A Guide to using ERG mode

There are 2 smart trainer modes used in the SYSTM app: ERG mode and Level mode. In ERG mode, the trainer will meet the power targets for you, while in Level mode, you will need to shift gears to meet the power targets.

How does ERG mode work?

Knowing how your trainer works will help ensure that you have the best experience.  The trainer applies resistance based on the speed of the flywheel. 

  1. The trainer will try to match the resistance target no matter what.  You can expect that if you drop your cadence, the trainer will add resistance making pedaling harder. If you increase your cadence, the trainer will release the resistance. It is important to keep the cadence steady and on-target during the workout.
  2. If your target power is too high and you’re unable to keep the cadence target, the trainer will continually add resistance as your cadence decreases, until it locks down and you are no longer able to turn the pedals. (This is sometimes referred to as ERG Lockdown or the ERG death spiral). If this happens, simply stop pedaling and allow the trainer to release the resistance. You might want to reduce the target intensity if this keeps happening.
  3. Unlike level mode, where you’re trying to meet the power targets, in ERG mode, you want to meet the cadence targets. The trainer will meet the power target for you.
  4. Every smart trainer is a bit different in its response time. Some of the higher-end trainers such as the Wahoo Kickr or the Tacx Neo will be able to meet the power target in 3 to 5 seconds. Other trainers might take 5 to 10 seconds. Just keep the cadence steady and wait for the resistance to add on.
  5. With fast cadence increases, the trainer bleeds resistance to avoid overshooting the power target. With a fast enough cadence you’ll feel very little resistance applied at all. You will likely experience this "spinning out" at the end of a sprint.  This will also be the experience you have if you're trying to match the power target by increasing your cadence, rather than allowing the trainer to catch up to the interval change.  This will result in a sensation that the trainer has no resistance at all and that ERG is not functioning.  Keep the cadence steady and let the trainer do what it is trying to do.

  6. Shifting gears is not recommended.  Shifting gears will cause a change in the flywheel speed, which will cause the trainer to try to adjust the resistance.  Shifting gears to try to meet the increased power targets faster usually slows down the trainer response time. 

How do I select ERG mode for my trainer?

Connect your smart trainer to the app following instructions found here.  ERG mode should appear in the Settings box below your trainer connection. 



Troubleshooting tips:

Resistance is too Low

If you’re having issues with the resistance being too low, there are a few things you should check before we start troubleshooting:

1- Are your 4DP numbers accurate? If you’ve completed one of the fitness tests, this isn’t likely, but if you’re a new user, it is possible that the numbers the app gave you when you created your account are too low. If you think this might be the case, try increasing the intensity of the workout to see if you feel an increase in resistance. Intensity Adjustments 

2- Make sure that you're following all the tips mentioned above:  keep the cadence steady and let the trainer match the power target.  Remember that the trainer will have a 3-10 second lag. If your cadence is too high, you might feel a lack of resistance.

If these issues do not apply and you’re still finding that you have no or low resistance, please send us a help request so we can help!


Can't Meet the Recovery Targets

If you’re struggling with the trainer never dropping to the recovery target in a ride, it’s possible that you’re simply in the wrong gear on the trainer. This is especially true for wheel-on trainers but can happen with direct drive trainers also.  The opposite may also be true.  If you're in too easy a gear, you may not be able to reach the higher targets.  

Which Gear Should I Choose?

Each gear will have a "basement" power level.  No matter what number the app is sending to the trainer, the trainer will not be able to get below this basement level.  If you are in this situation, try switching to an easier gear on your bike.  Keep switching until the lowest power your trainer gives you is below the lowest target the app gives you.  That's the gear you need to choose for ERG mode.  We recommend using the small chainring in the front, and the middle of the cassette at the back.  This may need adjusting, based on your recovery targets, but is a good starting point to finding the correct gear. 


Can't meet the power targets in low cadence intervals

This is the opposite problem to the one listed above.  If your trainer can't meet the low cadence power targets, you'll need to change gears.  Shifting to the large chainring on your bike should resolve this issue.  Please note though, that this may affect your recovery interval.  This may be one scenario where shifting in ERG mode is required.  (note that this is not true for all trainers).


When to use ERG mode/ When NOT to use ERG mode

Some smart trainers are better than others when it comes to ERG mode. If you’ve got a top-of-the-line KICKR, you can probably manage most of the workouts that are in the app, in ERG mode. There are some workouts that are best done in Level mode:


The Shovel

The Tool Shed

The Cure

Half is Easy

Cadence drills

Do As You're Told (this will depend on your trainer)

Full Frontal (this should NEVER be done in ERG mode!)

The second half of Half Monty is also a Level Mode-only workout. 

Any workout where your trainer struggles to add or remove the resistance during the interval should be done in Level mode.  As mentioned earlier, this will vary depending on the trainer that you own. 


Using a smart controllable Wheel-On trainer

Wheel-on smart trainers need some special care to ensure that they are properly calibrated to report accurate power measurements. We recommend the following before each ride:

  1. Check tire pressure.
  2. Perform a spin-down calibration in your trainer’s native app.
  3. Adjust the tension knob on the trainer to ensure the spin-down calibration numbers are always the same.

If you remove the bike from the trainer, be sure to set it up exactly the same when you put it back on. Depending on the trainer, a quarter turn on the tension knob can add a significant amount of resistance to the power reported.  Calibration is essential for consistency in training. 




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