If you use a smart trainer, it's wise to learn the difference between 'Erg' and 'Level' modes and when is best to use each.
- Erg mode: The Sufferfest app will automatically control the resistance on your trainer based on the target wattage we want you to hit. You don't need to shift gears on your bike as the trainer is in control. If you pedal slower or faster, the app will automatically adjust the trainer's resistance so you are always hitting the right target power (some trainers do this faster or slower than others).
- Level mode: The trainer is not controlled by the app and uses a standard resistance curve. You have to shift gears on your bike and perhaps adjust cadence to hit the target power. Every trainer has multiple levels to choose from and you'll want to make sure you use the right one for your fitness (more about choosing the right level at the end of this article).
How Do I Switch Modes?
You can switch between Erg and Level mode in a couple of different places. Here are the places where and some related help articles to help walk you through the process.
When To Use Erg Mode
You should use Erg mode whenever you want to hit your power targets exactly and consistently and ensure you pace yourself correctly. You see, one of the biggest problems athletes have when it comes to training is pacing themselves during an interval. All too often riders start an effort well above a sustainable pace. One reason is that innate Sufferlandrian impulse to turn it up to 15 and rip the knob off. Another is athletic optimism. When you’re fresh it really does feel like you could hold that effort. Using ERG mode forces you to pace it correctly. It also gives you a much better idea of how RPE can shift throughout a single interval, or throughout an entire workout.
Revolver is the perfect example. If you’re not familiar with this little slice of Sufferlandrian sadism, you are tasked with holding roughly the same power for 15 (more or less...) 60sec (mostly...) intervals. When you naively stroll into interval number one, the first 10 seconds feel like a cool breeze carrying scents of bergamot and Couchlandrian coffeecake. By the last 10 seconds of the last interval, you’d swear that someone replaced the fine blood you usually have in your body with dark, smoldering lava crystals. While they feel different, they should be done at the exact same effort for maximum benefit. That is where ERG mode really makes a difference. It’s far better to hit all 16 efforts at the same, barely sustainable effort, rather than destroying yourself on the first few only to whimper and soft pedal through the last half of the workout...
Not only does Erg mode hold you accountable during the actual intervals, but it also keeps you in check during the recovery between efforts. With ERG mode you still get to recover, but at a level that is more active recovery than spa day.
Lastly, Erg mode also helps you deliver consistent power over a given effort. Our natural tendency is to surge and ease off power at random times. With ERG mode you don’t have that option. The trainer will increase and decrease resistance in response to your output, resulting in consistent power, whether you’re pedaling at 70 rpm or 110 rpm. This allows you to complete workouts exactly as they are intended, meaning you maximize your training time and ultimately your Return on Suffering.
When To Use Level Mode
You should use Level mode when you want to see what you're truly capable of, like in a fitness test, or when the workout has a lot of abrupt changes or super short intervals that the trainer might not be able to react fast enough to.
There are times when ERG mode can actually be detrimental to a given session. The most obvious is a fitness test. If you haven’t been to see the doctor for a dose of tough glove that is Full Frontal, you’re in for a….treat. The whole idea of doing a power test like Full Frontal is to determine the absolute maximum effort you can sustain across 4 different power profiles. In ERG mode, the trainer would set a target and wouldn't let you go above it (or below it) no matter how fit you've become.
There is also an argument to *always* use Level mode. Erg mode assumes that you can always do what you're supposed to do. But you’re going to have days when you feel like your legs are made of Couchlandrian balsa wood. That’s normal. You have to put your ego aside and dial back the intensity of your workout by 5% or so. In Level mode, you can easily drop the effort a bit and your trainer won't try to stop you.
The opposite can also be true. After several weeks of good, consistent Suffering, and *gasp* proper rest, elements of your 4DP™ might have gone up 5%. Unless you’ve booked an appointment with Full Frontal, your smart trainer would have no idea. You might end up breezing through a workout that was supposed to leave you with a third-class, one-way ticket to grovel town. If you're riding in Level mode, you can go harder and your trainer won't hold you back.
Which Level Should I Use?
If you're using Level mode then the first thing you'll have to do is figure out which level to select. This is because your smart trainer can set standard resistance levels of varying difficulty. Depending on how strong you are, you'll want to pick the one that gives you the best range to cover your recoveries as well as your max efforts.
Most likely, it will take you a couple of tries with Level mode to figure out which one works best for you. Stronger riders will tend to need the higher levels (which have more difficult resistance curves) and weaker (but not for long!) riders will need to use level 0 or 1 as the resistance is lower.
Most Sufferlandrians find Level Mode 0 through 2 sufficient for most workouts. If you've got a particularly high 5-second power, and you're doing a session like Violator, you might need to choose a higher level for those kinds of sessions.
Note: Before you do the Full Frontal Fitness Test we recommend selecting a level mode that you think will be best for you (Level 1 or 2 is usually a safe starting point) and use it during a couple of our workouts to see how it suits you. "Primers" is a great option for testing your selected Level as is "Igniter."