You don’t go grab a barbell and load it up with your 1RM and start your workout there, do you? Of course not. So why do so many people set there erg to 10 and set off to row? Good question huh? Read on and find out why setting your erg at 10 is almost never a good idea.
For starters, let’s discuss briefly how indoor rowers work, because I’m an engineer and this is my chance to be nerdy. =) When you think of rowing, you think of boats and rowing on the water, right? Guess how much water is used in the operation of these Concept 2 rowers? That’s right, none! Well, unless you are sweaty like me, then things might get a little damp. But I digress!
Indoor rower doesn’t sound as cool as calling it an erg. Erg comes from the word ergometer, which simply means a device that measures the amount of work being performed.
You knew there was no water involved, but do you know what provides the resistance with each and every pull you make? Here’s a hint… you breathe it. Yup, air! Good ole air provides all the pulse quickening and pain inducing you could ever want, and yet always leaves you gasping for more air. Air is a tricky character sometimes.
Inside the round chamber on the rower is a device called a flywheel. A flywheel stores rotational energy. Also, the flywheel has a high moment of inertia which is demonstrated by the difficulty/extra energy that must be spent at the beginning of your row to get the wheel spinning (aka, you must give more torque!). The stored energy couples with this same high inertia to produce the momentum that keeps the wheel spinning after you stop pulling on the chain.
Got all that? Good.
That leads us to the lever on the side of the flywheel house, the one numbered 1-10. This adjusts the damper on the side of the flywheel chamber. Changing the damper setting changes the amount of air flow into the flywheel. And as we discussed earlier, air is what is providing the resistance on our rows.
A higher damper setting brings more air into the housing, which means there is more resistance for the wheel to spin against. Also, more air will slow the wheel down quicker, meaning you have to do more work to accelerate the wheel on your next pull.
As you might expect, a lower setting allows less air which makes spinning easier, basically the opposite of the above paragraph!
So, rowing with a damper setting at 10 gives a better workout than setting it at 6, right?
If you’re someone that automatically puts the damper setting at 10 because you think that will give you the best workout, stop. If you’re a coach that automatically puts the damper setting at 10 because you think that will give your athletes the best workout, stop.
First, you’re wrong. Second, you might be promoting injury to occur. Third, you’re probably not achieving the best results at 10.
Picture it this way. A 10 setting would be a barge. Not very nimble in the water, takes a lot of work to move it. A 4-5 would be a kayak or a boat that was made to race and move through the water. A 1 would be Jesus and you’d basically be walking on water with no resistance.
However, once you get a barge moving, it moves. It takes a lot longer to slow down. You have to keep rowing in a kayak or you’ll start to slow pretty quickly. (inertia!!)
On the erg, a higher setting damper requires more work to move the wheel because of resistance. The rower measures that accordingly and the result is you go “further” in your digital distance. A lower damper setting may take two strokes to equal the distance of one stroke done at a 10 damper, but the load on muscular strength per pull will be less with the lower. And no, in this situation 2 pulls at lower damper does not exactly equal one pull at higher damper.
What happens when you lift heavier weight for high reps? There is a greater chance for form to break down. What happens when form breaks down? Injuries become more prevalent. The same philosophy holds true with the erg. Your lower back may be more susceptible to injury at a higher setting if your form isn’t great. As most of us probably don’t have perfect rowing form.
So the question becomes, what damper setting should you use? The answer is: let the erg tell you!
I’m no expert, and there honestly doesn’t appear to be an expert on damper setting. There are recommendations, and I’ll explain those now.
There’s a thing called drag factor that you can measure on your erg. Turn the display on (or reset it) to bring up the main menu. Select the display drag factor option. Row for a little bit, at least 10 strokes going at whatever you consider your normal (not sprint) pace to be. The drag factor will calculate for you.
Again, I’m not an expert and I’m not a coach… yet. But consensus that I’ve researched says there is no need for anyone (non-professional) to have a drag factor over 130. Beginners may want a drag factor under 100. Someone that has been working out for a while and is comfortable on an erg will probably be around 110-120 for their drag factor.
So row a dozen or so pulls and see how it feels. If the drag factor reads too high or low, then adjust the damper and do it again. Compare your new drag factor to your old one, and most importantly, compare how you feel between the two. Each person will be different. Most people will probably end up with a damper setting between 3 and 7. Not 10.
Rowing with too high of a drag factor can be detrimental to your workout and could lead to injury. Using the correct drag factor focuses on developing good technique, improved coordination skills, and ensures the optimum biomechanical and physiological response.
Now get out there and properly row row row your
Your turn -> What setting do you row at?