Erg Rowing: Put a Damper on it!

The damper on an ergometer (erg) is often misunderstood. The damper controls airflow into the cage. Move the damper down to restrict air from entering and to lessen the drag, making the rowing feel lighter.  Move the damper up to let more air in and create more drag, making the rowing feel heavier.

If you use different ergs for your workouts be sure to check the drag factor before you start your workout. The drag factor on two different ergs may be different at the same damper setting.

Check out Concept 2 for how to view and adjust the drag factor prior to a workout.

It is common to think that you will have a better workout and better erg scores when the drag factor is high. This may be true for some rowers and for some workout types but not for everyone or every type of workout.

“Regardless of the setting, you will need to increase your effort to increase your intensity.” – Concept2

For example, a lightweight rower will likely get a better 2K erg score at a lower drag factor because he or she does not have the strength to maintain power and or stroke rate at the higher drag factor.

The following are important considerations for setting the drag factor:

  1. Body size/weight
  2. Fitness level
  3. Strength
  4. Workout goals

In general, use a low drag factor for aerobic workouts and a higher drag factor when you want to develop strength and power.

A high damper setting

When the drag factor is high, the extra air flowing in causes the wheel slow down and it requires more work to get it going again. It feels like you are rowing in a heavy boat with lots of resistance from the water and wind. Your legs will likely tire fast, especially when the stroke rate increases. Having tired legs is fine if you are working in short bursts to develop power or if you are working in longer intervals to develop your ability to work through fatigue. It’s not a good thing if you want to work on technique or endurance, which takes long periods of time. The rowing will feel like a slog and you may end up compromising technique due to extreme fatigue.

Rowing at a slightly higher damper setting may be useful when learning how to row. The feeling of resistance makes it easier to feel the connection to the fly wheel on the initial part of the drive and to maintain good form through the drive.

Note: ease into workouts that require a high drag factor as it can increase the stress on your back.

A medium to low damper setting

When the drag factor is low, there is less air flowing in, the wheel doesn’t slow down very much, and it is easier to get it going again. It feels like you are rowing in a racing shell with little resistance from the water and wind. Your legs will not tire as easily but because it is easy to spin the wheel, you will have to focus more on technique, coordination, stroke rate, and power application.

Rowing at a very low damper setting requires good technical proficiency as the low drag will make it harder to feel the connection to the fly wheel and to maintain good form through the drive sequence. Great for honing technique!

Choosing a damper setting

So, what drag factor should you use? You can use the same setting for all workouts; 110-130 is the general recommendation, or, choose a specific drag factor for the workout and for your goals.

Example 1

Your coach wants you to do two sessions of long slow rowing as follows:

  1. Workout 1: 45 minutes of continuous rowing at 65-75% of your 2k test time
  2. Workout 2: 3 x 15 minutes with 4 minutes rest between at 70-80% of your 2k test time

You know that your 2k test time is 8 minutes and you know that you cannot compromise power or technique, so you complete the workouts as follows:

  1. Workout 1: 45 minutes at a stroke rate of 18-20; drag factor of 100-110
  2. Workout 2: 3 x 15 minutes with 4 minutes rest between at a stroke rate of 16-18; drag factor of 150-160

This allows you to keep the intensity high with good form while staying in the required zones. Workout 1 will have a higher technical component and workout 2 will have a higher strength component.

Example 2

Your coach recommends that you work on your strength and power and wants you to do short intervals once per week as follows:

  • 10 strokes at 90% of your maximum power followed by 60 seconds active rest
  • 3 sets of 5 repetitions
  • 4 minutes rest between sets

After a good warm up you set the monitor to watts, set the damper fairly high, around 180 drag factor, and test your power for 10 strokes. You repeat the test to ensure your results are accurate. You complete the 10 stroke sets trying to keep the watts at 90% of the highest watt number achieved in the test piece.

So, put a damper on it!

No matter what drag factor you use, be sure that you are not compromising technique and remember that focusing on applying your power is part of technique. Be careful in using a high damper too often or for too long a period of time. Monitor your workouts at the different drag factors and find the drag factors that are best for you.

Happy erging!

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