We've all seen them at the gym. They just have to set everything to the max and show everyone else how tough they are. Whether its weights, speed on the treadmill or damper setting on a rowing machine.
But when it comes to a rower, do you really have to set the resistance to the top setting to get the best workout?
The answer is... NO
Yes if the damper is set to the maximum it does allow more air to flow over the flywheel (or if magnetic it locates the magnets closer to the wheel) and therefore makes it harder to pull. But it doesn't necessarily mean the workout will deliver better results.
Think of the results you can achieve with weights. Whether you use light weights with high reps, or heavier weights with fewer reps, you get some benefit. In fact, many gym users will use a combination of both sets.for effect.
The same is true of a rowing machine. Think of the damper slide (or resistance knob selector) as the gear setting on a bicycle. You can cycle with fast legs with low resistance on the flat in first gear, or slower leg movement with more resistance in tenth gear. The bike will go at the same speed and you'll burn the same calories but one is more aerobic (1st gear) while the other is more of a strength session.
But do you go faster and further with high settings?
If you set yourself time trials and other targets you may think you'll achieve better times and distances with the high damper levels. Yes, this may be true with some of the budget models - although most will not take your work rate into account, but top models such as Concept2 will measure the speed of the flywheel regardless of setting to determine your workout data.
What setting should you use?
Remember why you bought a rowing machine in the first place? For the majority it is to get fit. If you row at too high a setting, your muscles could tire before you've had a good, lengthy session and will therefore not get the optimum workout.
So it's best to start at the lower levels if you're new to rowing and focus on getting your technique right first. If you row at the higher levels before you've got a correct technique, you increase your chance of injury, and then you can't use your rower! Not what you bought one for.
Once you're happy with your technique, you're ready to move up to the mid-level. I believe it's best to do most workouts on these damper settings and row hard. The top settings should be used sparingly by most for shorter sessions and thought of as strength-building sessions. The main cardio-vascular benefits come from the mid settings on your machine.
Rowing machines that have the heart rate program feature will adjust the resistance level according to your pulse rate. This will keep your heart beating at the optimum rate for fat-burning purposes and may help you get fast results in less time.
Roy Palmer is an athletics coach, teacher of The Alexander Technique and a rowing fanatic.