I always get asked this, even by rowers. I think for many the Concept2 damper setting is a mystery, and they feel like the heavier the better, just like throwing an extra 45# bumper on the bar or doing the Rx weight instead of scaling. My response is usually “it doesn’t matter – just set it where you feel comfortable, it won’t be easier or harder necessarily, it will just feel different.” Same advice as for learning to lift: Focus on technique first, then fitness/mobility, THEN add the weight. And I’ve only met a handful of people, even long-time rowers, who could tell you how to figure out the drag factor and calibrate between different machines.
At the risk of dating myself, I remember in college when there was no damper per se, but you had to physically change the gears with your hands. Then there was the Model B with-ring and without-ring (I still have one in my basement and still think it feels more accurate than the C/D/E and has a far more comfortable seat). I remember when we standardized on a drag factor of 180 (small-gear, closed vents) for heavyweight men, which is much heavier than you can ever get on a Model D or E today.
So I stumbled upon this post by Erin Cafaro on the Crossfit Endurance site while looking for an archived post by Brian MacKenzie. I think it’s the clearest explanation I’ve ever heard, and relating it to bike gearing is brilliant, something that most people can understand, and ironically is rooted in the earliest C2 which was a bike wheel and speedometer with wind vanes that used to fly off when you really got it cooking.
My only question is, does this mean that East Coast rowers have more cred because they do their testing in heavy, dirty, dense, humid air at sea level 🙂