The damper on the side of the flywheel adjusts the airflow in and out of the flywheel on each stroke. On a higher setting, like 10, more air is allowed into the flywheel and will need to be pushed out on each stroke. On a lower setting, less air is exchanged on each stroke. The "best" damper setting—for you!—is a matter of personal preference and what gets you the best results. This may vary with the distance you’re rowing and your preferred stroke rate.
First things first: the damper adjusts the airflow, but to accurately compare indoor rowers, you’ll want to View Drag Factor. Drag factor is a much better comparison between machines that have different air flows due to things such as dust in the flywheel or elevation. Think of damper and drag as your gearing. The flywheel is a moving wheel, just like on a bicycle. A high damper and drag is like the big chain ring on a bicycle. It requires a lot of effort to get the wheel moving from a stopped position. In comparison, at a lower damper and drag, the flywheel spins more freely, especially on the first few strokes.
On a bicycle, a high gearing will feel slow and sluggish to start. It is difficult to get the pedals at a high revolutions per minute until the wheel is spinning. This style of cycling takes a lot of muscle. Few cyclists would opt for the hardest gear for an entire race—which is why a damper setting of 10 is rarely (if ever) recommended. In contrast, a cyclist on a lower gearing will be able to get the flywheel moving more quickly at the start. Some athletes find it easier to maintain a higher strokes per minute at a lower damper, similar to a higher cadence (rpm) on a bicycle.
In either case, the Concept2 Performance Monitor takes into account your choice of damper and drag into calculating your speed. There is no advantage of one damper over the other for all athletes in all workouts. We recommend experimenting with different workouts to see what works best for you. See what works for the Olympians we interviewed!
We recommend experimenting with different drag factors before race day. Try rowing one minute of work followed by one minute of rest, changing the damper from one to ten on each work segment. Start each work minute from a stopped flywheel and maintain a constant spm. (We aim for 26 or 28 spm.) What feels different, if anything? Does the output change?
A few guidelines for every workout:
- Good technique prevails; the Performance Monitor rewards effective rowing at any damper setting and any stroke rate.
- A higher damper (and drag) is difficult to sustain with effective technique; use strategically for sprints or short workouts.
- High damper and drag settings may lead to injury, since greater force is required to remove the “tank” of air from the flywheel each stroke—especially on the first strokes.
- Rowing is cardiovascular; lower damper settings best mimic the sport.
- Very low damper settings (like 1) require the athlete to be very quick and light at the catch.
- A damper setting of 3-5 is recommended because it provides a comfortable platform for the start and an effective “gearing” for most workouts. A damper setting of 3 is most appropriate for longer workouts. A damper setting of 5 is most appropriate for shorter workouts.
(Note: We recommend changing damper settings only during rest intervals; it should not be changed during single time or single distance workout.)