Rowing – damper settings, efficiency and correct technique

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CrossFit uses rowing quite often as it’s a great conditioning tool. It’s low impact on your joints, it utilizes large muscle groups and it can really smoke you if you push hard enough. It practices opening/closing your body and hips just like in olympic lifting, so it’s a great development tool as well.
Even though we probably row at least 2-3 times/week in warm ups and WODs, I often see poor technique and incorrect damper settings. In this article, I’ll explain while setting the damper to 10 is not that great of an idea and may just be exercising your ego and I’ll also cover correct technique.

Setting up the rower

When you get on the rower first thing you want to set up is the damper. The damper is the little wheel with numbers from 1 to 10 and it controls how much air is coming into the cage. This means that there is more air that the wheel spins against. Setting the damper is very individual and there are not na prescribed settings. It will also differ for different types of workouts. If you do sprints or generally shorter distances, you will probably be more effective with higher damper settings. For longer distances a smaller number is better. Generally you want to find a resistance that works best for you and that you feel comfortable at during different types of workouts.

Myth: A damper setting of 10 will give you the best workout.

Reality: A damper setting of 3–5 is likely to give you the best workout. Too often, we see indoor rowers set at 10, because the athlete thinks that a higher number must be more challenging (or will reward them with a better time). The real challenge is to accelerate the flywheel at a lower damper setting, where power must be applied such as in a sleek, fast, rowing shell. A damper setting of 10 is more like a slow heavy rowboat—still a workout, but more about strength than cardiovascular fitness. Keep in mind: the best rowers in the world who compete at the Olympics, do not row competitively at a 10! Emulate them; aim for 3 to 5.

Try this: Row 100 meters at different damper settings: 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9. Keep your stroke rating at a 24. What feels differently? Which damper setting gave you the best time? Keep in mind, you still may want to change the damper setting for longer workouts. –

It’s also important to note that damper settings might be different on rowers. The factor that affects this is mainly the condition of the cage. If there’s a lot of dust, it will limit the amount of air coming in, therefore you might be using 4 on a new rower and 5 on an older rower. The best way to figure out what’s the correct damper setting on different rowers is to use the drag factor function. Drag factor basically calibrates the rower. You can find more information about drag factor here.

Another important thing to watch for when you’re rowing is the stroke rate. It’s the number in left bottom corner and it shows how many strokes per minute you are doing. Similar to the damper settings, higher stroke rate, doesn’t mean that you’re having a better workout. A good stroke rate for most workouts will be between 24 and 30 spm.

Rather than worrying about how quickly you can move up and back on the monorail, take the time to focus on getting as much power into each drive as you can. –


The last important setting on the rower are the foot straps. When you adjust them you want to have the foot strap over the top of your foot just behind your toes. When you want to get out of the foot straps, you want to loosen them first and then push your foot forward. This way your heel will be free and it’ll be easy to get out.



In order to have a powerful stroke you want to use your legs and trunk as much as you can. The rhythm is very easy. First you grab the handle on the sides and straighten your back while keeping a slight lean forward. Then you want to first extend your legs, while keeping your torso leaning forward. Once you legs are extended you lean back and open your hips, last step is to finish the pull with your arms. You want to pull all the way to your body to about your diaphragm. If you simplify it it’s legs – > body -> arms. On the way back (recovery) you  simply reverse the order. First you release your arms, then you lean forward so that the handle is just in front of your knees and then you start bending your legs and finish the recovery stroke.



Next time you get on the rower, think about how your damper is set up and asses how you feel. Above, I highlighted how to find the correct damper settings and if you have any questions about the damper settings, efficiency or your own technique, feel free to contact me.


Sources:, Damper settings 101:

CrossFit Journal, Rowing Technique – Passing the Human Polygraph by Angela Hart:

CrossFit Journal, A Biomechanical Analysis of Rowing By Joel R. Martin and Bryan St. Andrews:, Debunking the Myths: Damper Setting, Stroke Rate and Intensity:


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