Reviews

SkiErg vs Rower vs Air Bike: Which Should You Buy for Your Home Gym?

July 13, 2022 by
Concept2 cardio equipment
Concept2 cardio equipment. Credit: Garage Gym Reviews.
Enjoying Morning Chalk Up? Access additional exclusive interviews, analyses, and stories with an Rx membership.

Trying to figure out which CrossFit equipment to invest into your home gym is tough, particularly because there’s just so much to choose from and a lot of it is rather expensive. One thing is for certain: If you’re building a home gym for CrossFit, you’d be wise to invest in at least one cardio machine commonly programmed in CrossFit WODs. 

Ahead, a detailed guide to SkiErgs vs rowers vs air bikes to help you decide where to put your home gym dollars.

SkiErg vs Rower vs Air Bike: Overview of CrossFit Cardio Machines 

Truth be told that while there are a number of cardio machines on the market, in the wonderful world of CrossFit, four machines reign supreme: 

We’ll get into the details below, but to start us off, here’s a quick pros and cons chart of each of the machines ahead. 

Ski ErgConcept2 RowerRogue Echo BikeAssault BikeConcept2 BikeErg
ProsWorks upper body to a greater extent than other machines

Wheelchair accessible 

Low maintenance 
Used in CrossFit events

True full body machine

Can be used for a wide variety of intensities and distances

Low maintenance 
Best machine for high intensity

Low maintenance Upper and lower body can be isolated

Quieter than the Assault Bike
Most affordable optionLow maintenance 

Upper and lower body can be isolated

Great for interval work
Very quiet for an air bike

Low-maintenance belt drive

Lightweight (68 lbs)
ConsPriciest of the machines, with the floor mount

Cannot be used by people with upper-body injuries

Hard to use if you’re under 5’ 3”
Cannot be used by people with upper-body injuries

Takes up greatest amount of space, length-wise

Not super comfortable for people over 6 feet tall
Bulkiest of all the machines, least space efficient

Most difficult to put together

Machine is very large for people under 5’ 3”
No Bluetooth on the Classic model

Loudest machine 

Requires more maintenance than Echo Bike
Doesn’t often appear in CrossFit workouts

Not a full-body workout (no moving arms)

Seat is small and uncomfy

(Apart from these few machines, you’ll also sometimes see a manual treadmill like the AssaultRunner, but since that isn’t as endemic to the sport, we’ll save it for another comparison). 

SkiErg vs Rower vs Air Bike: Specs

SkiErgConcept2 RowerRogue Echo BikeAssault Bike ClassicConcept2 BikeErg
SizeWhen mounted to the wall: 19” L x 16” W  x 85” H
When mounted to the floor stand: 23.5” W x 50” L  x 85” H
96” L x 24 “ W x 20” seat height58.8” L x 29.8” W x 52.75” H50.95” L x 23.34” W x 50” H48” L x 24” W x 41” H
Product Weight46 lbs (plus 35 pounds with floor stand)57 lbs127 lbs96 lbs68 lbs
ConstructionAluminum frame Aluminum frame, steel legs SteelSteelAluminum frame, steel feet
FinishPowder coatPowder coatPowder CoatPowder CoatPowder Coat
Weight CapacityN/A500 lbs350 lbs 300 lbs300 lbs
MonitorPM5 Performance Monitor PM5 Performance Monitor LCD console LCD console LCD console
BluetoothYesYesYesNot on Classic model, but on Pro and Elite Yes
Warranty5-year warranty on frame parts, 2-year warranty on other parts 5-year warranty on frame parts, 2-year warranty on other parts 2-year manufacturer’s warranty5-year warranty on frame parts, 2-year warranty on other parts  5-year warranty on frame parts, 2-year warranty on other parts 

SkiErg Overview 

Concept2 SkiErg against a white brick wall on floor stand
Photo courtesy Rogue Fitness.

