Skierg Secrets

skierg machine crossfit

The skierg is a versatile machine commonly used in CrossFit workouts to develop strength, aerobic capacity, stamina, and endurance.

Some athletes love it, some athletes hate it, but it seems as though it's here to stay, appearing with more frequency in WODs and training programs.

The best way to be prepared for a WOD with skierg is to train with one…often.

Here are a few tips that will help you to improve your technique and efficiency of this underrated exercise.

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What is a skierg? 

A skierg is a fitness machine that simulates Nordic skiing. The Concept2 skierg made its first CrossFit appearance in the 2016 CrossFit games and has been a mainstay in the sport of fitness ever since. Like other ergometers in CrossFit (think rower, or bike erg), the athletes’ objective usually involves reaching as many, or a specific number of meters or calories in as little time as possible.

The machine measures energy expenditure with a flywheel or fan that spins when the handles are pulled.

The harder you pull, the faster the fan moves against the air providing more resistance.

In other words, increasing the speed of the flywheel will get you more calories or meters in less time.

Adjusting the damper setting of the flywheel will increase or decrease the air flow to the fan making each stroke feel easier (damper setting 1) or harder (damper setting 10).

gabi migala using the skierg

Why is the skierg so difficult? How can I improve on the skierg?

Despite being similar to rowing, skiergs aren’t very popular.

The Concept2 rower has long been a staple in CrossFit, so most athletes will have some experience using them.

Airdynes, assault bikes, echo bikes, and bike ergs are intuitive, and self-explanatory for anyone who has ever ridden a bicycle.

On the other hand, using the skierg is uncomfortable for most people at first because the movement pattern is unusual.

Moreover, athletes don’t usually have as much experience with skiing as they do with the other machines; most boxes or gyms will tend to settle on a bike or rower before investing in a skierg.

Even in facilities where they are available, athletes are often intimidated by the machine and opt for another alternative. 

So, how can you use this gentle giant to become an aerobic God?

Here are three secrets to help you dominate the skierg:

Secret 1: The Setup is key

Just like most other exercises in CrossFit, mastering the positions comes before anything else. We have to find a position that will allow us to put our body into the movement, not just our arms.

  1. Reach to grab the handles and stand towards the back of the base with your feet hip-width apart. 
  2. Drive down on the handles bringing them towards your pockets. Take your hips back and bend your knees slightly as in the bottom position of a deadlift. Exhale as you finish the stroke.
  3. To reset, inhale and begin to lift your chest and straighten out your lower body. Lead with your chest and hips and let your arms follow.
  4. Maintain tension throughout the downward pull and as you reset, return to the top.

Setting the damper

Just like on the rower, you can adjust the damper to change the resistance felt in each stroke.

While most people believe setting the damper to 10 is the fastest way to crank out calories, that's not necessarily the case.

What’s more important to consider is the type of workout and the build of the athlete.

  • A lower damper setting is best when the athlete needs to “last longer” or during workouts with a lot of demand from the upper body.
  • A higher damper setting is more advantageous in shorter, anaerobic bouts on the skierg.

We recommend lighter athletes set the damper between 4 and 6 depending on the distance.

Heavier athletes can go from 6 to 8 or even up to 10 in some instances. 

Secret 2: A bent arm is a strong arm

A common error for many skierg novices is to pull with straight arms.

Skiing with straight arms means having the handles at a distance which makes it harder to apply force.

To be able to really go all out on the skierg, you have to keep the handles closer to your center of gravity.

Maintaining a straight arm also robs us of power as we pull down on the handles.

The solution: keep a slight bend in your arms at the top of your stroke and as you bring your elbows down, find a 90-degree angle in the pull. Bent arms are stronger than straight arms because of the isometric contraction of the bicep and better activation of the lats and shoulders which are essential muscle structures for pulling and allows us to get the most bang for your buck.

Finish your stroke at the bottom by pushing with your triceps as you reach the end range.

While the triceps have little to contribute at the beginning of the pull, driving with them at the end can add the last few meters necessary to advance in your workout.

Secret 3: Rhythm is everything

Being efficient on the ski erg means creating powerful strokes to keep the flywheel moving as quickly and consistently as possible.

You can keep your heart rate down while still producing considerable power by mastering the timing and technique of the stroke.

Each stroke has two phases: concentric (pulling the handles down) and eccentric (bringing the handles to the top).

Most of the force generated in the stroke comes at the top of the concentric phase, so it’s crucial to stay tight at the top position to be able to transfer the maximum amount of power that you’re generating.

Brace at the top of the pull, follow through, and try to keep your arms and shoulders relaxed as you reset.

The golden ratio is 1:2 drive to recovery phase.

This means that the eccentric phase should take roughly twice as long as concentric to stay efficient without burning out too soon.

With enough practice, this movement will feel more intuitive, and you may even be able to feel and anticipate the speed of the flywheel.

Common Mistakes

Pulling with straight arms

Not finishing the pull

Squatting

Conclusion

The skierg is probably the most underrated fitness machine used in CrossFit, but in fact, it just might be the most complete (read more about that here).

What's for certain is that mastering the technique is important for developing your skills as a CrossFit athlete. With practice and attention to posture, mechanics, and timing, you can turn the skierg into one of your best strengths.