Rowing Technique: Dial in Your Damper Setting

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Updated August 6, 2020





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.


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:

Chad Row

Warm up then do 1-3 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.


For further reading:


Concept2 Damper Setting 101
Find a certified indoor rowing instructor
Get certified to teach indoor rowing

What questions do you have about damper setting?  Post them below!!


  1. Joshua DeLong on July 9, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    Interesting article. I never really think about the damper. I just always set it to 4 or 5 since it’s somewhere in the middle. I’ve always wondered when I sat down sometimes why the person before me had it on 8 or 10. I did realize that when it was on 1 that you had to wait a little longer for it to spin down before you could make the next pull.

    • UCanRow2 on July 9, 2013 at 2:26 pm

      Glad you liked it! Letting the flywheel die between each stroke is another one of those things you’ll often see in gyms but it’s also a really inefficient way to row (not to mention being nothing like what you would do on the water). People would get a better workout, and more free meters, if they would row in one continual motion rather than pulling the handle back, sitting at the finish, and waiting for the flywheel to quiet before returning back up the slide.

  2. Chad Fleschner on July 10, 2013 at 10:44 am

    “Somewhere in the middle,” is a pretty safe bet for any distance and intensity. With a very low drag factor, you need to move through the drive very quickly to feel resistance. This often does not allow for the body to feel the correct drive sequence, and muscle engagement – leading to poor form and inefficiency.

    When the drag factor is high, the drive time is longer, allowing you to feel the different parts of the stroke and allowing you to apply less force to feel the same resistance. Unfortunately, this high damper setting will not allow you to maintain any sense of ratio (quick drive – long recovery). You will find that the lengthened drive time will force you to have a shorter recovery in order to maintain the same SPM rate.

    I personally set the damper to 3.5 (drag factor 100) for short pieces up to 2000m, and 4.5 (drag factor 115) for longer pieces. My 2k and below pieces are between 26-32 spm, with longer pieces in the 20-24 range. I’m 6’5″ and weigh 210lbs. Each person will find their own “sweet spots” if they experiment a bit with the damper setting. Just remember not to sacrifice form for your speed.

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