Meet the SkiErg, Your Newest Full-Body Workout Machine

Confessions of the only time I’ve been skiing: I broke both my ski poles getting off the lift on my very first run. From there, I refused to budge from pizza-pie position as I slowly, SLOWLY, “Dad, quit telling me to go faster!” made my way down the mountain. Needless to say, it was a less successful day than I think my parents envisioned when they booked the trip.

Imagine my surprise when I walked into SWEAT Chicago last week and was confronted with what I had first assumed to be a rower leaned up against the wall: the SkiErg.

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It’s no surprise I had mistaken it for a rower; the SkiErg and your run-of-the-mill indoor rower have similar components, including handles attached to drive cords and a flywheel and damper that adds resistance to your pulling.

Paul Rahn, founder/CEO of SWEAT, explained exactly what I was looking at:

“The SkiErg is actually a full body workout and is known to support in building endurance. While it targets full body, it specifically hits a large portion of your lats, triceps, chest and your glutes.”

Here’s how it works

Standing in front of the machine, grasp the handles firmly. Raise yourself up to your tiptoes so you reach your highest height, holding your arms and the handles up in the air. In one fluid motion, pull the handles down and continue into a squat, finishing with your arms and the handles fully extended down and slightly behind you (similar to doing tricep kickbacks).

Stand up, raise yourself back up to your tiptoes and repeat. Once you have the hang of it, you can try different variations with staggered legs, facing outwards, or even sitting down. A sitting down workout? Yeah, sign me up.

How the SkiErg is different

The motion mimics what Nordic skiers do for a full-body, heart-pumping aerobic workout. And unlike most other cardio machines (like the treadmill, bike, elliptical and stairclimber), the SkiErg is an upper-body focused cardio workout. Each pull engages your core, shoulders and arms; plus, it uses your legs without being high-impact. It’s perfect for you if you have a lower body injury or just dominated leg day at the gym, but you still want to get in some cardio.

Who it’s for

Paul also noted that the adaptability of the SkiErg means it gives you just the workout you’re looking for, no matter what your current fitness level may be.

“It is great for every fitness level, specifically for individuals who might be starting HIIT training or working out in general,” Paul said. “It is impact-friendly (zero impact) and one can make it easier and lighter based on how intense they ski (similar to that of a rower machine).  The harder you pull your skis, the more challenging it will be. On the flip side, it’s great for advanced athletes to continue to build their strength and endurance by pushing themselves harder and more efficient pulls.”

A few tips on form to remember when you take on the SkiErg

  • For optimal placement, take a small step back from the machine and align yourself so that your heels are underneath your sit bones.
  • Hinge from the knees and hips rather than bending forward on a rounded back.
  • When landing in your squat, stop yourself before your thighs get parallel to the floor.
  • Just like when doing a regular squat, keep your knees pushed out to the side instead of caving in, and don’t let your knees bend forward over your toes so that your heels lift.

Ready to tackle the SkiErg yourself?

Try one of the workouts here or here, or head to SWEAT on State to have one of their group instructors show you the proper form and technique for mastering this new machine. Paul himself recommends the following:

“Skiing on the erg is HARD! To start I’d suggest doing :30 second intervals of high intensity skis with :15 rest, competing six-eight rounds in any given workout.  It’s great at keeping your heart rate high as a cardio component to your workouts.  As you improve your form and endurance, increase to :45 and :60 intervals with slightly more rest for six-eight rounds!”

Now that I’ve tried it out, I can’t wait to get back and give it another shot. After all, there’s virtually a 0% chance that the SkiErg will cause me to fall off a mountain … knock on wood.

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About Kristen Geil

A native of Lexington, Kentucky, Kristen moved to Chicago in 2011 and received her MA in Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse from DePaul while trying to maintain her southern accent. Kristen grew up playing sports, and since moving to Chicago, she’s fallen in love with the lakefront running path and the lively group fitness scene. Now, as a currently retired marathoner and sweat junkie, you can usually find her trying new workouts around the city and meticulously crafting Instagram-friendly smoothie bowls. Kristen came on to A Sweat Life full-time in 2018 as Editor-in-Chief, and she spends her days managing writers, building content strategy, and fighting for the Oxford comma.