SkiErg vs Rower: What’s the better strength + cardio option?

The SkiErg vs. Rower debate is one that has raged on in CrossFit gyms up and down the country for as long as anyone can remember.

In this guide, we plan to settle that debate once and for all finally.

Not that it’s going to be easy.

Both devices offer a perfectly punishing workout guaranteed to put the strength and endurance of even the most seasoned CrossFitter to the absolute test.

Both are also heavy-duty machines that take up a little space and cost a pretty penny to boot (although very reasonable when compared to other cardio machines), all of which means that it’s no wonder fans are divided as to which one is actually worth investing in.

If that’s a dilemma you’re currently faced with; this guide aims to make that decision easier.

Below, we put the Concept 2 Skierg up against the brand’s most popular machine, the Concept 2 Model D Rower in a head-to-head battle for cardio/strength/endurance supremacy to find out once and for all which is better.

Space Saver
Concept 2 SkiErg Machine

Excellent choice if you're looking for a space saving machine that delivers a low-impact, upper body focused workout.

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Full Body Beast
The Concept 2 Model D Rowing Machine

The Concept 2 delivers an almost unbeatable full body cardio workout that pairs well with CrossFit. It's the industry standard for a reason.

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The Main Differences Between the Skierg and Concept 2 Rower

  • The Rower offers a full-body workout, whereas the Skierg primarily works the upper-body
  • The SkiErg promotes extend-behind arm movements, whereas the rower utilizes pull movements.
  • The rower is easy to move around, whereas the SkiErg might need to be fixed to a wall for stability.
  • The SkiErg takes up just 2ft x 2ft of floor space, whereas the rower, when assembled takes up 9ft x 4ft*

* Concept 2 rowing machines are actually very easy to store – the frame and base can be separated and stored upright to save space. It’s just a matter of whether you want to put it together and take it apart with frequent use.

What is the Skierg?

Concept 2 Skierg

Bringing the intense sport of Nordic skiing into gyms everywhere, the Concept2 SkiErg has proven itself to be one of the world’s best-selling ski machines in a relatively short space of time.

Using a flywheel mechanism to provide resistance, the machine features two to-mounted strapless handles which replicate the kind of down-and-back motions you’ll see out on the slopes.

Together, these provide an ultra-tough workout, though the integrated Performance Monitor 5 (PM5) computer does allow you to change up the settings to find a workout that, though it may still be hard going, is better suited to your level of fitness routine.

Speaking of the PM5, this monitor is unique to the Concept 2 brand, and though you’ll also find it in the rower we’ll look at momentarily, you won’t find it in other cross-country training devices, which is one of the reasons why so many people have been flocking to the SkiErg since it first hit the market.

Along with setting workout programs, the machine also allows you to monitor your progress and keep track of metrics such as distance, time, and calories burned.

Back to the handles, these come with a comfortable, stable, and sweat-resistant grip, so you don’t have to worry about picking up any nasty blisters or calluses while you work out. They’re also uniquely designed to suit all hand sizes, so you won’t have to waste time making any adjustments before your workout.

While this may not be the best choice for a full-body workout, the SkiErg will undoubtedly get the job done and then some if your primary concern is the upper body.

Concept 2 SkiErg Specifications:

Height: 83.5″

Depth: 16″

Width at bottom: 19″

Width at top: 20.5″

Frame: Aluminum with powder coat.

What is the Concept 2 Rower?

Concept 2 Model D in the Gym

The Concept 2 Rower may look like any other rower you might find in your favorite gym to the untrained eye. Look a little closer, however, and you’ll soon see that it’s like nothing else around.

Like the SkiErg, this one utilizes a flywheel mechanism to provide resistance and offer a smoother, quieter workout than many competing models.

However, that isn’t the only thing that sets it apart as one of the best rowing machines on the market.

The ergonomically designed, sweat-proof handles and adjustable footrests allow you to find the perfect position. At the same time, the inclusion of Concept 2’s famous PM5 performance monitor tracks and collects data which you can then transfer to your computer via USB.

Together, these features offer an alternative to CrossFit bikes like the Rogue Echo Bike and AssaultBike Classic to give you a vigorous cardio session that works both your arms and legs at the same time.

Concept 2 Rower Specifications:

Height: 33″

Width: 24″

Length: 96″

Frame: Aluminium with powder coat.

Full disclosure – I am long time user of the Concept 2 Model D, with well over a million meters under my belt. Here’s my home setup.

I find it to be one of the best full-body workouts around, but the SkiErg can be a great counterpart to this, and also a great option for those dealing with certain injuries.

