Originally posted April 10, 2017
We've had an intense and ongoing debate between two of our coaches recently regarding the damper setting on the Concept 2 Rower for different tasks. Camp #1: Set the damper setting high (roughly 8) for a workout with a row for calories. Set the damper setting low (like a 3) when it's a row for meters. Camp #2: Changing the damper setting for different units of measurement (cals vs meters) is pointless. The work is the work and whatever is your most efficient setting is your most efficient setting, regardless of units measured. Evidence has been gathered, arguments have been had, and now more people have been recruited into each camp. The instigator of camp #1 went way down a rabbit hole trying to figure out the tachometer inside the rowing erg, the air in the chamber on different damper settings, the deceleration speed of the flywheel, etc. In short, an ungodly amount of time has been spent on this so far! In more detail, Camp #1 asserts that when rowing for cals, the algorithm in the computer is only calculating your power input during the pull of your stroke. A high damper setting, therefor allows you to pull more watts into the machine. When rowing for meters, however, Camp #1 argues that the computer also takes into account additional meters being accumulated during the rolling or recovery phase of the pull. On a lower damper setting, the flywheel continues to spin for longer, therefor you should be accumulating more meters, they say. Lets settle it with science In order to settle this once and for all, we designed an experiment. I would row for 1 minute holding as close to 800 cal/hr pace on an 8 damper setting, then I would row again for 1 minute holding as close to a 800 cal/hr pace on a 3 damper setting. HYPOTHESIS (as asserted by Camp #1): When we looked at the results, I would have accumulated more meters during the 1 min 800 cal/hr row at a 3 damper setting due to the rollover effect.
RESULTS: as you can see from the above image, my meters rowed were nearly identical. That is to say, the damper setting had no effect whatsoever on the meters.
BUT: The middle line is the 1 min interval I did on the 8 damper, and the bottom line is the one with it set to 3. As you can see, my stroke rate was higher when I had it on the lower damper setting. Camp #1 argued that this skewed the results. So I agree to repeat the experiment, this time holding as close to an 800 cal/hr pace both times AND a 23 strokes per minute rate. 1st time on an 8 damper, 2nd time on a 3, just like before.
RESULTS: Again, the meters accumulated were nearly identical, only varying slightly due to my inability to hold the exact same pace. The damper setting and now the stroke rate had no effect on the meters accumulated. CONCLUSION: Camp #2 is correct. Changing the damper setting when we change the units being measured is pointless and has no effect. What does matter though... The only time it makes sense to change your approach to the rower is based on the time domain of the row. A 30 sec effort (regardless of whether it's meters or cals) is treated with a different approach than a 4-5 min effort. Maybe a high damper setting works better for you for one and a low damper setting works better for the other. But this has nothing to do with the units, only whether we're sprinting or working at a more aerobic steady state. As well, in a row for cals a slower rower is punished significantly more than they would be in a row for meters. In a workout like "Jackie" - For time: 1000m row 50 thrusters (45/35) 30 pull ups You can dog the 1000m row and lose maybe 20 seconds to a faster rower. This can easily be made up by going unbroken on the thrusters and pull ups. In a workout like CF Games Open 16.4/17.4 - AMRAP in 13 min: 55 Deadlifts (225/155) 55 Wall Balls (20/14) 55 Cal Row 55 Handstand Push Ups A slow rower in this workout can lose 3 minutes or more to a faster rower. That's a hole you simply can't get out of by going faster on the other movements.
The CrossFit Journal does a much better job of geeking out on this than I can. Check out their article Row Pro: Calories vs Meters