How To Use Your Concept2 Rower, SkiErg, or WaterRower on Zwift

How To Use Your Concept2 Rower, SkiErg, or WaterRower on Zwift

Editor’s note: this post was originally published in January 2018, and over the years it has generated no small amount of interest from rowers looking for a more interactive experience. In July 2020 Zwift CEO Eric Min mentioned in a podcast that rowing would be released “in a few weeks”… and that never happened.

Despite Zwift’s reluctance to pull the trigger on rowing, we still hold out hope that one day all that beautiful water in Watopia will be put to good use. So here’s an updated version of this post which reflects the current state of apps and other add-ons which can make your Zwift rowing experience a fun one.

First, I want to be clear: I’m not an experienced rower. I’m also not an experienced software or hardware hacker. But I do enjoy rowing workouts, and I do enjoy a useful tech hack.

So when I first heard of a few Zwifters who had figured out how to row in game (that is, use their rower to power their Zwift cycling avatar) I was intrigued. This was early in my Zwift life, and I spent some time poking around online, tried to get myself hooked up… and gave up after a couple of hours. It was all doable with little or no extra hardware/software needed – but it would require too much time and learning on my part to implement. Not worth it.

Fast forward a couple of years (January 2018), and astute Zwift Insider reader Victor Bastiaansen emails me with news about a new feature in the PainSled app which makes it easy to connect your Concept2 to Zwift. It got my attention, so I headed down to the garage and spent 15 minutes setting it up. Viola! I was rowing on Zwift.

What You Need

  • Your exercise equipment:
    • Concept2 rower or skierg with the PM5 head unit
    • Concept2 rower or skierg with the PM3 or PM4 head unit and the (out of stock) LiveRowing cable
    • WaterRower with S4 head unit
  • An iOS or Android device to run the PainSled or RowedBiker emulator apps
  • A device to run Zwift. This device must either support Bluetooth connections OR you can use the Zwift Companion app to pick up the Bluetooth power signal and send it to your Zwift session, so you can Zwift on a device that doesn’t have native Bluetooth.

Getting Started

These instructions cover the Concept2 PM5 head unit. (I don’t have access to a WaterRower or a Concept2 PM3 or PM4, so I can’t give specific instructions for those.)

  1. Make sure your PM5’s firmware is up to date. (If you’re like me, you never updated it after purchasing the rower.) I connected the PM5 to my Windows laptop via USB, downloaded the Concept2 Utility, and updated the firmware. It’s a simple process.
  2. Install the PainSled or RowedBiker app on your iOS or Android device
    • PainSled: enable the ZWIFT option in the Settings page
    • RowedBiker: follow the instructions to connect to your exercise equipment
  3. Connect PainSled/RowedBiker to your Concept2’s PM5. To do this, click More Options > Turn Wireless On on your PM5. Make sure Bluetooth is enabled on your iOS device, then your PM5 should quickly connect to PainSled/RowedBiker. If you start rowing, you will see your wattage on the iOS device.
  4. On your Zwift device, connect to your PainSled/RowedBiker iOS device as your power meter. You can also pair other sensors on your Zwift device (such as your HR monitor).
  5. Get Zwifting!

And that’s all there is to it. For me, I’m running PainSled on my iPhone, and Zwift on my iPad. It’s quick and easy to jump on whenever I’d like… faster than signing into Zwift on my PC, in fact. Here’s me in a messy garage testing out my setup:

Note: there are other ways of hooking this up (via Zwift Companion, the CABLE ANT to Bluetooth bridge, etc): see comments below for some of these ideas.

Upgrade Your Setup

I purchased this Concept2 tablet holder on Etsy to hold my iPad. Just a few pieces of plastic, but it works great, and is adjustable to hold a variety of tablet sizes.

I also purchased this phone holder from Amazon, which perches my phone securely in landscape mode at the top of my Concept2’s head unit.

Questions/Comments/Tips?

Chime in below!

About The Author

Eric Schlange

Eric runs Zwift Insider in his spare time when he isn't on the bike or managing various business interests. He lives in Northern California with his beautiful wife, two kids and dog. Follow on Strava

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Mike Price
Mike Price
2 months ago

By the way, I discovered you can do this with a PM3 as well. You just need a cable to connect the PM3 to your phone. The iPad picks up the power data from the phone/PainSled. No luck with a PC so far, though.

Andrew
Andrew
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Price

What cable do you need and where can we purchase? I have a PM4 and would love to try this too. Tks

James Terrell
2 months ago
Reply to  Andrew

Hey Andrew, PainSled iOS works with the LiveRowing cable. I’m the developer, BTW.

Christoph Krieger
Christoph Krieger
2 months ago
Reply to  James Terrell

Any chance to get an Android Version?

