The common statement when doing an ERG-based workout (on a smart-controlled trainer) is to “never shift.” You simply find a gear you like then “set it and forget it” for the entire workout. The beauty of the ERG workout is that it increases or decreases the trainer resistance as your pedaling cadence changes, with the goal of maintaining the target power.

Gearing may be selected based on a variety of factors:

  1. Pick any combo that provides a straight chain line in order to reduce drivetrain wear.
  2. Pick a low gear to keep trainer noise low.
  3. Pick a low gear to provide low flywheel energy to mimic lower momentum riding like hills or off-road.
  4. Pick a high gear to provide high flywheel energy to mimic higher momentum riding like flats or smooth road.

Standing Efforts

“Set it and forget it” is nice, but a slight problem exists when it comes to standing pedaling efforts in ERG workouts. Standing pedaling is usually done at slower cadences than seated efforts (other than sprinting). Typical seated cadences range from 85-105 rpm, while standing cadences range from 55-75 rpm.

The conventional wisdom on ERG mode means you simply slow your cadence until it is where you want it to be (say 65 rpm) then stand for your effort. The problem with this approach is the large drop in workout power that happens when you slow your cadence. It happens before the trainer resistance increases back to the target power. That power decrease is a change from the desired target of the workout and less than ideal.

Additionally, when you return to the seated position, you must increase your cadence again (say 90 rpm). This causes a large increase in measured power until the resistance adjusts back down again.

Improved Standing Efforts

The solution comes from adopting the normal process used when standing outside. Generally, when you stand outside, you want to shift up a few gears (say 3 harder on the cassette). The higher gear keeps the wheel speed, but allows for the slower pedaling cadence.

So you can do the same thing while riding inside, even in ERG mode. The upshift keeps the “wheel speed” on the trainer, but keeps the ERG resistance nearly unchanged. The trainer will still adjust as needed, but the upshift makes that trainer adjustment much smaller.

Try this during your next ERG workout. Get into an interval at least 1 minute long, then:

  1. Ride seated at 90 rpm cadence, using your desired gear combo. Make sure to allow at least 3 up shifts on the cassette or use the small chainring.
  2. When you are ready, shift up (3 on the cassette or the big chainring) and stand up. This shift drops cadence about 25-30 rpm depending on the difference between your specific gearing.
  3. Perform the desired standing effort and adjust cadence slightly as desired, just like normal ERG riding.
  4. When you’re ready to return to a seated and faster cadence, sit down and do the opposite of your upshift. Resume your prior cadence and continue your workout.

Using this shifting technique removes the need for the trainer resistance unit to adjust as much as it otherwise would. You keep the power much closer to the target for the entire interval, including the standing to seated transitions, which maximizes the workout overall.

Your Thoughts

Do you shift in ERG mode? If so, why and when? Share below!