If you’re fed up with traditional cardio machines, the SkiErg offers a new way to get in shape
- Cheaper than most commercial cardio machines
- Low impact
- Great for high- and low-intensity workouts
- None at this price
Anyone who has been Nordic skiing or even watched it at the Winter Olympics knows how physically demanding it is, but it’s fair to say that most of us haven’t considered making it part of our weekly exercise routine.
However, now rowing machine doyen Concept2 has created the SkiErg – a cardio machine that mimics the motion of Nordic skiing – it’s possible to give the sport a try even if you haven’t seen snow for many months.
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Concept2 SkiErg review: What you need to know
At first glance, the SkiErg looks like a rowing machine leaned up against the wall, which isn’t the worst way of thinking about it, because it uses much of the same tech as the Concept2 Model D – the company’s rowing machine that’s found in gyms all around the world.
It might seem obvious, but the SkiErg aims to imitate the movement of cross-country skiing as closely as possible, providing a low-impact cardiovascular workout that hits muscles all over the body. It works by letting you pull down on two handles connected to a flywheel, which can be adjusted via a damper. Your workout is then recorded on the console, telling you how far and fast you’ve gone, along with stats like your stroke rate.
You can pull the handles at the same time or one at a time, with the former being both more popular and challenging. The resistance delivered by the machine is proportional to how hard you pull the handles, so it’s easy to quickly ramp up your effort level. Indeed, it’s equally useful for steady workouts to improve your aerobic fitness and for calorie-torching HIIT workouts.
Concept2 SkiErg review: Price and competition
The SkiErg machine costs £700 and, although there are other skiing machines like the ThoraxTrainer available, they’re far more expensive and not easy to find in the UK. Its main competition comes from other common cardio machines. The key question, then, is why should you opt for a SkiErg over a treadmill, rower, exercise bike or cross-trainer?
One key benefit is that the SkiErg provides a full-body workout, with the focus on the upper body, which differentiates it from the treadmill and exercise bike. Using the SkiErg also has minimal impact on your joints, in contrast to running. It should appeal, then, to people nursing niggles and those keen to avoid inflaming old injuries.
Its price is also attractive, since the SkiErg is cheaper than a premium treadmill, rowing machine or elliptical trainer. Indeed, it’s a gym-standard machine for well under £1,000, and such machines are built to withstand all-day use for years. For similar quality in other machines you’d have to look at the Life Fitness T3 treadmill, which is over £2,000, or the Concept2 Model D rower, which is £850.
Exercise bikes like the JLL IC300 Indoor Cycling Bike are otherwise the most budget-friendly options available, often being available for less than £300. You can also get cheaper machines of other types for under £1,000 like the JTX Sprint-7 treadmill and the NordicTrack SpaceSaver SE7i cross-trainer, but the SkiErg undoubtedly offers bang for your buck.
It’s also not the most intrusive machine to have in your house, since it stands against a wall, although the 210cm height won’t work with low ceilings. You can also buy a stand for the machine for £180 if you’d prefer not to wall mount it.
Concept2 SkiErg review: Design and features
Aside from its height, the SkiErg is a relatively compact machine. It’s 48cm wide at the bottom, 52cm at the top, and 41cm deep, which doesn’t extend far into a room, though you’ll need a couple of metres of clearance for you to stand.
The machine comes with Concept2’s PM5 console, the same unit that’s on its rowing machines. There’s a free-training mode, several different preset workouts, plus the ability to create custom training sessions and games. The latter also includes a biathlon mode, which lets you take a break from skiing to fire at targets. Not one for your local gym!
Once you’ve started a workout, you can customise the display to show distance, strokes per minute and calories burned, among other data fields. The console also links to apps including ErgData and Concept2 Utility, which keep records of your workouts so you can review them later.
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Concept2 SkiErg review: Using the SkiErg
The SkiErg’s resistance levels change in proportion with how hard you pull on its handles, which is great for when you want to suddenly increase effort during a workout without having to fiddle with settings. Like Concept2’s rowing machines, you can also adjust the damper on the machine to change the feel of your workout on a scale from one to ten.
At the lower levels, less air is allowed into the flywheel, making it easier to spin. The opposite is true at the higher levels, especially at the start of a pull. Concept2 compares lower levels to skiing on flat or a downslope, while the higher levels are like working uphill, where you lose more momentum with each pull.
Using a lower setting is a good idea when you’re getting used to the SkiErg. I’d also say the best way to start is with an easy workout while you get used to the movement of Nordic skiing, assuming you’re not already a keen cross-country skier.
A standard double-pull motion initially works your upper body hard as you pull the handles from above your head, before shifting the emphasis to your core and lower body as you drop into a quarter squat and pull the handles to your waist. That’s a lot of different muscles, though the emphasis is on the upper body and core rather than the legs, which get off relatively lightly.
Although the movement is unfamiliar and the machine looks like a torture rack, the SkiErg is actually a pretty friendly machine for beginners. Keep the damper setting low and pull steadily on the ropes and you can get into a good rhythm quickly.
I started with a couple of 20-25 minute sessions on it at a low intensity and, while the SkiErg challenged my upper body in new ways that led to some muscle soreness the next day, the workout itself was definitely easier than using a rower for the first time.
It was also quickly apparent how low the impact of the workout is. As a keen runner, I often try to find an alternative cardio option when I’m carrying a niggle in my legs, and the SkiErg is perfect, with zero stress put on the lower body joints as you get the heart pumping. It’s even better than cycling and rowing in this regard.
However, as soon as you up the intensity by increasing the damper setting or pulling harder on the rope, it’s extraordinary how quickly your heart rate spikes. After seven or eight hard pulls I was gasping, making it a brilliant machine for HIIT sessions where you work hard for short intervals or try and blast out 500m as quickly as possible.
One great way to use the machine is as part of a circuit in the gym, doing short intervals on it interspersed with bodyweight or free weight exercises. That way you also don’t hog it for too long at the gym, where there will often only be one machine.
That’s not a problem at home, obviously, but one issue that follows the SkiErg everywhere is that it’s hard to watch TV while using it. When you’re knocking out a long session it’s great to be able to watch Netflix or use a virtual training app like Zwift (there’s a similar skiing app called SimWay XC Ski), but the machine’s design makes it hard to see a screen. Music and podcasts are the way forward if you can’t face a training session without any entertainment at all.
Concept2 SkiErg review: Verdict
The SkiErg is a terrific cardio machine that offers something different to the usual range of cardio machines you normally find in the gym. It provides a functional, low-impact workout and it works just as well for steady sessions as all-out HIIT. The SkiErg is also pretty cheap for a commercial standard machine and, while the movement feels odd at first, it doesn’t take long for beginners to get a handle on it. If you’re looking for one machine to have in a home gym, the SkiErg is a top option to consider. Just make sure you have a cracking playlist ready to listen to.