Rowing: What you didn't know.


The rowing machine (Concept 2) is a staple piece of equipment we utilize within CrossFit.  Often, the Concept 2 rower settings can be misunderstood or even unknown.  Here is a brief overview and some exercises to try on rowing intensity, stroke rate, and damper settings.

Damper Setting

Did you know that the best rowers in the world row with a damper setting of 3-5?  Having the damper set at 10 does NOT create more resistance or intensity while rowing.  The damper setting controls the amount of air that is allowed into the flywheel, the higher the damper setting means more air.  With more air in the flywheel it takes more power to make the wheel spin fast.  The increased amount of air in the flywheel will also decelerate the wheel quickly on the recover phase of rowing, thus requiring more work to accelerate the wheel again.

Rowing at a lower damper setting challenges you to apply power to accelerate the flywheel, much like rowing in a sleek and fast, rowing shell.  Rowing at a high damper setting like 10 is much like rowing in a big and slow and heavy boat- still a good workout, but more about power than cardiovascular fitness.

Try this:

Row 100m at different damper settings of 1,3,5,7 and 9.  Keep your stroke rate at 24spm.  What feels different?  Which damper setting gave you the best time?

Intensity and Stroke Rate

The more strokes per minute doesn’t correlate to a better workout!  It’s more about how hard you are pulling.  Moving up and down the slide quickly without generating power is called “spinning your wheels”.  Power is created when the flywheel spins faster, which generates a better workout.  A good stroke rate (strokes per minute) for most workouts will be in the range of 24-30 spm.

Try This:

Start by rowing at a higher stroke rate (30-28 SPM) and note your pace per 500m.  Every minute decrease your SPM by 2 beats (30, 28, 26, etc.) and try to keep the same pace per 500m.  It will be challenging to maintain the same power output at lower stroke rates, but if you can maintain this efficiency your overall pace should improve.

Now you can take your knowledge and get into the gym to test out different rower settings and ways to create more power efficiently.  Once you have felt the changes from how you were previously rowing, it is encouraged to go re-test some of the staple distances such as 1k, 2k, and even 5k.  Hopefully you will see and feel significant improvements!