What Is ERG Mode on the Trainer (and How to Use It)

by | Jan 10, 2022 | Training

This post will help you understand ERG mode, a common feature on Smart Trainer Software, Apps, and older Head Units (e.g. Computrainer).

What is ERG mode?

“The power you are able to produce on the bike is the product of torque (force on the pedal) x angular velocity (or your pedal speed)” –Wahoo Fitness

ERG is short for Ergometer, which means ‘work measurer’ in Greek. So for power-loving cyclists, the ERG mode takes care of the FORCE and you take care of the Cadence. ERGs or Ergometers can refer to any device that measures work in this way (e.g. see Concept2 Rowers, Ski-ergs, etc) and also scientific bikes like the Monark.

ERG MODE can be thought of as ‘just pedal’ mode.

ERG MODE is a common setting for indoor cyclists to use with Smart Trainers. Erg Mode allows you to ‘just’ pedal, keeping your cadence relatively stable while the trainer and/or a program keeps your power steady either at a setting you have set (e.g. wahoo fitness app) or while following a structured workout (e.g. Zwift Erg Mode). You could use this concept while following a structured download (e.g. like a Consummate Athlete Training Plan) or you could use the more ‘old school’ ERG that is built into the Wahoo Fitness App. Again, the key is the program will maintain the wattage regardless of your cadence. This can be good and bad, read on!

When to use ERG modes

It is important to have a few tools in your toolbox, but also important not to use the same tool for each job. With ERG, there are actually two different ways to use it that most people with a smart trainer could access if they choose.

  1. Use ERG mode in an app like Wahoo Fitness (e.g. you set the watts). With this type of ERG, you can manually adjust the target watts can be a great way to do workouts and gives YOU, the athlete, the ability to adjust within and between efforts. I use this for warmups quite often by doing a ramp ‘test’ (100w,150w, 200w, 25 etc. for 3-10 min each). For those that liked the Compu-Trainer, you may very well live here now! 
  2. You can use ERG in Zwift and follow a workout. Some people do very well using this often and they are generally people with reasonable FTP settings and the silliness to adjust the BIAS +/- 10% based on how they are feeling. I find the best success is for more complex or ‘interesting’ workouts that move around a lot but aren’t maximal and that do not have very fast changes of pace. So endurance and tempo work great but sprints and 30/30 style ‘micro-intervals’ don’t work well.

Not sure what to set ERG Mode to? Read “What is FTP and how to Set it” for more on setting reasonable Thresholds 

When not to use ERG – The risks of ERG

As stated above, it is good to have many tools and to strive for variety in your training and ERG can work great for steadier workouts that are not maximal. Logically then anything maximal or with lots of accelerations or sprints or changes of pace is better done in ‘manual’ mode or one of the slope/resistance modes (e.g. DUMB modes).  If you find yourself failing workouts at all and you use ERG this would be a sign that you should look at using your feeling and manual/dumb modes.

Zwift: Try ‘going for a ride’

If you use Zwift or other virtual environments try going for a ‘free’ ride and still doing your workout. I like to have my Bike Computer (e.g. Garmin) set up to record the output of my power meter but then have the app/program controlling the trainer. For a Zwifter, this might mean riding up Alpe D’Zwift while doing a set of 2 x 20-minute threshold intervals or touring around and exploring while doing your endurance workout. This strikes me as a good way to use the virtual environment rather than using ERG to smooth out (ignore!) the virtual environment.

On Not Thinking

The problem with ERG mode is that it takes thinking out of your training. Which sounds great, right? You have a lot going on and you want the coach or the trainer/program to do the thinking. I get it. You do a lot in the day and only have so much energy to make decisions and put effort into workouts. The tricky thing is that there is no exact perfect workout and while ranges are possible, there certainly isn’t an exact power output that your coach or plan can predict. You need to adjust things slightly to match your feeling (yes, that icky thing called feeling).

Thinking is part of training. There are lots of quotes about the game being mostly mental and while pedaling is important there are a few other elements that will help you do better in your rides and races. If you only train indoors on an ERG you are going to be missing out on practicing things like sprinting, pacing, spinning, shifting, and anything to do with riding offroad or with people! Part of what you are training is the ability to do longer efforts that require focus and endurance (e.g. they might be boring) and certainly there is going to be discomfort in training that you can distract yourself from with or you can practice ‘Putting your hand In the fire’. Having to think might just make the ride go faster!

Final thoughts

ERG mode is a super tool to have in your toolbox. Make sure you use it when it helps make your workouts more fun and more effective and learn how to vary your output and switch it off to maximize other workouts and other tools.


Our Newsletter

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive a Weekly Dose of Information + Inspiration!

Related Blogs

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

A FREE weekly newsletter to keep you up-to-date on all the latest in off-road cycling + endurance sport, with the latest podcasts, articles + intel.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This