What Drag Factor should I use for my rowing?
We get many questions from rowers regarding what the optimal drag factor should be. The drag is also very different from rowing a 1x to rowing an 8+ – every boat type has its own “drag-dynamics”. Our honest answer is that we don’t believe there is one correct linear answer to this but we will explain our thought to help you find the drag factor that fits your rowing.
The Drag Factor
The Drag factor is a personal preference, setting and each rower should experiment and find out what suits them the best. What is important is that you feel you can pull well, have a good resistance when pulling on the machine, that you are able to pull hard and efficiently at different stroke rates. It is really a combination of looking at how you perform, your rowing watts or split times, and how efficient does it feel for you to pull.
If the Drag factor is too high it will make the machine feel too heavy, and you will not able to efficiently complete the strokes with a proper flow and stroke length. On the other hand, if the drag factor is too low, it will feel too light, like you do not have the necessary resistance, that you are pulling on empty air and the rowing stroke feels powerless and too light.
Our best advice is to test different drag factors while rowing intervals at different stoke rates, how does it it feel and how changing the drag factor affects your results. You might need to repeat the experiment a few times as results can vary as you progress with the intervals and get more tired.
The Damper on an ergometer
The Damper setting from 1-10 can vary from machine to machine. A damper setting 3 on one rowing machine does not necessarily give the same actual resistance (air) on another machine. Dirt, age, location, altitude, and temperature can all affect the ergs actual resistance. That is where knowing your preferred drag factor comes in handy. It is the way to calibrate any ergometer you row on to fit your preferences.
Do you have trouble getting the rate up?
Some rowers prefer to row shorter distances with a slightly higher drag factor. Again, this is something we recommend to try out. Set the drag factor 1-5 units higher and see if this works for you. It is difficult to give actual numbers, this is what you should use because you are X years old and weigh Y kilos.
High rate rowing for Masters
For Masters rowers who struggle rowing the high rate workouts, pushing the stroke rate over what they normally are used to, we recommend starting by lowering the drag factors for these workouts. The aim of these workouts is to train the heart and get the rate up. This can be challenging on the water but part of the training is pushing your limits. Be sure to discuss this with your physician.
Here is what we use and what some of our friends use:
Jakob trains between 2-4 times a week. He uses a drag factor of 100 and for higher rate category A and B workouts, he might lower the drag factor down to 90 to get the rate up.
Bo rowed on the Danish lightweight 8+ for 10 years. Back in the days, when he was in excellent form, he used drag factor 115. Today, still active and competing, he uses drag factor 100- 105.
Sarah is 45 years old, a former elite rower, and started rowing back in 1988. While active and racing she frequently achieved sub 6:40 min results on the erg for 2K using a drag factor 110. Today she aims to get three erg sessions a week and uses a drag factor 105 for her workouts.
Our friend Jacob J is a HUGE fan of his ergometer. He holds several records and medals on the erg. Today he trains every other day on the erg and every other day he does weight training. He has always used the same drag factor 110 for all of his workouts.
Helle is 49 years old, a former elite lightweight rower, and started rowing in 2000. She has stayed active and today competes on the erg and in Coastal rowing. She trains 6-7 times a week, of which erg or rowing 3 times a week. Her best results on the erg are 7.16 on 2K and 22.52 on the 6K and she has always used a drag factor somewhere between 100-105 for her workouts.
Juliane is 43 years old, a former elite lightweight rower with a long career on the national team. She has experimented a lot to find an optimal drag factor for her high rate rowing style. An expert in rowing long 6K and 1-hour tests at a relatively high rate, for her, drag factor 104 was the best fit. At one point it was down to 101. In her active days, her best 2K was 6:59,8 and she holds the World record for 40-49 LWT at 7:05,8. Today when no longer in the form to keep the high pace she was used to, she rows with drag factor 107.