The lovechild of a SwimErg and rower, the SkiErg is a full body machine that is designed to mimic the movement pattern of Nordic skiing or double-pole cross-country skiing. A machine you use while standing, each and every stroke utilizes your upper-body pulling muscles, midline, and lower-body hinge muscles all at once. 

To list them, those muscles include: 

  • Quads
  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves
  • Core
  • Hip flexors
  • Lats
  • Forearm 
  • Biceps
  • Triceps
  • Traps
  • Extensors
  • And lots of other small, deep muscles

The Concept2 SkiErg first made its appearance on the CrossFit stage in 2016 during the CrossFit Games Event “The Rope Chipper.”

Since then, the SkiErg machine has become a staple in most CrossFit boxes. The machine is frequently programmed into recovery work, high-intensity interval sprints, EMOMs, chippers, and more. 

It features the same flywheel and damper on the Concept2 RowErg.  

Rower Overview

concept2 row erg in a garage
Concept2 RowErg. Photo courtesy Garage Gym Reviews

Indoor rowing machines are designed to simulate the movement of rowing in water. However, in CrossFit, you’ll most likely use the Concept2 RowErg (formerly called the Concept2 Model D Rower), which has air flywheel resistance. 

Far less leisurely than an afternoon on an actual boat, this rower provides an intense full-body workout. This single piece of equipment works every muscle in your body.

One of the most low-impact cardio machines on the market, the rower can be used in a wide variety of workouts. 

The machine can be incorporated into single-modality workouts like a 5K row for time or 250 calories for time. But, it can also be used alongside other movements and equipment in AMRAPs, EMOMs, chippers, and interval work. 

The rowing machine has been used in the CrossFit Games since the Games inception in 2007, and has been programmed in the Open since 2014. 

Throughout the last 15 years, competing athletes have faced challenges like rowing a half marathon and a full marathon. But most often, they are rowing in for-time workouts with a cluster of other movements. 

The rower is the most common ergometer used in CrossFit WODs, and whether you follow an online training plan for CrossFit or do daily programming at your local box, you’re sure to run into a rowing workout at some point. 

Air Bike Overview

AssaultBike Pro
AssaultBike Pro Credit: Garage Gym Reviews

An air bike is a specific type of exercise bike that uses wind to create resistance, outfitted with an enormous fan up front. What’s fun—or not so fun—about this type of exercise machine is that the harder and faster you go, the harder it gets. 

Bluntly, these bikes are not for the faint of heart. 

These machines crank your heart rate up high and work your entire body. (Are you sensing a common theme among popular CrossFit cardio equipment?)

An air bike can be used for long and short distances. But unlike the rower, which has been used for long distances and single-modality events during CrossFit competitions, air bikes are typically featured in multi-movement workouts.

Although there are many air bikes on the market, you’ll see two in most CrossFit boxes and in competition: The Rogue Fitness Echo Bike and the Assault Fitness AssaultBike. The Rogue Echo Bike is the official air bike of CrossFit, so it’s the one you need to be training on if you intend to compete at high levels in the sport. Then there’s the Concept2 BikeErg, which is different and doesn’t generally appear in competitions or daily WODs, but is still a valuable option.

SkiErg vs Rower vs Air Bike: Muscles Worked, Calories Burned, Fitness Benefits

NOBULL Trainer Plus white shoes
Strapping into a rowing machine wearing NOBULL Trainer+ shoes Credit: Nathan Hay/Garage Gym Reviews

Good news: All three cardio machines can be used to help you meet your fitness goals.  

Depending on the intensity and duration of your workouts, as well as what other movements you’re using alongside your cardio bit, these machines can be utilized to help you boost your strength and power output, improve aerobic capacity, lose weight, increase power output, and more. 

All three machines also work all the major muscle groups, from head to hiney to heels. The difference between the three machines, however, is the degree to which different muscles are used. 

While the SkiErg’s primary lower body muscles are the hamstrings, the air bike’s primary movers are the quads. The rower, on the other hand, engages the quads and hamstrings about equally. 

