Concept 2 Damper Settings (Best Settings Explained)

Damper settings are associated with rowing machines, which are generally setup indoors and are situated either in a gym or in some kind of home setting, like a workout room or area. The reason damper settings are important is because they manage how much air is taken into the flywheel housing, and this has a major impact on the resistance and the difficulty of rowing. Concept 2 Rowing Machines are considered to be the gold standard for rowers, as they can be used in rehabilitation centers for gentle recovery, or they can be used by world-class athletes to maintain their condition.

When you have your rower set at a higher damper setting, it will allow much more air into the flywheel housing, and with that extra air, it takes a great deal more effort to spin the flywheel against the air. The additional air will also cause the flywheel to slow down during recovery, and that will require more effort to accelerate it on the very next stroke. By contrast, a lower damper setting allows in less air, making it much easier to spin the flywheel. By simply adjusting the damper, you can control the intensity of your workout, and that’s why the Concept 2 rower can be used by recovering patients and elite athletes with equal success.

What exactly is the damper?

All Concept 2 rowing machines have a flywheel at their heart, which means that they will have a fan blade inside the housing. That fan blade connects to a gear which has a chain wrapped around it, similar to the chain you might find on a bicycle. At the end of this chain, you’ll see that it is attached to a handle, and it’s this handle that you actually hold onto when rowing the machine.

The damper setting can be altered simply by changing the adjustable tab on the side of your Concept 2 rowing machine. You’ll have the choice of setting it anywhere between 1 and 10, with 1 being the easiest setting and 10 being the most difficult. When you put the damper setting at 10, it will allow maximum airflow into the flywheel and create the maximum resistance possible for your workout. When you have a damper setting of 1, you can expect the flywheel to spin easily and quickly, and when it’s set at 10, it’s much harder to get the flywheel moving.

Damper setting vs. Drag Factor

Damper setting has been described above, but it can be impacted in a significant way by the drag factor. The drag factor measures the speed that the flywheel will slow down, and is generally expressed as a number between 90 and 200. There’s quite a bit of variability in damper settings, because there will always be a certain amount of dirt and debris that clogs up the flywheel and alters the pure state of the damper setting. For this reason, you could set 10 different rowing machines at the same damper setting, and they would all feel different.

This is not true when discussing the drag factor. If you were to set the drag factor the same on those same 10 rowing machines, it would feel very similar in terms of the effort you have to expend on all 10 machines. This can be equated to knowing how much weight you’ve put on your weight bar, and knowing exactly how much you’re lifting.

Which damper setting is better – higher or lower?

Drag factor is really a personal choice, and it does not equate to the kind of condition or fitness level you might be at. It has much more to do with how you connect most fully to the rowing handle, and how you apply the important rowing factors to your stroke. These rowing factors include the following:

  • Distance
  • Acceleration
  • Force

To find the drag factor which is best suited to the kind of workout you want to have, it may require that you experiment with some of the different drag factor settings. Keep in mind that a low drag factor will allow the flywheel to spin faster and easier, and that it will continue to spin quickly because there’s no air in the housing to slow it down. The opposite is true of course, when you set the drag factor at a higher level.

What does science say about drag factor?

The scientific community has studied drag factor at length, because there are certain scientific principles at work that govern your efficiency in rowing. Given that rowing and the sport of ‘crew’ have been popular for centuries, and have been competed at the highest levels, it’s only natural that studies would have been undertaken to improve techniques.

Science tells us that drag factor does not necessarily equate to producing power. For any single individual, the best drag factor will normally be a combination of testing different settings, and the way each of these settings feels to the individual. Neither one will deliver a complete picture of the ideal drag factor, and that’s why both are necessary to find the sweet spot for a rower.

Which damper setting should I use?

This can be a very tricky question, because if you choose a damper setting that’s too easy for you, it will cause the flywheel to spin quickly and easily, but you won’t maximize your power potential. On the other hand, if you choose one that’s too hard, you may not be able to get it going fast enough to reach your power potential that way either. This being the case, you’ll need to find the perfect middle ground which includes the right amount of resistance and speed. Generally speaking, lower damper settings are best for aerobic workouts, while higher settings are better for strength workouts. Below, you’ll find the ideal settings for a number of different situations.

  • Best damper setting for a 200m – in a race covering 200m, a good damper setting would be a lower one, somewhere between 3 and 5
  • Best damper setting for a 500m – at this distance, a slightly higher damper setting is indicated, perhaps between 5 and 7
  • Best damper setting for a 2K – given that this is a much longer distance, you should set your damper setting around 7 or 8
  • Best damper setting for a CrossFit – when engaging in a CrossFit workout, you might want to use a higher damper setting, somewhere between 8 and 10.

What is the best damper setting for a Concept 2 rower?

The best damper setting will always be the one that allows you to achieve your best workout results, maximizing power and speed. That may take some time for you to discover, and you may have to adjust again later, as you begin to get in better shape and achieve your fitness goals. Most people should start out at a setting between 3 and 5 and experiment a bit as you progress through levels of fitness.

  • For Distance – if you are rowing a long distance, it’s better to use a higher damper setting, for instance somewhere between 6 and 10.
  • For Calories – when trying to burn calories, you’ll want to generate more speed, and that generally calls for a lower damper setting, somewhere in the neighborhood between 3 and 6.

Conclusion

Damper setting and drag factor are two crucial settings on your Concept 2 rowing machine. Both will have an impact on how difficult it is to accomplish your rowing workout. A lower Concept 2 damper setting and a lower drag factor will make it easier for you to row, but that will not allow you to maximize power production. Higher settings make it more difficult to row, but setting it too high can prevent you from achieving a good rhythm in your rowing. In all cases, it will require a bit of experimentation to find the sweet spot, i.e. the ideal settings that help you to achieve your goals with rowing workouts.

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Sources:

1. https://www.concept2.com/indoor-rowers/training/tips-and-general-info/damper-setting-101

2. https://darkhorserowing.com/understanding-the-magic-of-damper-settings-and-drag-factor/#:~:text=Damper%20setting%20is%20the%20adjustable%20tab%20on%20the,allows%20all%20the%20air%20into%20the%20fan%20blade

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