? Which side is missing out? What the heck is ERG?
For those unfamiliar with what ERG Mode is on your indoor smart cycling trainer it is a setting that will keep you producing a target power regardless of what gear you are using or your cadence. For an example if you are in ERG Mode and holding 200 watts with 85 cadence and you drop your cadence to 75 the trainer will add resistance to keep you at the target 200 watts. This means that during your workouts as the power targets change you do not need to do any shifting; the smart trainer will adjust the residence to meet the goal. The other mode that the majority of athletes use during workouts is called Standard/Resistance Mode when you simply switch the gears on your bike to make the trainer resistance feel harder or easier. So in a simple view; in ERG Mode the trainer controls you and in Resistance Mode you control the trainer.
Those who use ERG preach to it’s effectiveness and those who don’t use ERG view it the same way wizards in Harry Potter view Voldemort; the mode that should not be spoken. Why such the love/hate relationship and who is right?
As a coach I build workouts to not only improve the athlete physiologically but also design workouts to work on a physical or mental skill as well. Below I have chosen a few things that some athletes struggle like pacing or producing power using a variety of cadences and discussed how using ERG can be beneficial but also can be limiting.
Pros and Cons of ERG Mode for:
Proper Pacing: As a coach one of the things I see athletes struggle with is proper pacing during intervals and races.
Pro: ERG will virtually eliminate the idea of pacing wrong during an interval; no matter what you do the trainer is going to keep your power at the target from start to finish exactly how the coach designed it to be done. This will allow the athlete to learn what it feels like to hold a consistent effort for that given time.
Con: Yes the athletes will get to feel what it is like to hold a consistent effort for a given time but does the athlete truly learn HOW to hold that effort for a given amount of time? What happens when the athlete needs to adjust their cadence or gears depending to maintain the desired effort? Being forced to hold an effort is different than learning to maintain your own effort mentally.
The winner is? Tie. ERG Mode can teach you what it feels like to properly pass but Resistance Mode will force you to figure out how to properly pace yourself.
Effects on Cadence: As a coach I look at how my athletes produce power in different quadrants; High Power/High Cadence, High Power/Low Cadence, Low Power/High Cadence and Low Power/Low Cadence. Depending on the type of riding the athlete participates in will depend on which quadrants they should focus on.
Pro: ERG allows you to solely focus on cadence during an interval because if you change your cadence the trainer will adjust the resistance to maintain the target power output. In Resistance Mode you would need to find the gear that matches with your cadence to get the target power output. Depending on gearing options on your bike you might not be able to find the correct gear for the cadence goal to produce the target power. We have all been there when the current gear is too easy but the next gear up is too hard; ERG eliminates that.
Con: If you drop your cadence for a second there is a chance you will end up in the dreaded ERG Death Spiral. Anyone who has used ERG before has been in that downward spiral when you cadence drops and the resistance just keeps increasing until you are finally at a complete stop. This can completely ruin an interval because it forces you to a complete stop rather than allowing you to just pull back your effort a touch and allowing you to finish out the interval. Some days our bodies are a bit more fatigued than others and maybe we can’t nail our target goal but that doesn’t mean we get less of a training stimulus by going 5% less but still finishing out the interval. As a coach I would rather you finish the interval below the target power than only do half of the interval at the target.
The winner is? Tie. Again this really depends on the athlete and the day. If you are feeling good and can maintain your cadence/power then go for ERG; but if you are struggling then having the options to drop your power a bit on Resistance Mode and finishing out the interval is a better option.
Easy on Easy Days/Hard on Hard Days: One of the biggest mistakes I see athletes make is they go too hard on easy days and too easy on hard days.
Pro: As a coach the thing I love about ERG is the athlete will do the exact workout I designed to be done for that day. With the use of ERG it will force the athlete to keep their power down on those easy days; and will also make sure they are working hard enough on those hard days.
Con: There really is no con for the easy days but there can certainly be a con for the hard days especially on efforts at and above Vo2 max. A lot of time for those short hard efforts we are not looking to hit a certain target but we are looking to make sure we are above a certain target. If you are doing those types of workouts on ERG mode it could limit you by not allowing you to go as hard as you can.
The winner is? Tie. I hope we are starting to get the idea here that it really depends on the athlete, the workout goal and how the athlete might be feeling should determine what mode is best for that day.
I am 100% positive that this article was not beneficial in deciding which mode is better ERG vs Resistance/Standard; BUT I hope that it at least helps YOU figure out which mode might be right for you on which days. The only athletes that miss out are the ones who don’t use a mix of both modes. Regardless of the type of athlete you are or the type of racing you do (road, triathlon) there are days when both modes can be beneficial; heck there are even workouts when you should switch between them during the workout.
The bottom line is like most polarizing topics both groups are right when you look at it from their point of view and both groups are wrong when you look at it from the other point of view. The truth is if you are sitting on either side of the fence you are missing out; build a gate in the fence and have the option to party with both sides.
If you haven’t used ERG before I would recommend trying it with workouts that have your goal power in the 65-90% of FTP range. This will allow you to learn how ERG reacts to your cadence changes at an effort level you should be able to maintain comfortably with a cadence between 80-95 rpm. Once you have done a few weeks of efforts in Zone 2 and 3 you can move to doing workouts that have longer efforts in Zone 4 (90-105% FTP).
Keep moving forward!