Is Structured Training too Structured?

And, more specifically indoor trainer workouts in erg mode.

So while riding the other day I was just wondering to myself, are we limiting ourselves and not maximising potential growth by always sticking to a plan and always riding in erg mode (like I do).

When i ride outdoors and try to do similar intervals to those in my plan I always find that power is much more up and down, and actually much more like real life riding (obviously) than erg mode which locks us in. I know that erg makes things more consistent but is it maximising our potential and prepping us in the best way to riding outside, which is why most of us ride on the trainer?

I just feel that somethings missing when I only ride on the trainer in erg mode, can’t put my finger on it.

Just curious as to others thoughts. Maybe I need to ride without erg mode sometimes?

If I had £1000 for a high end trainer I would buy one, mainly because of the much touted “road feel”, but ERG mode unless using it to simulate climbs etc on Zwift or similar (I only use TR) has limited appeal to me.

I have a Cycleops Jet Fluid Pro 2, it’s a dumb trainer but used with my powemeter I like it a lot. The fact that I have to hit the power target rather than the turbo makes me feel like I’m doing more of the work.

The training we do is designed to develop the systems we need when we are riding or racing so they should be seen as such. I’m of the belief that a mix of TR and outdoors riding is probably the “sweet spot”, ensure you do the key sessions of your plan but don’t beat yourself up if you fancy getting outdoors for some group riding or just to give yourself a break mentally.

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I think you’re right.

Locking you in makes an interval easier I reckon and it can make you lazy. I find that if I’m used to erg mode for a while and then go out and try and do threshold or even sweetspot efforts it’s much harder to sustain them. There a psychology lacking if all you need to do is turn the pedals, maybe at a target rpm. Compare that to outdoors and it’s a tougher mental task for me anyway. It could be that it’s harder because the power is more up and down so physically more taxing also.

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It’s very individual with regard to what’s too structured. Structured intervals on the trainer sets one up to exploit maximum physiological adaptation. Especially in erg. That’s the point of the trainer to me.

I don’t know how else to describe it but, that’s the massive advantage I see with training indoors. When the weather allows a few rides outside obviously help keep the psychology end of things and is way easier (IMO) to push the TSS and CTL up with longer endurance rides towards the ends of each week.


I don’t understand this point at all. The ERG can’t make you lazy or the work easier. It does the exact opposite. It keeps you honest (consistent power) and is relentless at every pedal stoke. If you give in for temporary relief, even for a couple seconds, you are immediately punished by a grinding lower cadence. You WILL hit the power number or ERG will punish you.

On the road/trail this is where your laziness and propensity to ease up creeps in, because you no long have ERG to keep you honest. So it’s not ERG, but oneself that becomes the mental barrier outside. Assuming all variables can be controlled outside (which they never can be).

ERG is maximizing you FTP and fitness (physiological systems) to ride a bike. For many, that will directly translate to outdoor riding. However, how well that prepares you will depend on what’s needed outdoors and how that compares to your indoor training and plans. For example, training for a flat road TT will closely mimic your indoor trainer. However, the trainer will fall short in events that require more bike handling such as a crit, XCO, cyclocross and enduro.

Indoor training and ERG is not the one and only tool, but rather a significant part of your training/racing preparation. That needs to be coupled with outdoor rides specific to your needs/wants. However, ERG is not there to keep you honest outside, so that consistency must come from within.


I agree, you are doing more of the work and taking on a higher cognitive load. That could be a good or a bad thing. ERG removes that burden and allows you to focus only on maintaining cadence freeing up you mind to hold constant power. A dumb trainer requires more personal engagement and will better replicate outdoor riding but, MAY for some, be holding them back from reaching their power numbers that would result in a less than ideal training session.


I’ve recently gone from a dumb to a smart trainer (KICKR) but don’t really feel any difference or lack of engagement in erg mode, I’m still mentally counting down to the start of the interval, upping it as it starts and monitoring my power and cadence constantly. The only thing I do t need to do now is change gear or miss the beginning of intervals which I used to do!

Regarding overly structured training, I only do structured training on the trainer and do so all winter, the only thing I do differently is I don’t follow the plans, I don’t like them, find them too in intense to sustain over the winter…I have my own plan and just ride sweet-spot indoors

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I was thinking about this yesterday…say I’m doing a Z2 ride in ERG and get the erge (ha ha) to blast out a 20 sec sprint…will the trainer let me do it? Or even if I feel like upping the pace just to try it out… Can I deviate at will or do I always have to push a few buttons first?

