The TRUTH about the Xebex Rower

Two words that gained infamy during the 2018 CrossFit Open:

Xebex Rower

What happened? The workout 18.1 rolls around and there is a row for calories as a movement. During the announcement show, Dave Castro says the row will be done on a Concept2 rower, the industry standard unit. On the flip side, the score card says “Rower that counts calories, similar in type and calibration to a Concept2 rower”…Pretty much the only other rower that you’ll find in CrossFit gyms is the Xebex Rower, since it’s similar in function to the C2. GetRXd is one of the biggest suppliers for CrossFit equipment in the USA and the main distributor of Xebex equipment, another reason why it’s the other “main” rower.

The machine itself in it’s function is pretty much identical to that of the Concept2 rower. Similar flywheel, seating position, handle style and monitor settings that counts calories. Unfortunately, it’s calibration was not similar; from the GetRXd website:

“Note: The Xebex Air Rower measures Calories, Distance, and Watts using a formula unique to Xebex Air Rowers and will differ from other brands.”

Soon enough, videos of people pulling 14/12 calories started popping up on the internet and their split times were ridiculous (sub-10s), sparking an outcry from Concept2 users. CrossFit HQ soon after rectified the situation by making those who had used a Xebex rower for the workout resubmit their score for a 15% penalty. Mathematically, that actually sounds like a proper “punishment” as it probably equates pretty equally. Shame on the bubble regional athletes that went into the workout fully knowing (cheating) the Xebex counts calories faster; chances are they’re not new and they’ve used a Concept2 before. Sucks for the people that didn’t really know, but it is what it is. This whole dilemma could have been prevented if the scorecard just specified the Concept2, but the workout was over and the name Xebex would really be the one taking the only lasting damage from the whole ordeal.

I feel for these guys the most, the situation isn’t their fault but they get to deal with the repercussions. GetRXd carries quality equipment at affordable prices, including their Xebex products. It’s also hard to fault the smaller affiliate that didn’t have enough money to stock their gym up with Concept2’s, so they went with Xebex Rowers in hopes of just preserving the stimulus for their athletes. The majority of the rowers out there are still using the old, faster calibration, but shortly after the whole ordeal, GetRXd and Xebex went back to the drawing board to try to narrow the gap between their rower and the Concept2. Here’s what I found out…

(This rower was provided to me for review by GetRX’d, so shout out to them for that. That doesn’t change my views on the situation or the rower itself.)

Build Quality Differences:

Xebex products originate from Taiwan, compared to the USA made Concept2. Don’t take that as a knock against their quality, the Xebex rower feels just as well built as it’s US born counterpart. To be honest, they’re very similar looking machines and if you took the branding off, it would be hard to tell them apart from each other. The Xebex’s size would be the giveaway since it’s somewhere in between a Model D and the bigger Model E and only comes in a black frame. Instead of storing itself standing up, the Xebex 2.0 folds in half which looks big but honestly probably still takes the same amount of floor space as a C2 and can only be moved folded up, which can be a pain.

Overall, the Xebex is a much sturdier feeling machine, using steel instead of aluminum which makes it weigh almost double a C2 (97lb compared to 57lb). The wheels work well to move the rower around so that weight isn’t really felt unless you’re rowing really hard, where it becomes evident that it’s harder to shake the Xebex off the ground. Seating position feels similar except there’s a little more width between the footholds giving the boys a little more space to breathe, which I’m sure every guy will appreciate. The actual seat is a little bit too contoured and probably isn’t as friendly to those with bigger derrieres, but for me it was fine. The foothold configuration works well, but the unsecured straps are inferior to the nicer ones that stay in place on the C2. This would be an easy fix for future models. The 3.0 rower also lets you configure the footholds for width as well as length.

The flywheel looks almost identical to the C2 with the damper setting found on the side. Though it looks the same, the flywheel feel is where you’re going to find the biggest difference between the two machines, but more on that later. Unlike the swiveling monitor of the C2, the Xebex’s is fixed in place with only the monitor being able to tilt. The monitor itself is nice and displays a wealth of information, although it can look a little bit crowded at times. There’s a readout for everything the C2 can do, but the Xebex displays everything at one time, including a reading for how many strokes you’ve taken, which is a huge plus. The difference between the 2.0 and 3.0 monitors is that the latter is backlit and can be charged by rowing.

The last difference is relatively unseen, but the chain of the Xebex is stainless steel compared to the nickle plated chain of the Concept2. They’ll both resist the elements fairly well if maintained well, but if you’re careless, the Xebex’s chain should hold up better. I’m not sure if it’s a difference in lubricant or the chain itself, but pull on the C2 do feel smoother. Handles are similar, but the Xebex has is ever so slightly bigger in diameter and the 3.0 uses a wooden handle.

