Updated July 22, 2018
How many times have you walked over to the rowing machine at the gym and found the damper set at 10, or put it there yourself? If rowing seems like a whole lot of pain and very little gain, that may just be why.
Experienced rowers, and certified indoor rowing instructors know that setting the damper at 10 is the way to create a rowing workout that’s a slog, and one that most likely will be the absolute opposite of fun or energizing.
Who needs that, especially when it’s not the least bit necessary??
Take a walk around the rows of ergs at the C.R.A.S.H-B rowing championships and you’ll find many machines set much lower, anywhere between 2 and 5. You see, generating power on the rowing machine is all about connecting the parts of the stroke. It’s NOT about creating more resistance just because you can.
Damper setting video
UCanRow2 Master Instructor Cassi Niemann explains it beautifully in this video:
when a high damper setting makes sense
There are a couple of exceptions to the low-damper rule:
1) Larger or heavier athletes (weight-loss clients or muscle-bound rowers with big thighs, for example) may need a higher damper setting in order to feel some resistance from the machine. This is because at a lower setting their own bodyweight does most of the work so they don’t have to put in any extra effort to move the flywheel. In these cases, a higher setting that adds more load can be the ticket to a great sweat.
2) To teach power application: Rowing at a higher damper setting – for short periods and ONLY at a low stroke rating (below 20 strokes per minute) – is also a useful way to teach any rower to develop power through correct engagement and to help them dial in their rowing technique.
When you row at a high damper setting, you’re essentially picking up a dead flywheel every stroke. Doing this without risking injury requires you to have impeccable technique: You need to make sure that you’re using your legs and not your back to initiate the drive.
Want a rowing workout that will help you play with damper setting and connect these dots? Try this:
Warm up then do 2-3 rounds of the following:
Damper Time SPM
10 6 mins 18
8.5 5 mins 20
7 4 mins 22
5 3 mins 24
3 2 mins 26
1 1 min 28
3-minute paddle rest between rounds. Remember to focus intently on your technique and posture – let the drive come from your legs and core engagement.
What questions do you have about damper setting? Post them to the comments and we’ll answer!