Structured training is structured for a reason — otherwise it’s just bike riding — so I’d say ERG does a good job at holding the rider to that structure. But, just like everything else, pros and cons.

This is an excellent point that Amber made in her podcast 2 weeks ago. Her coach was prescribing power numbers she couldnt hit outdoors due to the cognitive load of riding outside. So she took it inside, reduced the cognitive load and hit her goals and grew from it.

So even if ERG isnt “real”, it will allow you to train yourself harder which will translate to better outdoor performance at a lower cognitive load. Riding faster with less cognitive load will allow you to focus on other skills/things going on around you.


Some great points, I can see both sides now tbh.

On the defence of ERG, one advantage is not allowing you to go too hard meaning you could fail the workout. My intervals are consistently 5-10, sometimes 15W over on sweetspot as I get into a rhythm, this could lead to failure if I did the same on threshold. Although I would add I’m pretty sure I’m much close to target on those!

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You can do it for a couple seconds, but ERG is smarter than you and will immediately reduce resistance. You will end up doing a high cadence drill and power will quickly resume to the intended number. You have to push a few buttons to get into standard or resistance mode to do that using the app, there are no “short keys”. I believe there are short keys for the desktop versions.

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I also think that people are following Trainerroad like gospel. It’s an amazing tool but some of the posts here are crazy. Like when people post that their power graph is too up and down. Fussing about being a watt or two off the prescribed mark. Worrying about being 3% below the target on one interval a month. etc.

I think it’s great people are that dedicated but riding outside is not like that. Racing is never like that. I have a dumb trainer but I didn’t care much for erg when I tried it.

I don’t worry much as long as I am doing the work and getting the benefits. If I want to jam an extra spring… Sure. If I need to take a second if in an interval… Sure.


+a million. Not many post I completely agree with but, this is one of them.

I am guessing the “super structured” approach may be a bit of the new comer thing for some. I was one of those people when I started. Follows my slight OCD nature to lay everything out and do it in an orderly and calculated way.

The longer I stayed in TR, and more importantly with my discovery of the podcast… I opened my eyes to the broader goals of this whole program.

Seeing the workouts for their main objective, not the finite seconds or solitary watts is HUGE. We are working to drive adaptations in a human body, not fine tuning a machined and assembled race engine for a car.

The needs in each are similar, but distinctly different as well. I think it helps to learn more of the why behind the training methods here, so it makes it easier to live with the inevitable imperfections that we are bound to experience.

I still love the overall direction and planning available in TR. But I don’t worry about watts, TSS and such like I once did. I focus on my personal goal, how the workouts and their planned progression are meant to drive changes in my body. I loosely evaluate the impact and results, and adjust that along with any other demands in my life.

Most of us aren’t paid to be here and hurt ourselves. It’s part of a personal choice to push ourselves and become better in any number of ways. I think that is important to remember that point, when we might dive too deep into the stuff that really doesn’t matter that much.


Power varies quite a bit even during erg mode. If you get perfect yellow lines, try turning off power smoothing.

My personal take on this is that I ride Zone 3/lower Tempo (not Sweet Spot) in resistance mode and anything SS or above (especially VO2max intervals, where the precision is more important) in ERG mode.

Back to the main point of this discussion, I think this essentially leans towards a “clinical vs organic” type of discussion. ERG mode being the “clinical” equivalent, and Resistance mode being the “organic” equivalent.

For building a proper and complete training program, I believe a person should include both. The ERG is great because you can carefully control the effort to not exceed or fall short of the prescription in the workout. It’s not perfect, but it likely applies a more controlled and steady load to the rider.

I say this even though I know that many can do a great job of hitting numbers in Resistance mode (via smart or dumb trainers. But that level of precision on Resistance takes some serious attention and a well known use of the bike, trainer and gearing. As such, it requires more of the “cognitive load” as mentioned above.

This can be good or bad. It will be good in testing the rider up to the point that the attention required leads to limits of the performance. This is one reason ERG is useful. It relieves the rider from having to pay excessive attention to the power target. There is still a requirement of the rider, to hold a proper and consistent cadence, but that is relatively easy in comparison to watching power targets in some cases.

As with everything in this world, there are no absolutes. I think the idea should be to look at the pros/cons of each tool at our disposal, and use them appropriately to take the most from their advantages. As such, I spend a lot of time in ERG mode because it is great from a pure training perspective.

But I also spend time doing “free” rides workouts in Resistance or Simulation mode, to make sure I keep some of the “outside” feeling in my training. I found over the years that a mix is well worth the effort rather than sticking to one particular direction. Variety does us well in so many aspects of life, and training is no different.