ExerScreen
2 months ago

Christoph, yes there is an Android version on both the Play Store and the Amazon App Store. The app how-to with all of the app and connection options is here.

James Lewis
James Lewis
2 months ago
Reply to  James Terrell

I have a Concept II Model C with a PM4. The LiveRowing cable is no longer available and the PM5 upgrade is $230+. Trying to find something cheaper to work with my PM4. Will this work with a standard USB Type B to lightning cable?

Fletcher
Fletcher
1 month ago
Reply to  James Lewis

Hi James. I have a brand new LiveRowing cable I no longer need as I took the PM5 plunge. Would you be interested?

Jay Labuschagne
Jay Labuschagne
2 months ago

Hey Eric,
Thanks for the post. There also seems to be this option for folks on the iOS system: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/rowedbiker/id1435730481#?platform=ipad & https://apps.apple.com/us/app/rowedbiker/id1435730481#?platform=iphone

I haven’t had a chance to check if it works, it also claims to have an internal power bias to scale the erg’s power to your bike FTP (not sure how that will work).

Worth investigating.

J

Karen Cormier
Karen Cormier
2 months ago

Worked perfectly, thanks Eric!

Vince Mackie
Vince Mackie
2 months ago

I recently got a SkiErg at home but prior to that have only ever managed short workouts on it in the gym. Staring at the PM5 just ain’t that exciting! For motivation last night I tried Rowedbiker running on an iPhone and Zwift on my iPad. Installation and connecting up was straightforward. After some tinkering with the FTP boost setting in Rowedbiker I was able to complete Emily’s Short Mix workout with the Zwift visuals really helping the 30 minutes to pass quickly. I haven’t cycled or done much cardio work lately so I set the FTP boost in Rowedbiker… Read more »

Tim
Tim
2 months ago

Does anyone know of an android solution for this problem?

Jay Labuschagne
Jay Labuschagne
2 months ago
Reply to  Tim

Hi Tim,

There is a “RowedBike” app on the gogle play store that does this (I used it thus morning) still needs two devices (one to bridge and one to game) but it works.

jason perez
jason perez
2 months ago

So to be clear I can’t use my iphone XS to run both Zwift and the Pain-sled app? I’ll need two devices, one to run each app?

ExerScreen
2 months ago
Reply to  jason perez

That is correct, neither iOS or Android will allow an app that is receiving Bluetooth (Zwift, in this case) to connect to an app on the same device that is transmitting Bluetooth (RowedBiker or PainSled). Likely to keep apps from spying on each other or communicating outside of the OS. I recommend running RowedBiker Android on a Amazon Fire 7 tablet. It’s only $50 new or $20 used plus some cables. Stick it on the rower with some velcro and leave it there. More details on all of the connection options are here.

CD Riches
CD Riches
2 months ago

This is a Godsend fix -many thanks! Monitor packed up on my Wattbike yesterday and I went into Zwifty cold turkey – But with this fix my ski season has come early -works a treat on skierg.

Barkingmad
Barkingmad (@david)
2 months ago

Any other rowers you know that support this or just the Concept 2 (with PM5) so far?

M. D. S. Günther
M. D. S. Günther
2 months ago
Reply to  Barkingmad

There is apparently a way to get a water Rower to work with Zwift, but the process is very different and more complicated. I don’t have the link ready but Google should know what I mean

PETER BROWN
PETER BROWN
2 months ago

I find the RowedBiker app works much better than PainSled.

Peter Paker
Peter Paker
2 months ago

Nice. It kills Zwift at it was a long time before. But now you can be the fastest rider on alpe without having a bike. Very very nice.

Michael
Michael (@emineff44)
2 months ago

Excited to try but…will this skew my ZP rating?

Shaun Smith
Shaun Smith (@spiriakou)
2 months ago

I’ve been using the Powercal chest strap for years. It’s too inaccurate to be much use for serious cycling. It does, though, give one the option to row around Zwift, which can be fun

Matt 3595
Super Member
Matt 3595 (@straightlineboy)
2 months ago

Hmmm, interesting. In the past few days I’ve switched from thinking that Zwift need to concentrate on making running & cycling a better experience to thinking that rowing would be pretty cool too – the arrival of a concept2 rower in my house could have something to do with that change! Realistically I still stand by my original view because the speed of development for the existing users is already painfully slow without diluting the developer time even further. Cool to know that I could connect my Concept2 to Zwift but for the time being I need to concentrate on… Read more »

Evan
Evan
2 months ago

I’m not a rower, but I’m interested to know: what is the power you are inputting to zwift? Is is similar, more, or less, than from when you are biking?

