Often overshadowed by other pieces of cardio equipment, the ski erg for CrossFit offers many unique benefits to those who choose to train with it.
Athletes of all levels can do killer low-impact cardio workouts on this device. It’s also a helpful tool for strengthening your core and building upper body endurance.
However, some avoid it simply because they don’t know why they should add it to their training.
Here’s a short breakdown of how the SkiErg is used in CrossFit (and why), plus 7 killer workouts you can do at home or in the gym.
What’s a Ski Erg?
The ski erg (ski machine) is a piece of cardio equipment that closely mimics nordic skiing. It’s found in CrossFit gyms all over the world, as well as in some other gyms that house functional training equipment.
Because it’s still relatively new, the SkiErg is a pretty underrated piece of fitness equipment. You won’t see it programmed as frequently in CrossFit workouts as the rower or Assault bike, which is why many athletes have questions about it.
Still, it’s been used at the highest level of CrossFit. For example, the ski rowing machine made a cameo at the 2017 CrossFit games..
Many gyms use it on a weekly or monthly basis in their programming. Some athletes even use it as an active recovery tool.
What Muscles Does the Ski Erg work?
The ski machine hits pretty much every body part from head to toe:
- Core. Your abs, obliques, lower back and hips generate much of the force to pull the handles down towards the floor.
- Upper back/shoulders/arms. The lats, shoulders, and arms bring the handles down to your thighs and help you increase wattage, meters, or speed of calories being burned. The triceps extend to finish each pull.
- Legs. The calves come off the floor at the beginning of each rep. Without a strong drive from the quads and hamstrings, you wouldn’t be able to create much power at all.
Ski Erg Rower Benefits
- Great low-impact cardio exercise
- Great upper body workout
- Great substitute machine when you don’t have access to a rower or Assault bike
- Great substitute when healing from a running injury
- Good for recovery and active rest days
- Builds power and endurance in the core
- Builds coordination
- Builds flexibility in the shoulders
- Easy to use for adaptive athletes and/or those with limitations
Concept 2 is the consensus top choice for CrossFitters. Their product is the one you’ll most commonly find at CrossFit gyms, and is sold by popular distributors like Rogue Fitness.
Similar to the Concept 2 indoor rower (the gold standard of CrossFit rowing machines) the C2 ski erg is designed for high-intensity workouts. Unlike inferior machines, the PM5 Performance Monitor awards effort in the form of calories/meters rowed during a workout.
Other features include:
- Flexible design allows you to double row or alternate pulls
- Adjustable damper setting for new and experienced athletes
- Five year limited warranty
It’s also priced reasonably. A new C2 SkiErg costs about the same price as the Concept 2 Model D rower, which is also very common in CrossFit boxes and home gyms.
Alternative Ski Ergs for CrossFit
Honestly, Concept 2 has a pretty firm handle on the SkiErg market, especially in the functional fitness/CrossFit space.
However, there are other ski machine models out there you might consider, too.
EnergyFit Ski Row Air
EnergyFit offers a unique 2-in-1 product that allows athletes to ski and row on the same device. It easily stores against the wall then can be pulled down when you want to do a rowing machine workout. For those with limited space for their home gym, it could be an attractive option.
While still relatively new, users love the EnergyFit model—some enough to suggest it could interrupt the monopoly Concept 2 products have on the CrossFit world.
However, there is one EnergyFit doesn’t have going for it. It simply doesn’t have the same calculator as the PM5 Performance monitor.
Those who buy devices other than Concept 2 always run the risk of having calories/meters be counted differently, which could interfere with workouts and programming.
That said, it’s still a very durable, rock solid ski-row machine for the price.
NordicTrack Ski Erg
This classic Ski Erg might offer nostalgia for some. In existence since the 1970s, the classic NordicTrack ski erg once was a staple of many basement gyms in America.
It’s a proven product that comes with a good warranty, but NordicTrack isn’t really meant for CrossFit athletes. It’s designed specifically for Nordic skiers and those who like to use Nordic skiing to train cardio at home.
Concept 2 goes to great efforts to create a device that strong athletes can use and still make gains on. This device likely won’t meet that criteria for experienced athletes.
How to Use the Ski Erg
To use the ski erg correctly:
- Start with your feet shoulder-width apart, firmly planted on the platform and your hands on the handles; don’t pull them away from the top of the rack.
- Pull the handles down towards the floor, bending your knees and extending your arms along the hips; bring your torso to the floor.
*At the bottom , you should be in a position similar to the bottom of a deadlift.
- Finish the pull by extending your triceps towards your butt. (Think: “thumbs to thighs.”)
- Bring your arms back where they came from to the top of the pull; repeat in a smooth, fluid motion
- Using your arms too much instead of your legs
- Keeping your arms stiff and not bending the elbows as you follow through
- Allowing the arms to flare out when gearing up for the next pull (one straight line is faster)
- Not coming up on your toes at the start of each pull to generate maximum force
- Resetting between pulls, which kills momentum created from the previous pull
This video breaks down some of the more technical aspects of the ski erg for CrossFitters.
Ski Erg vs. Rower vs. Assault Bike
The rower and Assault bike are more commonly used in CrossFit workouts, but the SkiErg offers its own set of advantages.
For example, the ski erg is the only device that primarily wears down the arms and shoulders. If you wanted to build upper body endurance, it would be the best piece of equipment of the three.
Here are some more key points about each machine to help you understand the difference.
- Primarily relies on core strength to generate force
- Arms do the majority of the work (legs often don’t get tired)
- Very similar to the rower in terms of effort needed to produce calories/meters/wattage
- Primarily relies on leg strength to generate force
- Legs and back do the majority of the work
- Very similar to the ski erg in terms of effort needed to produce calories/meters/wattage
- Primarily works your legs
- Considered the most challenging cardio equipment by most athletes
In any case, you’ll stand to gain grreat cardio from using any of these three machines. As a CrossFit athlete striving to develop GPP (general physical preparedness), you should be using all three in your programming.
7 Awesome CrossFit Ski Erg Workouts
Below are 7 ski erg workouts you can try at your CrossFit box or home gym.
From a programming perspective, you can typically substitute ski erg workouts for rowing workouts 1:1. They aren’t the exact same, but will give athletes a similar cardio stimulus.
1. Ski Erg CrossFit Couplet
4 Rounds for Time:
- 500m Ski Erg
- 10 Clean and Jerks, 135/95lbs
2. Cardio Ski Erg WOD
EMOM 24 (every minute on the minute for 24 minutes):
- Run 200m, out and back
- Row 200m
- Ski 200m
3. Minimal Equipment SkiErg Workout
- Ski Erg Calories
4. Ski Erg AMRAP
- 250 meters, Ski Erg
- 10 deadlifts, 225lbs
- 25 push-ups
5. Killer Challenge Ski Erg Workout
- 20 Ski Erg Calories
- 20 Chest-to-bar Pull-ups
- 20 Thrusters, 95lbs
- 50m Sled Push
6. Ascending Ladder Ski Erg WOD
- Ski Erg, calories
- Kettlebell Swings (53/35lbs)
- Double unders
7. 2017 CrossFit Games Ski Erg WOD
2 minutes on, 1 minute off:
- 2 rope climbs
- 10/7-cal. SkiErg
- Max-rep OHS
- 4th round extended to 3 minutes.
- Go until 75 reps of OHS are complete.
M 155 lb. F 105 lb.