The ERG mode is often spoken about, but what is it exactly and why can it be helpful for your indoor training sessions? In this article, we’ll explain to you the basics of this mode and we’ll also give you some helpful tips to keep in mind during a workout in the ERG mode.

Your indoor bike trainer is not only useful for bad weather days or a helpful tool for pro riders during the rehabilitation of a broken collar bone. The value of your indoor bike trainer also lies in the endless possibilities to train exactly according to your needs. This is what we call specificity in human performance physiology and is the absolute cornerstone of training. It basically comes down to this: if you want to become a better cyclist, just focus on riding your bike and your training goal. Sounds easy, but interestingly enough most people never really break down their training goal into the essential ingredients.

Let’s break down the training goal for a cyclosportive event like La Marmotte, for example. What you’ll need is the strength to conquer steep climbs, great endurance stamina to ride your bike for about 9 hours (or even more), a high aerobic threshold so you can ride at a high pace (at an intensity at which your body still relies on burning mostly fat) and, last but not least, a high FTP. If we focus on the latter and try to improve your FTP, you can achieve this by executing steady intervals on your Functional Threshold Power. If you try to do this outdoors, you will probably notice how hard it is to keep your power output constant because the environment constantly changes. You will end up in traffic, have to deal with the wind that suddenly blows from another direction or encounter uphill inclines that don’t have a steady gradient.

To train just at the right intensity for the exact amount of time you were planning for, the ERG mode setting is your best friend. All you need is a smart trainer and an app that can activate this mode. What it does is let you train on a specific target power. Your bike trainer will subsequently keep you on that same target power regardless of your speed or cadence. Every change in your cadence is automatically adjusted by your trainer by applying more or less resistance to keep your power output constant. So, if you set the ERG mode at 200 watts, your trainer delivers more resistance at a low cadence and less resistance at a high cadence to keep your power at 200 watts. For this workout it is key to control your cadence and keep it at a desired rpm to not overstrain your muscles. But, as with all things in life, you will never keep your cadence constant on the exact desired rpm. Therefore, the power output will show minor variations as a consequence.

Six tips to keep in mind during a workout in the ERG mode:

  1. First and foremost, keep your eyes on your cadence and not on your power. You only have control over your cadence so keep it at a desired number and keep it steady.
  2. When your cadence drops it takes a lot of strength to get it up again. Also, with a low cadence the force per pedal stroke and therefore the muscle strain is high. If this isn’t your training goal, don’t let your cadence slip.
  3. There is a small delay in the cadence you adopt and the resistance that is set by your smart trainer accordingly. If you change your cadence every second it will be nearly impossible for your smart trainer to keep track on what the resistance level should be. So, aim for a steady cadence with not too much or without big alterations.
  4. ERG mode doesn’t teach you to use your gears properly, which is also an essential task in riding your bicycle. So, use ERG mode for the right specific training sessions and don’t ride all your workouts in the ERG mode if your training for La Marmotte.
  5. Training in ERG mode is mentally a lot easier than when you have to pace yourself. ERG mode is like a team time trial in which you are not the best rider. It means that someone else is setting the tempo and you basically just follow. This is exactly what you need after a long exhausting day at the office, but also try to do some high intensity intervals when disabling the ERG mode whenever you feel you are up for the task.
  6. Your body is not a machine. Some days you easily hit the targeted numbers and other days even the warm up feels like someone has put the brakes on your rear wheel. ERG mode doesn’t know how you feel, it just keeps on time trialing. So, if you feel you can’t handle the intensity just use your common sense and tone it down a little before you completely crush yourself.

With these tips in the back of your mind, you will find the ERG mode the best invention since sliced bread. Enjoy and keep it specific!