Hansel
Hansel
2 months ago
Reply to  Evan

If memory serves, at around 2 minutes per 500m pace I do about 200 watts. Here is a calculator I found online as well which converts pace to watts.

https://www.concept2.com/indoor-rowers/training/calculators/watts-calculator

Hansel
Hansel
2 months ago
Reply to  Hansel

To answer your questions though, when I rowed regularly, I could hold that pace for 30+ minutes which you could call an endurance+ pace. An equivalent pace on Zwift would be closer to 250 watts I’d say for me personally.

Tim Perkin
Tim Perkin (@tperkin)
2 months ago

Just a thought, if Zwift won’t bring rowing to the people, how about Zwift Insider does by arranging an event just for rowing, using this method. See how many people come. If an event can’t be arrange maybe a meet up. Is this an opportunity for Zwift Insider to pioneer this? Maybe ask our friends at Zwift about setting up a one off event, run an article about it and have it clear this is a pilot event with instructions how to set it all up and see how many people join. It’s just for fun and to be a… Read more »

Danny Hallmén
Danny Hallmén
1 month ago
Reply to  Tim Perkin

I dont have zwift so i dont know so much how it works but i do alot of skierg and i like Tim’s idea! Is there any way in zwift to set up a race and lock the race so only c2 users can race?

Robby Beauchamp
Robby Beauchamp
2 months ago

I’m hoping Zwift integrates rowing into the App at some point in the near future. I’ve always liked using my C2 as both cross training and on its own for indoor erg regattas. The training for rowing blends nicely with the training for cycling, and you can periodize your year to race the C2 Erg in the winter and cycling in the summer if you want. I’ve tried RowPro in the past for online racing and group training, but it lacks that little bit of fantasy/game aspect that Zwift has. It’s more of a pure racing platform. I’d be willing… Read more »

Kerstin Kastner
Kerstin Kastner
2 months ago

I’ve been rowing in Zwift for two years now thanks to PainSled (thank you sooooo much James!!!). Rowing in Zwift has increased my rowing volume dramatically. It is just pure fun for me – and to be honest I’m not really interested in “proper“ rowing integration in Zwift. It would be a step back for me if I had to row on boring flat water with supposedly far less Zwifters around than on the roads. It’s just great fun to have varying landscapes, uphills and downhills, numerous route challenges, using draft and other “cycling tactics“, and always having many others… Read more »

James Terrell
1 month ago

You’re quite welcome, Kerstin. Row/ride on!

Chris
Chris
2 months ago

Is it possible to run (rather than ride) on Zwift using a C2 rower and an iOS device?

fboab
fboab
2 months ago
Reply to  Chris

Yes! I don’t want to dilute my riding stats so painsled tells zwift it’s a treadmill. You still need 2 devices though, one as a bridge from your Concept2 and one to run Zwift. I run painsled on a Samsung S5 and Zwift on Apple TV

Chris
Chris
2 months ago
Reply to  fboab

Thanks, I’ve only got iOS devices though and can’t see a treadmill option in the iOS version of Painsled.

Kevin
Kevin
2 months ago

I am able to pair the PM5 to my phone, bridge to a tablet, and Zwift shows the power source is my phone. The app paired to the PM5 shows it’s receiving data but the power never gets transfered to Zwift (on either the tablet or the PC that’s running Zwift). I’m on Android and have the same behavior with both PainSled and RowedBiker. I’ve restarted all the devices multiple times and just can’t get this to work.

Any suggestions?

Jelantik
Jelantik
2 months ago

I’ve found this hack a couple of years ago and already tried it. But it is still not as fun as if the avatar is on the boat. Besides, the bike is going so slow. So I ditch it. Instead, I tried Holofit (an immersive VR workout app). It’s much more fun because you are actually rowing a boat, not a bike.

Wally
Wally
1 month ago

Promptly ordered a Concept 2 after coming across this article earlier this week.

Thanks Eric! (my bank account is less grateful though)

Ethan
Ethan
1 month ago

We have found the hack to work great. We have a WaterRower with the Comms module and are using the RowedBiker app. RowedBiker connected with S4 Comms Module immediately and with Zwift it immediately showed iPhone. We use CABLE for Zwift typically to get cadence, heart rate, etc. and found our Scosche armband HRM connected as usual.

Great option to watch something other than the S4 Monitor but agree it would be fantastic to see them introduce something for rowing. 3500m on the rower equated to about 8km on flats of London.

Paul Kuhn
Paul Kuhn
21 days ago

I only mange to get RowedBiker (with RowedBiker on an Android Phone) connected to Zwift having Zwift running on a Win10 Computer. So far it is failing when I try to connect it to Zwift running on an Anrdoid 10 tablet. Was somebody able to connect Rowed Biker (from an Android Phone) to Zwift on Android 10?
Secondly I can only ride in Zwift. Is it possible to run as well? I had no luck so far and am wondering if it is supposed to work.

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