From an upper-body standpoint, the SkiErg and rower primarily use the upper-body pulling muscles, while the air bike uses the upper-body pushing muscles to a greater degree. (This is true except for the C2 bike, which doesn’t have moving arms and thus doesn’t train your upper body.)

As for calorie burn, it’s tough to say whether one machine burns more calories than another. Total calorie burn depends on so many factors, including: your body weight and body composition; the intensity of your effort; whether you’re using a cardio machine in isolation or with other equipment or body weight movements; and your conditioning level, or how adapted your body is to a specific type of cardio. 

Regardless, if weight loss is a goal of yours, any of these three can help you out in conjunction with a healthy diet, ample sleep, proper hydration, and other healthy habits. 

SkiErg vs Rower vs Air Bike: Space, Storage, Maintenance, Durability 

Ultimately, how much space and maintenance these machines require, as well as their lifespan, is going to vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. So, in this section we’ll discuss the manufacturers and products popular in CrossFit specifically. 

RowErg

a woman using the concept2 rowerg
A RowErg will take up more floor space than any of the other options. Credit: Garage Gym Reviews

There are a number of rowers on the market—NordicTrack, Hydrow, and WaterRower, for example. But as far as CrossFit athletes are concerned, there is really only one rowing machine: The Concept2 rower. This machine is 96 inches long and 24 inches wide, which is about the size of a yoga mat. 

The Concept2 Rower has wheels that allow you to easily cart the machine to different parts of your gym. And it can be tilted up when you’re not using it to maximize your floor space. 

As for maintenance, Concept2 recommends lubricating the chain with mineral oil after every 50 hours of use, plus wiping down the monorail, seat, and handles after every use. Additionally, check for loose screws and bolts every 250 hours of use and tighten any if needed. 

SkiErg

Concept2 SkiErg handles
The SkiErg can be mounted to the wall to save floor space. Credit: Garage Gym Reviews

There is only one SkiErg, which is made by Concept2, who has the term trademarked. This machine optimizes space better than most on the market. Just 16 inches wide by 19 inches deep when mounted to the wall, and 24 inches wide by 50 inches deep when mounted to the floor mount (sold separately), the SkiErg fits any home gym with normal or high ceilings. 

As you might guess, when mounted to the wall, the SkiErg is not movable. But when mounted to the floor mount, you can roll it all across your gym. (The ability to move this, and other machines with built-in wheels, is especially nice during summer months because it allows you to train outdoors.)

Maintenance on this machine is similar to the RowErg: Wipe down parts with a non-abrasive towel after use, oil the chain every 50 hours of use, and tighten any loose bolts every so often.

Air Bike

Concept2 BikeErg
If you’re tight on space, consider the Concept2 BikeErg. It has the smallest footprint of air bikes endemic to CrossFit. Credit: Garage Gym Reviews

There are two main air bikes that you’ll see in CrossFit gyms: The Rogue Echo Bike and the AssaultBike. 

Neither bike requires much maintenance and both are extraordinarily well-built. Both bikes also have wheels that allow you to wheel them to the other equipment you’re using in your workout. 

Which of the two bikes you get will ultimately come down to your space requirements. The AssaultBike Classic (which is the one we recommend for pretty much everyone) is far less beefy than the Rogue Echo Bike. 

For comparison, the AssaultBike Classic is about 51 inches long, 23 inches wide, and 50 inches high. The Rogue Echo Bike is about 59 inches long, 30 inches wide, and 53 inches tall. 

You’ll need to do a bit more maintenance on the AssaultBike compared to the Echo Bike. You can read more about the two bikes and how they compare in our AssaultBike review and Rogue Echo Bike review.

We’ll discuss the Concept2 BikeErg here separately since it’s kind of in a class of its own. While the C2 bike is technically an air bike (it uses the same fan flywheel as its rower and skier counterparts), it doesn’t deliver the same experience as air bikes with moving arms, like the Echo and Assault models.

The C2 bike functions more like a road bike and is designed more like typical stationary bikes you’d see in a studio. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad choice, however. As detailed in our Concept2 BikeErg review, this exercise bike still provides a phenomenal workout that will get your legs and lungs going.

