What’s that upright machine in the gym that looks a bit like a rowing machine standing on its end? Oh, it’s the SkiErg, and in my opinion, the toughest, most grueling machine you’ll find in most gyms. Naturally, when Tom’s Guide asked if I was keen to challenge myself to ski 100 calories on the SkiErg machine every day for a week, I said yes — they say you should face your demons and I was about to do just that.
The SkiErg works the full body, even though you may think it’s primarily an upper-body machine. I’m fairly familiar with the ski erg, having used it on and off for several years, plus it’s also an integral part of Hyrox, a global fitness competition in which I have competed several times. I won’t lie, it’s my least favorite part of the whole event — I find the SkiErg really tiring, and my upper body has always been my weakest area. But, practice makes perfect, and the more you work on the ski erg, the easier it will become.
The SkiErg might be tough, but it provides a number of benefits. It’s not just a great cardio workout, torching the heart and lungs, but it works several muscles including the shoulders, triceps, lats, glutes, and lower back. The flywheel on a SkiErg — much like on a rower — spins when the handles are pulled and the fan will move quicker when the handles are pulled harder. A faster fan provides more resistance, which in turn means you’ll be burning through more calories in a shorter space of time.
How to use the SkiErg machine with perfect form
Despite its name, you don’t have to be a skier, or familiar with the skiing technique to use this machine. Here’s how to master it with good form:
- Stand upright, arms up, hands holding the handles.
- Your feet should be flat on the platform, so lower the handles if you need.
- Keep your chin tucked as you hinge at the hips. Maintain soft knees as you drive the handles down behind your hips, keeping your arms straight.
- Then, come back to standing and as you do so, extend your arms back upwards.
There are a few common mistakes I see people making when using the SkiErg. Firstly, it’s key to remember that using the SkiErg involves a hip hinge movement rather than a squat. It’s also important to think about making long strokes with the handles. Lift your arms all the way up to the top before pulling them all the way behind you.
I did 100 calories on the SkiErg machine every day for a week — here’s what happened
It took me 9 long minutes
In SkiErg time, nine minutes feels like an eternity. I don’t normally focus on them in every workout, but for this particular challenge, the calories seemed to creep up incredibly slowly.
But, 9.01 minutes later, I was done. My time was OK, and stayed pretty stagnant across the week. I think I could knock a considerable amount of time off if I left rest days between and worked on improving my overall strength, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.
I struggled to do 100 calories with no break
Doing 100 calories on the SkiErg was not that easy and I struggled to do it without taking a break. I had to stop twice on my first attempt to just shake out my shoulders and catch my breath slightly. In the name of good journalism, I kept going, keeping the flywheel’s damper setting at about seven.
The SkiErg really is a full body machine
My triceps were burning at the end of each 100-calorie session, but my arms weren’t the only part of me that was crying out. My glutes also felt the burn, as did my hamstrings and my back — this one really is a full-body workout. Add to this, my heart was pumping over time, much more so than it would be on one of the best exercise bikes.
Be wary of form
It’s easy to lose good form when you’re doing a repetitive motion for so long. I noticed that my legs were starting to bend at the knee, and a squatting action isn't what we’re after on the SkiErg. My back was also rounding a little too much and some of my strokes were questionable. When I took a break, I shook myself out and re-evaluated my form, and I would recommend you do the same if you’re attempting this challenge at home (or in the gym).
I’ll stick to running
Seven days later, it’s safe to say, I wasn’t born to SkiErg. Sure, I can do it, but I am much happier hitting the treadmill or the pavement and gliding along the ground, with my head up and triceps not feeling like they want to drop off.
I did 100 calories on the SkiErg machine every day for a week — here’s my verdict
I am pleasantly surprised at how much I don’t despise the ski erg anymore. At the start of my 100-calorie SkiErg challenge, I would do anything possible to avoid using the machine. Fast forward a week and somehow, I seem to have found peace with it, although I’m relieved I don’t have to do another 100 calories on it tomorrow.
If you want to get to grips with the SkiErg and improve your fitness, I’d suggest adding it as a warm-up, or as part of a HIIT session. You’ll be giving your body a great workout and it’s a weirdly satisfying machine to use in the gym.