Every year at about this time I tend to check in with some of my favorite rowing-related sites from around the world to look for new ideas to try during winter training here in the northeast US. Dr. Valery Kleshnev of biorow.com is a sure bet for some interesting analysis of force curves and biometrics, and has a good analysis on on-water vs. off-water resistance in this article.
I get a lot of questions about setting the Concept2 damper, both from Crossfitters and rowers. As a reminder, the damper setting controls the drag factor on the C2, which determines how much air resistance is on the flywheel. The lower the drag factor, the less the flywheel slows down between strokes, and the harder it is to generate net acceleration on each stroke.
I think there are three schools of thought on this:
1. Set the drag factor to simulate the type of boat you are training for during the on-water season. This article is an excellent study of how realistic this is, and the bottom line is, it’s not! The two are biomechanically quite different. While the C2 is a great way to develop rowing fitness, it is not necessarily a great way to simulate actual rowing. This is why I tell people that the drag factor is probably the least important variable to worry about on the C2, compared to technique, aerobic fitness, and mental toughness.
2. Set the drag factor heavier than on-water rowing, because the point of winter training is to develop strength and fitness. I may be old school, but I am in this camp. I view the C2 as a rowing-specific strength and power developer, not as a rowing simulator per se. I want to use the indoor season to become huge and powerful so that when I am back on the water I can focus on technique and power application and not feel “behind the eight ball” on strength and fitness. In college and the pre-elite club system in the mid-nineties, we tested at drag factor 180 on the old Model B, which would be very heavy by today’s standards. My body probably can’t take that anymore, but I feel that a drag factor of 125-140 is heavy enough to train myself to be able to handle a strong headwind in my single. There are those who would disagree with this approach, particularly big-boat rowers, and I respect that. It is a highly individualized thing.
3. Change the drag factor based on the type of workout you are doing. Erin Cafaro advocates this approach in her article on the Sport Tech section of the Crossfit Endurance website. I can be had on this approach as well, because in different workouts you are training different energy systems. In a tabata WOD I would absolutely increase the drag factor because I am trying to train myself to get every ounce of acceleration out of my legs in what is fundamentally an explosive strength workout. If I am working specifically on quickness, I would set it lower to train my neurological system to get the quickest impulse I can on every stroke.