It’s a superb option for people nursing upper-body injuries who still want to get some conditioning work in. It’s also great for people working with small spaces, as it measures just 48 inches long by 24 inches wide. At 68 pounds, it weighs much less than other air bikes and is easier to move around, too.

Which Cardio Machine Should You Buy for Your CrossFit Home Gym?

concept2 rower handle closeup
Concept2 RowErg handle. Credit: Rogue Fitness/Concept2

Great question. We’d say that 9 out of 10 times, if you’re looking to buy a cardio machine for a CrossFit gym, you should make it a rowing machine. 

Why? Because to date, the rower is the only cardio machine that’s ever made an appearance in the CrossFit Open, and it makes an appearance every single year. So, if you’re planning to participate in the CrossFit Open (and any level higher than that), you’ll need access to a rowing machine. 

Competition aside, the rower is a fantastic tool for achieving nearly every single fitness goal, whether they are CrossFit-specific or not. Rowing machines can be used to improve endurance and cardiovascular capacity, increase strength, lose weight, and more. 

So, when is an air bike or SkiErg the better pick? 

If you are nursing an injury or looking for a machine that your athletes can use while injured, you’d be better off investing in an air bike or SkiErg. Air bikes can be used by people with either lower- or upper-body injuries, since you can isolate muscle groups (except for the C2 bike, which is legs only). And the SkiErg can be utilized by people who need to get their legs a rest. 

The SkiErg or air bike both require less floor space than the rower, so if your home gym is tiny,  you may want to consider one of those instead. If you’re very tight on floor space and want a bike, we recommend the Concept2 BikeErg, as it’s much smaller and lighter than the AssaultBike and Echo Bike.

The SkiErg is great for small-space conditioning work, too. When mounted to the wall, it takes up just 16 inches by 19 inches. 

Air bikes are typically a little bulkier but require less space in length. Because the size of an air bike varies from model to model, you’d be wise to look at the exact specs on the machine you have in mind. 

CrossFit Cardio FAQs 

Rogue Echo Bike
Rogue Echo Bike Credit: Garage Gym Reviews

Is CrossFit a cardio workout?

Certainly, CrossFit is good for your cardiovascular capacity. Through a variety of modalities, intensities, and workout formats, the sport builds up your aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. 

Is CrossFit the same as HIIT training? 

Before we can compare and contrast the two modalities, we need to define them. CrossFit, as you’ve likely heard, is defined as constantly varied, high-intensity functional movement. 

HIIT, which stands for high-intensity interval training, is defined as a type of training made up of short bursts of high-intensity movement interspersed with varied recovery times. 

Sure, the two have some overlaps, but they are ultimately not synonymous. While HIIT workouts are always made up of intervals, CrossFit workouts only occasionally have intervals. 

Sometimes, CrossFit workouts prescribe that people alternate work periods with rest periods. But CrossFit workouts may also prescribe that people work straight through until a set amount of work has been done, or a set amount of time is up. 

Does CrossFit involve running? 

At its core, CrossFit is a combination of gymnastics movements, Olympic lifting, powerlifting, bodybuilding, and monostructural cardio. Alongside rowing, jumping rope, biking, and occasionally swimming, one of the monostructural cardio exercises CrossFit incorporates is running.  

As it goes, during warmer months, CrossFit programmers regularly incorporate outdoor running into their programming. During cooler months, it’s common for manual treadmills to be used. An

That said, everything in CrossFit can be scaled or adapted to your personal fitness needs. If, for whatever reason, you cannot run, you can elect to do another form of exercise instead. (Usually, rowing). 

What rower do CrossFit athletes use? 

Easy: The Concept2 RowErg. It’s worth noting that The Concept2 Rower was formerly sold under the name Concept2 Model D. So, if you see that name emblazoned on the rowers at your local affiliate, that’s why!

Get the Newsletter

For a daily digest of all things CrossFit. Community, Competitions, Athletes, Tips, Recipes, Deals and more.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.