Updated: Apr 8
Five-years-ago, drifting down the lanes, I recall our laughter being directed at one member of the group who had a smart turbo-trainer and linked it to a little man on a laptop screen.
Cycling has always been a macho sport, so riding in a computer game was always going to take some time to establish itself, but that's exactly what Zwift and Trainer Road have done.
And it's going nowhere!
Fears of bike handling skills suffering and the deterioration of the sport's social aspect are valid, but my early attention was drawn to ‘automatic power switching’.
The tool involves the smart trainer tracking a session’s pre-planned power and automatically changing the resistance to meet a specified cadence. 'ERG' mode sounded to me like a very useful tool for more complex interval sessions within tight watt ranges.
Like everything in the training world, we believe it's about finding tools you can use to your advantage. Here is our guide of when to use - and NOT use - ERG mode on your smart trainer...
USE ERG ON TIGHT CADENCE SWITCHING SESSIONS
Try engaging ERG mode for fairly complex cadence switching sessions like the one detailed below.
You can complete this ride on the trainer in the regular resistance mode, but the constant cadence and power switches call for incessant gear changing. Reduce the mental workload and put every effort into maintaining your cadence while ERG deals with the resistance.
With less to think of, you might be capable of getting that all-important extra interval ‘in the book’.
Sample interval pattern:
-60 seconds at Z3 at cadence 60-70 rpm
-30 seconds at Z4 at 90-95 rpm
Repeat this pattern for the 12 minutes
FORGET ABOUT ERG IF YOU ARE HITTING PEAK EFFORTS
One of ERG’s biggest challenges is that the sharp switch in resistance can either feel like falling off a cliff or hitting a brick wall.
If you intend on pushing deep into a neuromuscular effort at any stage in a session, this can’t be done well without your cadence changes altering power output.
A short, bursting effort is unpredictable: when the legs go, they go. If that happens in ERG mode, the pedals lock.
Keep these sorts of rides to regular resistance mode when indoors, but the best arena for these efforts is the open road.
Sample interval pattern:
1 minute at Z4 cadence 80-90rpm > 1-minute max uphill effort (Z6+) self-selected cadence > 1-minute Z4 cadence 80-90rpm
BE REALISTIC – IF IT'S GOING TO BE A WAR, FORGET ERG
The heavy legged final ride before a recovery day is not the day to mess with the ERG!
Stubbornly battling through a session where you're pedalling squares results in a slow, sapping drop of cadence in ERG.
Be pragmatic, but realistic. Put this one into resistance mode and give it all you have without the ERG magnet sinking you towards zero RPM!
SPECIFIC SUB-THRESHOLD INTENSITIES ARE VERY ERG FRIENDLY
You could argue that all zonal intensities are broad and that it's much better to stay slap bang in the middle of a zone.
That's mostly true, but one exception is sub threshold work. These sessions focus on staying just below anaerobic threshold (AnT), and are very effective at building AnT power.
If you accurately know your number, maintaining a maximal steady-state lactate effort on ERG is very precise.
BEWARE OF LOSING YOUR PACING
One skill that ERG can significantly reduce or blunt is the ability to pace efforts.
Power on it’s own is not always the answer, knowing exactly what you can hold and for how long is just as important. Driving for the line with 3km to go and fading at 500m to go might just be caused by the legs giving out, but you could just as easily have misjudged the effort.
By constantly riding ERG on your trainer you risk ignoring and weakening a vital piece of race-craft.
Mix it up, turn the ERG off sometimes and create those links between the feeling in the legs and the number on the screen. Keep that on-board pacing computer healthy!
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