Why Can’t I Just Row at 10?

In 2010, Sean, James, William, Emily, April and I (Whitney) had the opportunity to compete at the CrossFit Southwest Regional competition and qualify for the CrossFit Games. The final regional WOD was a 24 min row for max meters. The event included 2 guys and 2 girls from each team and each team member had to row for 2 min, then rotate, only 1 member working at a time. Previous to the event, we asked a Concept 2 rower representative for some tips on rowing. She suggested that we do NOT row at a damper of 10, but we thought we would get the best score at that setting, so we rowed at a 10 anyway. Bad idea. That was one of the worst WODs any of us have ever done in our CrossFit lives. We were working harder, not smarter. We would row all-out for 2 minutes, then roll off of the rower onto the ground so our teammate could begin his/her 2 minutes of death. Recovery was terrible and nearly non-existent. Lesson learned.

Damper setting 101:  The damper setting controls how much air flows into the cage as you are rowing. A high damper allows more air to pass through, making it harder to resist the wind as you try to get the flywheel going. It also slows the wheel down faster during the recovery phase, which makes it harder to accelerate the flywheel again on the next stroke. A lower damper setting allows less air to flow through, making moving the flywheel and keeping it going easier. Think of it like bicycle gears.

It’s easy to confuse damper setting with intensity level.  The damper doesn’t matter. If you pull harder, your “boat” will go faster. “At a damper setting of 1–4, the indoor rower feels like a sleek racing shell; at the higher numbers, the indoor rower feels like a slow row boat.”

The damper setting is a personal preference. There are a couple of ways to find which damper is most beneficial to your performance. You can calculate it using the performance monitor. Here is a link on how to calculate your optimal damper setting. You can also simply perform some experiments. Row a few short intervals at different dampers and find out which one you performed/felt best during. Keep in mind how you feel after. Can you step off of the rower and go straight into some medium-heavy power cleans?

Play with the rower, try out the performance monitor and give us some feedback here.

One Response

  1. Chris Kunstadt says:

    Well, if rowing is anything like cycling (and it must be), there would be benefits to working at both ends of the spectrum. In order to maximize efficiency, cyclists will spend a lot of time in the winter spinning an easy gear at about 105 rpm – while their natural cadence is around 85-90. The longer the race, the better it is to operate with less force with quicker movements. This reduces the amount of lactic acid that needs to be buffered out of the body. Conversely, short and hard intervals can be done at a high level of resistance to recruit a lot of support muscles – leading to more possible force applied at a person’s optimum strokes / pedals per minute.

    But, as a rowing noob, I’ve found that even for a 2K, I do best at around 7-8 on the damper. As of yet, I have not done any high-speed rowing sessions. While it’s not a major goal, I’d like to break 8 minutes for 2K soon.

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