The history of the SkiErg

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, it’s known as a great way to train your entire body.

But, going back about 15 years, that wasn’t the case. Prior to 2009, the Concept2 SkiErg did not exist.

The birth of the SkiErg

[The SkiErg] it was born out of us being skiers, said Judy Geer, founder of Concept2 and former Olympic rower. Just as the rowing machine came in handy in the winter, the SkiErg was perfect for the summer when there was no snow.

Geer relates the first ever version of the SkiErg to 1981. It was very improvised: A rowing machine was hung on the wall so an athlete could lower the handles, like the motion of a SkiErg today.

  • More serious prototypes started in the early 2000s, Longtime Concept2 engineer Trevor Braun said, but the engineering team knew it would need more refinement if it was 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 stand 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 the best way to create a product, Geer added. The same thing happened with the rowing machine. It was born out of a need that you personally recognized, you will use it, you will train on it yourself, you are not doing something just to sell.

  • We were going to sell it because we want to share it, but this is an interesting thing about our products. They arise from our own passion and recognized need, added Braun.

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

The engineering behind the Erg

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

  • I’m not sure it would have been feasible to do something like the SkiErg as it is now before, with strings that were available in the ’80s and ’90s, Braun explained.
  • In the 2000s, a new string material was availablee, and it allowed us to have a car that could last a long time. Customers would not replace cables every two months.
  • When we found out that, we realized the [SkiErg] it was something that could actually work, he added.

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

The SkiErg and CrossFit

It’s very rare that there’s a new type of fitness equipment coming to the cardio market, said David Hart, of 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 come up with a practically new category of equipment.

Still, Geer says adoption of the SkiErg has been similar to that of the rowing machine.

  • We invented them for rowers to train with, and next thing we knew, it was just spreading. It was great exercise, it was full body, and it had this amazing tracking system.
  • For CrossFit in particular, He continued, Do you really want to accurately measure and track your work and reps and how many calories. [The SkiErg] it was a fix for that, just like the rowing machine was.

Another reason many 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 indestructible, another boon for gym owners.

  • The SkiErg is also one of the few cardio pieces of equipment requiring little adaptation for athletes of all abilities. Athletes can use the single arm machine, focus it on the upper body to accommodate any lower body issues, use it in a wheelchair, and modify the resistance according to their ability.
  • Like Matteo Fraser, the five-time Fittest Man on Earth said: I am so grateful to have a SkiErg right now as I recover from ACL surgery. I’m still able to do a great workout, even if I can’t stand up during the workout.

What is the future of Concept2?

We’re always working on stuff, Braun said. We’ve taken time during the pandemic to step back and work on refining products, and now we’re back to actively working and looking into new products we might want to develop.

Even though they’re working on a new product, Hart points out 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 inventing a new model that people feel they have to buy every few years, Braun said.

It’s not to make money Jameson Halnon, who runs events and social media for the team, agrees. It’s how we solve this problem.

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