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ERG Mode (Smart Trainers Make You Suffer)

ERG Mode (Smart Trainers Make You Suffer)

The term ERG is an abbreviation for Ergometer.  Most of today’s smart trainers from companies like Wahoo, Tacx and Elite, all feature trainers with the ERG Mode capability.

History of the ERG

Back in the day when I rowed Crew in college, we sometimes would do our crew training on dry land using the Concept II model A rowing machines.

Concept II Model A Ergometer Rowing Machine

Concept II – Model A Rowing Machine Ergometer

The first Concept II was manufactured based on a bicycle’s rear wheel and cassette.  It was pretty basic from a design standpoint, but it did what we needed it to do and that was to give us a heck of a workout.


The term Ergometer is simply an apparatus that measures work or energy expended during a workout.  There are rowing ERGs, biking ERGs, climbing ERGs and so on.

ERG Mode and ERG Training

In the World of Smart Trainers like the Tacx NEO and Wahoo KICKR, there is a training setting that is often referred to as ERG Mode.  It’s a bit confusing since the term ERG mode doesn’t represent a machine but rather a type of workout mode.

So What Is Erg Training?  When you use a smart trainer and you are in ERG mode, you pre-set what the wattage for the workout is going to be and during the workout, the trainer adjusts the resistance so that you maintain the desired wattage.

The concept is a little wacky because it doesn’t matter what gear you are in or what your cadence is, the trainer will make adjustments pertaining to resistance to maintain the wattage.  In general, pedaling at a lower cadence will increase resistance and pedaling at a higher cadence will lower the resistance.

ERG Mode No Shifting Needed

While in ERG Mode, the trainer is automatically adjusting the resistance level based on your cadence and target wattage.  There is no need to shift gears because the trainer doesn’t require you to shift.

In fact while in ERG Mode, shifting can cause a situation known as an ERG Mode Death Spiral.

ERG Mode Death Spiral

Ah yes, the Death Star…I mean the ERG Mode Death Spiral.  A smart trainer Death Spiral occurs during an ERG mode session when the resistance increases more and more as your cadence drops.  Eventually, the resistance becomes so great you can pedal.

Death Spirals usually occur during high wattage sessions where you can’t maintain the goal wattage and your cadence starts to drop.  The slower cadence results in higher resistance, which slows down your cadence even more, which results in even higher resistance and eventually becomes too much to pedal through.

FTP and ERG Mode

ERG mode is designed to work with your calculated FTP and adjusts wattage amounts and training zones based on it.

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About The Author

Tom Crandall

Tom has been writing about photography, cycling, running and fitness since 1988, covering everything from the product reviews to the latest in fitness trends. Tom is the Editor-in-chief of,,,, and a few other publications, he began racing in college while getting an Information Resource Management degree at George Mason University. Based in the photography and cycling-crazed city of Austin, Texas, with his wife Kathleen and pug Olaf, Tom enjoys running, walking or riding most every day.

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