The SkiErg is a relatively unique cardio machine. Find out what muscles this type of exercise works and whether you can expect actual muscle growth
Some of the main muscles worked with the SkiErg include the latissimus dorsi (middle/upper back), triceps (back upper arm), the lower parts of the pectoralis major (lower chest), forearm grip muscles, and abs.
You also work a few leg muscles but to a relatively small extent compared to how strong they are.
Whether or not and to what extent you will grow one of these muscle groups depends on their current strength. That being said, most people should not expect too much muscle growth from the SKiErg.
This article will also go over the specific muscles worked in each step of the movement, who can see muscle growth with the SkiErg, and how this machine compares to rowing machines in terms of muscles engaged.
Step 1: Moving up your arms
You can consider this first step as just getting in position too. Before being able to pull down the handles, you first have to reach toward them.
To raise your arms you mainly work the front parts of your deltoids, the main shoulder muscles.
It is unlikely that this part of the SkiErg movement alone will be enough to see muscle growth. However, if you usually don’t move your arms a lot, this movement could help improve muscle endurance.
Step 2: Bent-arm part of the pulldown
Next, you grab the handles and pull them down. In the first part of the pulldown, you typically keep your arms bent.
First of all, not letting go of the SkiErg handles will require your forearm grip muscles to work isometrically throughout the rest of the session.
Since these are not the strongest muscles, you could definitely improve muscle endurance in these with a SkiErg session.
Next, most of the downward arm movement will come from the latissimus dorsi and lower part of the pectoralis major (aka middle/upper back and lower chest muscles).
Since these are relatively strong muscles, using a SkiErg machine is likely not enough to see growth, strength increases, and even muscle endurance improvements.
Your triceps (back upper arm muscles) also have to work to some extent to keep your arm from completely folding.
Additionally, you tilt your upper body forward, keep your spine straight, and go slightly through your knees.
Throughout these movements, you engage your erector spinae (lower back), glutes (butt), hamstrings (back thighs), quadriceps (front thighs), hip flexors, and to some extent calves.
Initially, muscles like the hip flexors help with pulling the handles down but quickly the other muscles have to take over to keep you standing.
Lastly, if you bend your spine and really move your chest towards your hips, you also engage your ab muscles. Since these are not the strongest muscles, you could see some muscle growth.
Step 3: Arm extension part of the pulldown
After the initial pull movement where your upper arms mainly move, you finish the SkiErg movement by extending aka stretching your arm.
In this part, your tricep muscles will have to work the hardest.
Depending on the damper setting (similar to resistance) they are Erging at and their current strength, some people could actually see muscle growth or at least improvements in muscle endurance.
Additionally, you are still working most of the other muscles from the previous SkiErg step to some extent.
Step 4: Going back to step 1
Lastly, you end in a position with bent knees, your upper body tilted forward, and your stretched arms by your sides with the handles in your hands.
To start the next repetition you have to go back to the position of the first step.
This movement will work your front deltoids, quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, erector spinae, and calves. People who do not work out that much could see some muscle endurance improvements in these muscles.
That being said, you should not expect too much from the relatively small movements the muscles go through.
Your forearm grip muscles will also still work to hold onto the handles.
Does the SkiErg build muscle?
Exercise can be divided into a few different category types. Two of the main ones are cardiovascular and resistance training workouts.
As the name implies, the first one is done to improve your cardiovascular system. Resistance training is done to grow and strengthen skeletal muscles.
These exercise types are not completely separate. Lifting 260 pounds (118 kg) in a deadlift will definitely get your heart beating.
Certain cardiovascular-focused workouts could help exercise beginners grow a small amount of muscle.
That being said, to really grow and strengthen the muscle you work, you will need to challenge them with enough resistance. How much is needed depends on the current strength of the muscle.
The benefits of the SkiErg are mostly related to how much it challenges your cardiovascular system.
However, using the SkiErg at challenging damper settings could build a small amount of tricep and/or forearm grip muscle in people who are new to exercise.
That being said, if you are able to do more than 20 pulls on the SkiErg without fatiguing any muscles, the SkiErg will likely not build muscle for you (but can still improve muscle endurance).
SkiErg vs rower muscles worked
Many people are also considering a rower as a SkiErg alternative.
These two machines both burn nice amounts of calories but the muscles they mainly work are different.
More specifically, using the SkiErg will mostly be challenging for the triceps, abs, and forearm muscles. The latissimus dorsi and lower parts of the chest muscles will also have to work in nice amounts.
On the other hand, rowers will mostly be challenging for the bicep and forearm muscles. Additionally, the latissimus dorsi, lower/middle trapezius (upper back muscle), and erector spinae will have to work to nice extents.
The SkiErg is not necessarily harder or easier than rowing for the muscles involved. What damper setting (similar to resistance) you train at and how fast you pull influence how hard your muscles have to work a lot.