by David Joniak
The Concept2 rower, also known as the erg, has become a widely popular piece of fitness equipment over the last decade, playing a big part in both group, fitness studios and large, box gyms. As the erg gains popularity, it’s important to understand how it works.
The Concept2 rower, along with many other brands of ergs, have an internal fan called the flywheel. The flywheel catches and rotates air based on two things; the amount of force being created by the user and the infamous damper setting.
The damper setting is the lever labelled one through ten on the side of the flywheel. If you’ve ever been on a Concept2 rower, you’ve probably wondered what number you should have your damper on. Like gears on a bicylce, the damper setting affects how rowing feels but it does not directly affect the resistance.
Incorrectly, people believe this determines the resistance behind each stroke. From this they tend to conclude that the stronger you are, the higher you should set the damper setting. This could not be further from the truth. The only thing that occurs when the damper setting is changed, is the amount of air allowed in and out of the flywheel. To simplify, the damper controls how much air flows into the cage.
When the damper setting is at one, the air flow is pinched off, allowing the flywheel to spin easily and quickly. Higher damper settings allow more air into the flywheel housing. The more air, the more work it takes to spin the flywheel against the air. More air also slows the flywheel down faster on the recovery, requiring more work to accelerate it on the next stroke.
For example, a sprinter or powerlifting athlete with fine-tuned, fast, twitch muscles would likely go faster with a lower damper setting. While a long distance or endurance athlete with superior, slow, twitch muscles would likely go faster with a higher damper setting.
Another example would be an individual having difficulty with form. They would surprisingly benefit greatly by using a higher damper setting in order to feel more connected to the stroke. This would allow them to move slower and focus on improving technique. Whereas an individual with solid machine/body connection (aka good form) would benefit by using a lower damper setting in order to reduce fatigue. It’s very rare for an individual to find peak performance with a damper setting of either one or ten.
Try the workout below next time you’re on a Concept2 rower to find out which damper setting works best for you.
Set the display to Watts
Set the workout to 100 meters with 3 minute rests
Keep your strokes per minute at 24 every time
100m @ 24spm @ 2 damper setting (ds), 3min rest
100m @ 24spm @ 8ds, 3min rest
100m @ 24spm @ 4ds, 3min rest
100m @ 24spm @ 10ds, 3min rest
100m @ 24spm @ 6ds
Look at your workout summary.
Now ask yourself: At which damper setting did you go the fastest? At which damper setting did you reach the highest peak force/wattage? What feels differently?
There will always be variables like muscle fatigue, but this workout will give you a better idea of which damper setting works best for you as an individual. Everyone is different. Many people confuse the damper setting with intensity level or resistance. Instead, the intensity of your workout is controlled by how much you use your legs, back, and arms to move the handle—in other words, how hard you pull. This is true regardless of where the damper lever is set: the harder you pull, the more resistance you will feel.
Good luck and row on!