The video to your left was made, judging by the haircut and the PDP branding at the beginning, in early 2020.
It’s a thorough (and by that, I mean long) deep dive into drag factor, why it’s there and what it’s for when rowing on a Concept2.
It’s a massively mis-understood subject, which is probably why I took so long to talk about it! But, if you can’t face my face, and just want to read some info – here we go below!
My description of what drag factor is – why it’s there – and importantly, my take on where to set it. It’s not a short chat! But in order to cover it fully – it needs to be full. That said, here’s a summary.
1) What is Drag factor?
What it isn’t, is a coarse resistance like you may find on a spin bike. The lever on a Concept 2 adjusts the amount of air that gets into the cage. More air, the heavier the stroke feels. Less air, the lighter. The monitor interprets this difference in weight as ‘Drag factor’.
2) Why have it?
a) To make sure every machine you row on feels the same ‘weight’
b) To allow competition on different machines.
The weight of the stroke is controlled by the amount of air that gets into it – so it stands to reason that if it’s dirty – less air will get in. (Take a few strokes on a machine set to 10 – then throw a towel over the front of a machine with the lever still at 10 – it’ll suddenly feel REALLY light)
So if you compare a clean machine and a dirty machine – setting the lever to 6 on both machines will let in different amounts of air. A clean machine at lever 6 may be 130 Drag Factor. A dirty machine may only be 100. So the dirty machine might need the lever at 9 to allow in enough air to achieve a Drag Factor of 130. To this means that by looking at the drag factor (menu / more options / Display Drag Factor) I can make my machine at home, one at a gym, on a race floor etc – all feel the same ‘weight’ by setting it to the same number.
b) By knowing what the drag factor is from the flywheel, the gubbins inside the PM monitor knows the amount of power you’re putting into the machine against the weight of the stroke. (over simplification). And this makes all machines even in a race.
Think of it like a race up 100 steps. Two people, side by side have to run up those exact same steps. One does it by taking it one step at a time – the other does it by doing it 4 steps at a time. They both have to cover the exact same effort – it’s just HOW they do it that’s different. One takes lots of smaller efforts, the other takes fewer but harder efforts. And that’s the simplest way to think of low and high drag factors. A DF of 90 is taking the steps one at a time. A DF of 220 is taking them four at a time.
So if you both have to cover 2000m, the way drag factor and the Concept 2 monitor work out the power requirements, you both need to put in the same amount of effort, just with a difference in the weight of the stroke and how the competitor deals with that weight. (Stroke rate vs the power put into the stroke to overcome the weight of the flywheel being the key here – but again, I’m not going to cover that here)
3) Where should you set it?
Now. This one will start arguments. Most seasoned rowers, and indeed many rowing organisations will state that you should set it to 130. And you know what, that’s a great start – and you may never leave 130. Up or down by 15 won’t make a huge difference, but it might just be the tweak you need to feel more comfortable.
The key to setting your drag factor (DF) is:
1) Can you row without injury.
2) Can you use both cardio and muscle systems efficiently.
1) If you have a DF that’s too high, there’s a good chance you’re fighting against the weight of the flywheel by grabbing early with the arms, and bending them too early – risking injury to the forearms, shoulders and upper back. You may also be leaning back way too early in the stroke as you fight against it, taking the power of the stroke into your lower back, and using more of your hamstrings than your quads. This not only risks injury to your lower back, but shifts the balance of what muscles you should be using. Therefore, you should set the DF to a position where you can comfortably take the stroke with straight, relaxed arms until near the end of the leg drive – and can maintain a forward lean through that leg drive too. (Then you rock back through the hips and draw in the arms). I’m not saying it needs to be a weak stroke – you still want to put in the power, but if you NEED to bend your arms early, and lean back early – it’s too heavy – and I suggest reducing the DF until you don’t need to do that.
2) In a race, the ideal is to put every ounce of energy into it – so you know you’ve tried your best. When rowing, this means you’ll have used up all the power in your muscles, and you’ll have taken your cardio system to its limit. If you have the DF set very high – you’ll likely find that your muscles will run out of juice way before you get to exhaust your cardio system. If you have the DF set very low – you’ll find the opposite. Cardio will be sky high as you race up and down the rail at high strokes rates trying to get the speed out of the flywheel – but your muscles will still have their power stores.
So what you really want to find is a ‘Baby Bear’ setting. Once that will allow you to empty muscle power and cardio system into the machine – with not one drop left by the end of the race (which is, to be fair, a rather unpleasant end – but the only way you’ll win the race!)
You can test your ‘baby bear’ setting by rowing 1 minute at 24spm at FULL POWER at different drag factors (making sure you’ve recovered full for each). The furthest distance you can cover is the best DF for you right now. However, if you’re much higher than 150 – check you’re not doing this with bad technique.
What all of this means, is that if a luddite in the gym tells you you’re not working hard enough because it’s not at ’10’ – they’re wrong. Think about the race up the steps.
At the same time, if someone says “Set the lever to 6” – they’re wrong. Think about different machines, how dirty they may be – and how the towel over the cage of the machine alters air flow when set to 10.
Pick YOUR drag factor.
And on every machine, set the lever to give you THAT number.