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.
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.)
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
Chime in below!
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.
What cable do you need and where can we purchase? I have a PM4 and would love to try this too. Tks
Hey Andrew, PainSled iOS works with the LiveRowing cable. I’m the developer, BTW.
Any chance to get an Android Version?
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.
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?
Hi James. I have a brand new LiveRowing cable I no longer need as I took the PM5 plunge. Would you be interested?
Is painshed still going, cant find it on App Store, so have used Bike rower to test out
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).
Worked perfectly, thanks Eric!
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 »
Does anyone know of an android solution for this problem?
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.
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?
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.
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.
Any other rowers you know that support this or just the Concept 2 (with PM5) so far?
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
WaterRower’s S4 head unit can work with the RowedBiker app, supposedly – although I don’t have one to test and confirm.
This page has a lot of useful info also:
I find the RowedBiker app works much better than PainSled.
That’s funny – I found the opposite!
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.
Excited to try but…will this skew my ZP rating?
ZP rating is based on your best race results in the last 90 days. If you race on Zwift using a rower I suppose it would eventually drop your rating. But if all you’re doing is free riding or group rides or workouts with your rower, it won’t affect your ZP ranking at all.
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
This is true!
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 »
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?
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.
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.
Less for me. I’d say rowing my wattage is around 20-25% lower than riding, for similar perceived effort.
RowedBiker actually has an “FTP Boost” setting that basically boosts your rowing wattage by X%, so you can match your cycling output while rowing.
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 »
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?
There is not.
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 »
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 »
You’re quite welcome, Kerstin. Row/ride on!
Now that they have the handcycle, a rowing shell with oars seems like a next logical step. Maybe for April 1?
Is it possible to run (rather than ride) on Zwift using a C2 rower and an iOS device?
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
Thanks, I’ve only got iOS devices though and can’t see a treadmill option in the iOS version of Painsled.
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.
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.
Promptly ordered a Concept 2 after coming across this article earlier this week.
Thanks Eric! (my bank account is less grateful though)
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.
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.
Some tips on your form in the video– suggest that on the recovery you don’t bend your knees until your hands are past them. In the video, you are picking up your hands up & over your bending knees.
Just Tried the rowing with the Concept 2, Oh boy wish I had known about this sooner, Is brilliant news
Just tried this with my PM5 Concept2 with either of the apps and that device then shows up in Zwift pairing, pairs fine, then almost as soon as I start rowing the power etc section in Zwift goes grey then comes up saying connection failed, and repeat!
Anyone else had a similar issue and found a solution?
I read how a concept connects up but how does the waterrower connect up?
I just got the concept 2 pm5 rower and tried both painsled and rowedbiker. Neither would display my watts on Zwift and I dont know how to connect cadence or controlled device it won’t display my phone on either. I am using an android phone for the rower app and an ipad for zwift.
Just got connected thanks to this article. Thanks! Super easy once I got the pm5 upgrade.
This works great with the current RowErg (Dec 2022) with tall legs (new name for the former model E) with Pain Sled. One note – this did *not* work Zwift on with Apple TV. Worked better with PainSled on iPhone, and Zwift on iPad. New RowErg comes with a horizontal iPhone holder below the PM5, which helps. This was not big enough for the iPad, so I used a clamp-style iPad holder from the bike that I usualluy use for Zwift Companion on the iPad while biking.
There are some ipad holders now available from Amazon (Etsy version no longer available) –
above PM5 head – https://www.amazon.com/JISHAHS-Concept-Machine-Suitable-Compatible/dp/B09Y8LH6L2/ref=sr_1_3?crid=1SLLMEGX60UFK&keywords=ipad+holder+PM5&qid=1671667880&sprefix=ipad+holder+pm5%2Caps%2C89&sr=8-3
bwlow PM2/3 head –
independent iPad stand –
Can you also load your results of Concept PM5 to concept2 logbook with Zwift
I have not been able to connect to PainSled and Concept2logbook app at the same time. Has anyone figured out if this is possible/how to do this?