The Story of the SkiErg

May 18, 2023 by
Photo Credit: Concept2
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For CrossFitters, the Concept2 SkiErg is a household name. The cardio machine is in every box, in every competition, and — whether you love it or hate it — known as a great way to get a full-body workout.

But, rewind about 15 years, and this wasn’t the case. Before 2009, the Concept2 SkiErg didn’t exist.

The Creation of the SkiErg

“[The SkiErg] grew out of the fact that we were skiers,” said Judy Geer, Concept2 Founder and former Olympic rower. “Just like the rowing machine became handy in the winter, the SkiErg was perfect for the summer when you had no snow.”

Geer ties the first-ever version of the SkiErg back to 1981. It was very makeshift: A rower was hung on the wall so an athlete could pull down on the handles, like the motion of a SkiErg today.

  • More serious prototypes started in the early 2000s, Trevor Braun, longtime Concept2 engineer, said, but the engineering team knew it would need more refining if it was going to be a product.  

But around 2005, Geer’s daughter was recruited for a ski team and sprained her ankle. “She put a rowing machine on the wall and did a lot of intervals on that semi-SkiErg. That was a driving force [to create the SkiErg], realizing it was a great way to train when you couldn’t use your legs or be on the snow.”

Photo Credit: Concept2

“When you see the need for the product itself, and you’re going to use it yourself, that’s just like the best way to create a product,” Geer added. “The same thing happened with the rowing machine. It’s grown out of a need that you personally recognized, you’re going to use it, you’re going to train on it yourself, you’re not making something just to sell.”

  • “We were going to sell it because we want to share it, but that’s an interesting thing about our products. They grow out of our own passion and recognized need,” Braun added.

From there, it was a mix of different prototypes and technology that got Concept2 to their first iteration of the SkiErg, SkiErg1, released to the public in 2009. 

The Engineering Behind the Erg

A big step in taking the SkiErg1 from prototype to public was rope technology. 

  • I’m not sure it would have been feasible to do something like the SkiErg the way it is now any earlier, with the ropes that were available in the 80s and 90s,” Braun explained. 
  • “In the 2000s, there was a new rope material that was available, and it allowed us to have a machine that could last a while. Customers weren’t going to be replacing the cords every two months.”
  • “When we found that, we realized the [SkiErg] was something that could really work,” he added.

The first version of the SkiErg only allowed for double-poling in Nordic ski terms, which meant you had to pull both handles at once. The SkiErg2 allows for single poling, meaning you can use both hands independently.

The SkiErg and CrossFit

“It’s very rare that there is a new type of fitness equipment that comes along in the cardio market,” said David Hart, from Concept2. “You can look at something like indoor bikes and air bikes and see how they’ve evolved over time, but it’s pretty rare to invent a practically new category of equipment.”

Despite this, Geer says the adoption of the SkiErg was similar to the rower. 

  • “We invented them for rowers to train with, and the next thing we knew, it was just spreading. It was great exercise, it was full-body, and it had this great monitoring system.”
  • For CrossFit in particular,” she continued, “You really want to measure accurately and keep track of work and reps and how many calories. [The SkiErg] was a solution for that, just like the rower was.”  

“Another reason why a lot of gyms like it,” Hart said, “[is that] you can put it flat against the wall, it takes up little space.” As a Concept2 machine, he added, it’s pretty unbreakable — another perk for gym owners. 

  • The SkiErg is also one of the few pieces of cardio equipment that requires little adaptation for athletes of all abilities. Athletes can use the machine single-arm, focus it on the upper body to adjust for any lower body issues, use it in a wheelchair, and modify the resistance to match their capacity.
  • As Mathew Fraser, the Five-time Fittest Man on Earth said, “So thankful I have a SkiErg right now as I recover from ACL surgery. I’m still able to get a great workout in, even though I’m unable to stand during the workout.”

What’s next for Concept2?

We’re always working on stuff,’ said Braun. ‘We took time during the pandemic to step back and work on refinements of products, and now we’ve stepped back into actively working on and looking into new products we might want to develop.”

Even if they are working on a new product, Hart emphasizes that it’s not sales that drive the Concept2 team, it’s what makes sense for the market and their team. 

  • “We try to incorporate improvements into our products all the time rather than come up with a ‘new’ model that people feel they need to buy every few years,” Braun said.

“It’s not out of ‘let’s make money,’” Jameson Halnon, who handles events and social media for the team, agrees. “It’s how do we solve this problem.”

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