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Drag Factor?

Different types of drag in different ergs.

How to find your optimal drag factor?

This blog contains an intro to the three different types of drag in the most common indoor rowing machines and advice on how to find your optimum damper setting.

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Air resistance within a flywheel creates the drag in the common Concept2, the RP3, and the Oartec ergs. Air resistance provides for the most similar feel to rowing on water.

The flow of air is easily regulated with a damper lever, which determines the drag factor.

The current drag factor can be checked via the monitor (e.g. in the Concept2 PM5: More Options->Display Drag Factor).

Since the drag factor is influenced by the air-pressure (altitude) and the cleanliness of the flywheel (make sure to keep the internals of your erg clean!) the damper lever position does not directly reveal the magnitude of the drag factor. Often a low drag factor is a sign of dirt restricting the flow of air through the grid protecting the flywheel.

Typical dragfactors:

  • DF (Concept2 C-model): 100-200
  • DF (Concept2 D-model): 85-240
  • K (RP3 S-model): 0.85-1.01
  • K (RP3 T-model): 0.78-1.28
Note that the drag range is larger in the newer models of both Concept2 and RP3 (D-model and T-model).
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In the Waterrower drag is created by the flow of water and the level of the drag is adjusted by the changing the amount of water. Changing the waterlevel is not as quick an adjustment as the moving of the lever to adjust the flow of air to a flywheel...

Water creates a beautifully silent drag, making the waterrower perhaps the most serene of all ergs.

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Eh, just kidding. No ergs we know of have drag created by fire.

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Magnetic resistance is common in the most affordable indoor ergs, commonly found at homes.

The magnetic ergs do not replicate the feeling of rowing on water so well.

The resistance is easy to adjust but increases during rowing when the temperature goes up.

Does the type of drag matter?

What machine should you choose for your rowing? Most rowers would agree that the RP3 is best for those rowing also on water (not only because of the flywheel but more importantly since it is dynamic). The Concept2 is, of course, the golden standard for Indoor racing. The Waterrower is possibly best for the home gym not only because the water drag is silent but also because of its nice wooden materials and design. The magnetic machines are affordable entry level: you can get a machine for less than 200€ (whereas the Concept2 and Waterrower are about five times and the RP3 more than ten times more expensive).

No matter what machine you choose and what element creates your drag (air, water or magnet), make sure you optimize the level of drag, that's what we'll get into next.

The damper levers on the Concept2, the RPS and RP3T as well as the Waterrower where drag is adjusted by the amount of water in the container.

Optimizing the Drag Factor

If you want to train to become a better rower then drag should be set to mimic the feel of rowing on water as closely as possible.

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Typically in the Concept2 this means a drag factor in the range of 100-140 (depending on boat type and the size of your oar blades). Correspondingly, on the RP3 it means K-factor roughly in the range 0.8-1.1.

The drag should be set low enough to keep the leg push sharp. If the drag is too high the push with the legs becomes slow and the rhythm of rowing becomes lethargic (a slow drive phase...). When the drive phase becomes slow due to the drag being too heavy, the rower may compensate by rushing on recovery. This is a typical novice mistake which can be spotted at most gyms worldwide: a slow heavy drive followed by a rushed recovery. When rowing with correct technique the rhythm is the opposite: a quick drive followed by a calm recovery (except when racing at high rates of course).

At short racing distances, such as 500m, the best results can typically be gained by setting the drag factor a tad higher. Longer distances, correspondingly, benefit from a slightly lower drag factor.

Q: How to find the most suitable Drag Factor for you?

Answer: Measure your rowing!

With the Quiske Rowing App you can measure the rhythm of your rowing for free, and the Virtual Coach will give you thumbs up whenever your drive and recovery timings are in balance. Thumbs up from the Coach is a sign your drag factor is in order.

The Quiske Rowing App works on most indoor rowing machines (Concept2, RP3, Waterrower, Oartec, and we've even tested some of the magnetic machines), but you need a sturdy phone holder to attach your phone to the handle of the rower.

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If you invest in a separate pod Quiske you can get more detailed measurements and the Virtual Coach to track five important metrics. For example you will get the full speed profile of your leg push. If the Virtual Coach doesn't give green lights on leg speed it can be a good idea to reduce your drag factor to enable a more explosive drive with the legs.

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Hope this blog was useful for you, any comments and questions let us know.