SkiERG vs. Rower: A Head-to-Head Comparison

The fact that the Concept 2 Rower and SkiERG are two different types of machines can make comparing them side-by-side a little tricky, especially if you’re trying to decide which one to buy.

With that in mind, let’s look at the factors that matter the most to you when stocking your home gym and determine which machine performs best in each category.

Size and Space

Given that they’re two different machines that operate in different ways, it perhaps doesn’t seem fair to compare the SkiErg versus the Concept 2 rower-like-for-like in terms of size, but that doesn’t mean that their dimensions don’t matter.

Concept2 SkiErg with PM5 Performance Monitor
The SkiErg is incredibly space efficient

Make no mistake about it; the SkiErg is the smaller of the two products in terms of the amount of room it’s going to take up.

Designed to be bolted into a wall, it requires just a few feet of floor space to use safely and comfortably, making it the optimum choice if you have a reasonably small home gym and need to fit in other gear such as a power rack.

Alternatively, you could use it with the optional floor stand, which is sold separately, and this will still require 2-3ft less space than the rower.

The rower itself needs 9ft x 4ft of room, which is hardly ideal for those small spaces but may prove to be a great cardio option if you’ve got more space to play with.

Of course, the one clear advantage that the rower has in terms of size is that it’s lighter and much more portable.

If you’re changing things around, moving home, or simply need to re-arrange your setup to plan for your favorite WOD, you’ll be able to do that much easier with the rower than you would with the SkiERG which is practically impossible to move once bolted into the wall.


Coming from the same brand, you’d expect both the SkiErg and the rower to be neck and neck in terms of assembly, but the truth is that there is a clear difference here.

The Rower comes mainly assembled with two large pieces, which typically require no more than 15-20 minutes of assembly time.

Concept2 Model D Indoor Rowing Machine with PM5 Performance Monitor, Black
Once initial assembly is done, attaching the 2 pieces on the Concept 2 is very easy.

Meanwhile, the SkiErg is somewhat more complex to put together, especially when you consider the additional tasks of fixing it up against your wall.

As such, it’s more likely going to take you between 35 – 45 minutes to put together and, unlike the rower, can’t be easily taken down and put into storage when not in use.

All in all, then, give this round to the rower.


There may not be much of a clear winner in this round as both machines offer a different type of workout but do so in much the same way.

Both products utilize a flywheel as part of their core mechanics, giving you complete control over how much resistance you create during your exercise.

Both also come with the aforementioned PM5 performance monitor, which can also be connected wirelessly to your Garmin to give you even more flexibility when it comes to tracking your workouts.

Where the two differ is in the type of workouts they offer.

The SkiErg is designed primarily to work the arms, chest, and torso with minimal effort expended by the legs. In contrast, the Rower allows you to work both your upper and lower body parts simultaneously for an all-around fuller workout.

On the plus side, the Rower offers a few more beginner-friendly settings than the SkiErg, which may make it a much better option for newcomers. Still, on the other hand, a significant portion of existing users also report that the Rower’s seat can be somewhat uncomfortable.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Concept 2 Rower and SkiERG Machines

Does the SkiERG build muscle?

Yes, the SkiErg machine is designed to engage your delts, pecs, and trapezius, as well as the muscles in your back.

Can you lose fat on the Concept 2 Rower?

Yes, with a proper workout, the Concept 2 Rower will burn enough calories to help you finally shift stubborn fat. Read this guide from Concept 2 to learn more about the weight loss benefits of their most popular machine.

Is the SkiERG harder than the Concept 2 Rower?

The SkiErg definitely offers a more intense workout for your arms, but the fact that the Rower engages the lower body too means you’ll ultimately feel the effects of your workout much more afterward.

SkiERG vs. Rower – Which is Better?

At the start of this guide, we promised that we’d settle the SkiErg vs. Rower debate once and for all.

Ultimately, we have to admit that we failed.

Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it speaks volumes about the high quality of both products and the fact that, realistically, both could be considered to be the perfect cardio machine depending on your needs.

If you have a small amount of space, for example, or if you really do only need to work on your upper body, then there’s nothing else out there quite like the SkiErg that ticks both boxes quite so perfectly.

That said, as long as you have the space for it, then the Concept 2 Rower is also a great choice if you value the ability to move your exercise equipment around, and definitely proves to be the better choice if you need a machine that will help you achieve a full-body workout.

Tim Rollins, Editor

About boxletes was created by a team of CrossFit athletes and fitness enthusiasts who love to share information about the best CrossFit boxes, workout gear and equipment, and fitness and nutrition tips.

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