Performance Differences:

My experience with previous model Xebex rowers is limited, but I have used them in the past. The first time I tried them out was at the 2015 CrossFit Games when they first debuted; I wanted to purchase the display model but after using it, I deemed it WAY easier that a Concept2 – the difference was extremely noticeable. The second run-in was at a gym in Thailand last October, where the difference wasn’t as noticeable but definitely still off compared to the C2. I think they’ve been continually tweaking the monitors to count similar to the C2 and this latest version is damn near spot on. In all of my trials, I’ve had similar results compared to my Model D’s with PM5 monitors.

My first test was of course, to see how long it took me to row 14 calories. The results are going to vary due to fatigue but starting on the Xebex fresh, I hit 14 in 33 seconds at a damper setting of 1; using the same configuration and hopping right onto the C2, I hit my goal in 32 seconds. That’s pretty damn similar to me and I don’t think it would have changed much using a different damper setting. I could have been a little more warm when I got on the C2, but either way, that time was faster than the Xebex (which I did not sandbag either).

Another test I did was five 1k row repeats. For these, I rowed 1k and rested until I felt good and ready to go again. All of my times between the two rowers were nearly identical, all being sub-4 minutes around the 3:40 mark; I was pulling at about 70% to preserve myself for all the repeats. Probably the worst test I did was 2 rounds of 2k row into 50 barbell thrusters. Starting on the Xebex, I finished the first row in about 8 minutes, getting off the rower at the same time as my workout partner who was on a C2. The second 2k was far slower on the C2, closer to about 9 minutes. Even at the same damper setting of 5, the C2 was much more difficult to pull especially considering fatigue.

The last notable test I did was a run, row, bike medley for rounds; each round was a 400m run, 500m row, 1k bike. I started with the Xebex rower ended up around 1:40 for the first 500m, every round after felt like I progressively got worse, at least in my head. It wasn’t until after checking the video, I realized my latter split times were almost all the same between the Xebex and the C2 coming in at around 1:55 per row. That actually surprised me quite a bit.

I’ve been maining the Xebex rower for the time that I’ve had it (about 3 months) and to be honest with you, I can say that it definitely preserves the stimulus and under the newest calibration, feels almost identical to the Concept2. Where the machines differ the most is in the pull, where the Concept2 always just feels a little harder despite the readings ending up almost the same. My guess is that on the Xebex I’m just pulling a few more strokes to even up to the Concept2’s readings. At setting 1, they both feel pretty similar, but setting 5 on the C2 more closely matches around 8 on the Xebex.

Why buy a Xebex Rower?

I guess the final question is: Why buy a Xebex rower in the first place?

Honestly, it mainly comes down to a budget thing. As an affiliate owner, I know stocking a gym full of rowers is NOT cheap. I personally had to acquire my fleet of C2’s over the years, being patient and picking them up second hand. A brand new Xebex Rower retails for $750 compared to the $900 C2, not including bulk discounts which are available through GetRX’d. If you’re a budding affiliate, every dollar saved helps and I’m sure the majority of gyms that are stocked with Xebex rowers got some kind of substantial savings through GetRXd.

If you were a garage gym athlete or non-CrossFit affiliate, and you just wanted to get something to work out in with, the Xebex rower makes a ton of sense since you don’t really need to adhere to anyone’s standards. The Xebex issue really only applies to those trying to compete in the CrossFit Games anyways. Save yourself some dough and go for the Xebex.

The only instances that I would not recommend a full fleet of Xebex rowers is if you had an unlimited bankroll or if you were a CrossFit affiliate looking to send individuals or a team to the big dance. You would want your athletes to be preparing with and adhering to whatever the standard is, which in this case is a Concept 2 rower. Even then, it wouldn’t hurt to have a few low cost rowers (if you didn’t mind) to fill in some of the gaps.

Me personally? Well, I have an affiliate full of Concept2’s and one Xebex now, which I love to use because it doesn’t put my junk in a death grip when I’m on it. When the Open rolls around, I’ll get back on a C2, but otherwise I feel comfortable doing all my training on the Xebex without sacrificing performance. At the end of the day, I’m not even close to a Games athlete and the Xebex is a well built, well performing machine that is fine for my training usage. If you feel like that could be you too, well then you know your answer on whether or not you should get a Xebex rower. Now about that Xebex Runner…

Get your Xebex Rower here!

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