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How to determine your ideal damper setting

So you’ve gotten your rower ready to go, your feet are strapped in and you are thinking of how good you’ll feel after you are done.

Then you take a glance over at the fan and notice the numbers “1-10”.

What does this little lever do?

Maybe you’ve heard that you “get a better workout” if it’s on a 10. Maybe you just assume that the higher the number, the harder it gets.

Regardless of preconceived notions - the truth of the damper setting is often unknown and misused.

In today’s post I’m going to go over quite simply what this damper setting is and how you can get the most from your rowing.

What do the numbers mean?

So first thing here : the higher the number does not equate to the better workout you’ll get.


When you put the damper setting at a 1, you might notice how easily it feels to pull the handle away from the machine.

Conversely, setting it at a 10 will create a lot of tension and make the pull feel harder.

Common patterns of thought when it comes to working out would assume because there’s more tension, it has a bigger impact on your body.

Think about a cable machine. The higher the number on the weight plates, the heavier it is, and therefore, the better workout you’ll get.

Rowing however does not fall into this category.

The numbers on the flywheel do not coordinate with difficulty, what they do take into account is the following:

  • How much air is allowed into the flywheel

This is the only thing that the damper setting changes. How much air is being circulated into the flywheel, which then creates either more or less perceived resistance.

At a “1” the flywheel is completely closed.

At a “10” the flywheel is completely open.

How to use damper setting

So the numbers only indicate how much air is getting into the flywheel. Why is this even important?

Well - the amount of air in the flywheel will impact the tension that you feel on the machine.

If we consider what the rowing machine is trying to replicate, it’s purpose is to get as closely related to water resistance.

So the true goal of using the damper setting is to create a feeling that is generally closer to water.


Water resistance for most machines will fall between a 4-6 damper setting. This means that for most people, between a 4-6 damper setting will be ideal.

Who benefits from a lower or higher damper setting

If you’ve ever rowed at a 1 or a 10 , you will know how different both of these feel. Who can benefit from rowing at a lower or higher damper?

Think about this: if you have the damper set at a 1, what do you experience?

You’ll probably feel a few things

  • The stroke feels “easy” as there’s not a ton of resistance that is preventing the fan from moving (no air flow)

  • The split time or pace on the machine might be lower than you normally would be (because there’s less resistance, often people won’t be able to create as much force to get to a normal pace)

  • Might feel like you “aren’t getting anywhere” if you rowed like this for 2 minutes.

Now these feelings aren’t wrong, but let’s dive into why rowing at a 1 could benefit someone.

Athletes who are more power oriented and more explosive benefit from having a lower damper setting. Power is all about a short controlled burst of power.

So then, in order to create any significant amount of force into the machine at a 1 damper setting, you need to be explosive.

On the other end if you are more of an endurance athlete, you’d do better with a higher damper setting. The reason for this is because with a 10 damper setting, you can be slower with your transition through the stroke.

Even though the resistance feels more tension, you don’t need to apply a powerful push as much into the machine for the fan to move. It’s a slower push as opposed to the lower damper setting.

Confused yet?

What you should do to figure out your ideal damper setting

So this is all nice to know - but how can this help your rowing technique?

Like stated above, the ideal damper for most people will be somewhere between 4-6. However not everyone will feel at home in these ranges.

Here’s a good workout you can do to help you FEEL which damper is best for you.

Set your rowing machine up with 2 minutes of work , followed by 4 minutes of rest. (Intervals time).

You will be doing 5 different intervals. Keep your stroke rate at 24 the entire time (or as best as you can so to keep each interval even) *THIS IS IMPORTANT!*

Set damper to 10, row 2 minutes as hard as you can

Rest for 4 minutes

Set damper to 8, row 2 minutes as hard as you can

Rest for 4 minutes

Set damper to 6, row 2 minutes as hard as you can

Rest for 4 minutes

Set damper to 4, row 2 minutes as hard as you can

Rest for 4 minutes

Set damper to 2, row 2 minutes as hard as you can


Now measure which interval you did the best in. This should give you an idea of what damper setting is best for you, and which you feel best at!

Remember that the damper impacts how much air flow is allowed in the machine. No matter what damper you have your rower set on - YOU control the amount of force that goes into the machine.

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