The Concept 2 Rower: Damper Explored

What is a Damper Setting?

That thing. That thing on the side of the rower’s fan. That thing on the side of the rower’s fan that moves up and down. What is it?

That thing on the side of the rower’s fan that moves up and down is called the Damper. It controls how much air flows into the fan cage. The fan cage is where the flywheel is housed, that thing that makes all the ‘fan’ noises.

On the side of the flywheel housing you can see there are values ranging from 1-10, indicating how much air is drawn into the cage on each stroke.


The higher the damper setting is, the harder you have to work to spin the flywheel against the air. Because there is more air going in, it also slows the flywheel down faster on the recovery (when you go IN to the machine), which requires MORE work to accelerate it again for the next stroke.

The lower damper settings allow less air to enter the flywheel housing, which makes it easier to spin the flywheel.

Think of the damper setting like bicycle gears; it affects how the exercise feels but does not directly affect the resistance. Harder gears on a bike are like higher damper settings and vice versa, easier gears on a bike are like lower damper settings.

You wouldn’t necessarily use the hardest gear on a bike to climb a steep hill; you adjust the gears so you can put out optimal work. The gears are adjusting how your biking feels; it is not changing the resistance.

Same with the rower, you shouldn’t be using a higher damper setting when you are speeding along at a high stroke rate (how many strokes per minute). Well, you could. Just like you could put the gears up way high on a bicycle while climbing that steep hill, although it usually feels like the bike is going to break with all of the pressure you are putting on the pedals just to give yourself a ‘better’ workout. Stupid idea.

What a Damper Setting is NOT?

A damper setting is NOT synonymous with intensity level or resistance. The harder you pull the handle, which means the more you use your legs, back, core, arms, controls the intensity of your workout. And this can be affected at every damper setting, even the lower ones, because the C2 Rowers use wind resistance, i.e. the faster you get the wheel spinning, the more resistance you will feel.

I understand this is a lot easier for me to understand because I have actually rowed on a boat in the water. The C2 rower’s damper is used to mimic types of boats/circumstances out on the water.

Let’s get down to some examples. On MSU’s rowing team, we had what were called “working boats”. These were big boats that made you more stable rather than you having to work harder to stabilize yourself and the boat (along with the other rowers).

We also had ‘shells’, these were sleek racing boats that were thinner, lighter, and able to get off balance very easily. The less people you had in a boat (from 8 people, to a quad- 4 people, or even only two people!) the easier it was to tip the boat, either over or just unbalanced.

Both of these boats required high intensity and a lot of force to make it go faster. The difference between the two boats was how it felt to make each one go faster. Just like the gears of the bike, as I said before.

When you’re on a racing shell you are required to go faster, thus applying your force more quickly. Whereas, making a big, slow boat go fast requires more force as well, but the speed at which you apply the force will be slower over the course of your rowing stroke.

Just picture in your head a tiny kayak and 2 people using really slow, forceful strokes to move it. Now, think of a big, heavy pontoon and people using oars, rushing back and forth to make it move. Doesn’t make sense. There’s a lot of wasted energy in each scenario. Each boat needs a different stroke rate and force output to make it move at an optimal speed.

What Damper Setting is Best to Use?

Especially when you are first starting out using a rowing machine, a 3-5 on the damper setting is fine. You should be more focused on technique rather than how hard it is to pull the handle. Try to avoid setting the damper lever too high, as you are more likely to fatigue muscles before you get the full benefit of the rower.

It also depends on what type of workout you are working towards. A lower damper setting will be best for aerobic workouts. Whereas, a higher damper setting is best for strength-based workouts.


If you have a 250-500 meter sprint then a lower damper setting would be best. Your stroke rate will most likely be high due to you trying to row as fast as possible. Again, you usually do not want to be the damper at a high setting when sprinting; think of gears on a bicycle.

If you had a 2,000 meter row you probably will be going rowing at a slower stroke rate and letting the flywheel slow down more, therefore, pulling ‘harder’ each stroke. But again, if you are sprinting for 2,000m then maybe you will be at a lower damper setting. Your choice.

As I stated before the damper changes the way the effort feels. You want to be able to perform as optimally as you can. Just because you’re at a higher damper setting but pulling at a super high stroke rate doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong, that just (hopefully) means, that is the best setting for your work output.

You can damage the machine by using too high or too low of damper settings for how hard/fast you are working though. Be careful. Again, think of a bike- it is not made to handle the pressure of you at a high gear while going up a strenuous hill. It is MEANT to be at a lower gear, thus, lowering pressure on all of the components of the bike. You may find the bike breaks down when you do not ride it efficiently, same as the rower.

But again, same as gears on a bike: one person may be on granny gears going up a steep hill and someone else may feel more comfortable in the middle gears. It’s what is best for YOU and how you can put out work in the most efficient, controlled manner.

You can change the damper settings to make it ‘harder’ for yourself, though that’s not necessarily what they’re made for.  Like me and my sister would try to put our bikes at the highest gear to get up a hill, just to get a ‘better workout’. Haha. If we would’ve just changed the gears and pedaled faster (instead of almost toppling sideways because we were going so slow), we still could’ve gotten a great workout and saved our bikes some wear and tear!

concept 2 rower


Enjoy the Concept 2 Rowers!



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