6 mistakes you’re probably making with the GymAware FLEX

I started using my GymAware FLEX unit in 2020 during the COVID pandemic. Like everyone else, I was at home with my family, so I had plenty of time to use my FLEX and play with the App. I found out right away that velocity-based training changes the game, and I realized that the FLEX unit made the implementation and daily use easier than I could ever have imagined. I literally took the unit out of the box, put it on the end of the bar, and started collecting data. At that moment, I also started sharing my findings with all of you. I told you all the ways that the FLEX (and the GymAware of course) can help you and your athletes.

Coach Travis Mash

I told you all the ways that the FLEX (and the GymAware of course) can help you and your athletes:

  1. improve training
  2. quantify training intents
  3. prevent needless overuse, and
  4. collect the data necessary for present and future considerations.

My educational content convinced several of you to take the plunge and buy a unit or two, which was exciting for our industry and the future of athletic performance. However, there is something that troubles me unlike anything else. It drives me crazy when you guys have these highly sought after FLEX  Units, but they aren’t getting used!

It’s not often, but every once in a while, I will visit one of your facilities or talk to one of you on the phone only to discover that you aren’t using the tool. Normally, it’s because there is something that you are doing wrong that’s keeping the process from rolling smoothly. All of you already have busy schedules, so there is no room for extra time to figure out problems from the implementation of new devices. That’s the motivation behind this article. Here are the 6 mistakes you’re probably making with the GymAware FLEX:

  1. Tightening the FLEX Unit on the Bar
  2. Placement of the Mat
  3. Bars with Plastic End Caps
  4. Bluetooth and Wifi
  5. Not understanding all the Capabilities of the App
  6. Not realizing the Flex is Integrated with the GymAware System

1. Tightening the FLEX  on the Bar

When people see the FLEX, the first question I get is: is it durable and/or will it stay on the bar? Of course, I show them my athletes slamming the bar down from over their heads with over 182kg/400lb on the bar with the FLEX staying firmly in place. 

How is this possible?

Step 1:  Make sure that FLEX is placed all the way on to the barbell until the magnets snap it firmly in place. – Loosen the lock ring if it does NOT fit on easily.

Step 2:  If the barbell is to be dropped – think cleans, high pulls, snatches etc, and sometimes deadlifts, tighten down the lock ring.  Typically it only needs a ¼ to ½ a turn to secure it in place. It’s that simple!

Step 3: To remove it from the bar, loosen the lock ring and you can pop the FLEX right off the end, add more weight, place it back on the bar and you’re ready for your next set.

Remember, for many lifts you can just rely on the magnets, however if you like to slam some bars like we do in the Olympic lifts, you will want to tighten the locking ring. 

2. Placement of the Mat

If you are experiencing missed reps, you are probably not positioning your mat correctly. Here are some tips.

1. Make sure the silver side is facing up because the distance is measured by the reflection of light off of that shiny mat. The reason the FLEX  works almost as well as GymAware is because the light acts as a laser tether measuring distance divided by time aka velocity.

2. Also, you will need to make sure that FLEX is somewhere directly above the mat during the walkout, performance of the movement, and the re-rack. Sometimes people walk back way too far during squats or overhead squats taking them off the end of the mat which will result in ghost reps, spikes in the data or missed reps completely.

3.  I recommend using the arrows on the mat showing where to place the mat in relation to the rack. When lifting out of the rack, make sure the reflective mat is placed so that its end extends about a foot past the rack upright.

GymAware FLEX mistake example
Reflective mat placement.

4. If you’re doing an olympic lift,  like a power clean or snatch then I recommend you start with the barbell positioned over the rear third of the mat. – with most of it extending out to the front of you. This way if you bring the bar forward during the lift and or rotate the bar which you need to do then the laser sensors can point down on the reflective mat in front of you. If you start too far forward on the mat then the lasers will measure off the front edge and give you a bum number or a ghost rep!

5. Some exercises will require you to move the bar a large distance followed by a shorter distance. For example, if you want to perform push presses with the bar on the floor, you will clean it to get the bar in position to push press.  FLEX will default to measuring the biggest movement only – Ie the clean.To counter this issue is to either take the bar out of the rack or set a prep timer to give FLEX  some time before measuring the rep. Here’s more on that process  NOTE: I know that Team GymAware are working hard behind the scenes to get Complex movements working.

6. No Obstructions. One last thing about the mat placement, and that is nothing can obstruct the area between the FLEX and the FLEX Mat. For example, some broader powerlifters will put their hands at the end of the barbell. If their hands cover the FLEX, the laser will be interrupted. I want you all to try and see the laser as an invisible tether. The laser is the way the FLEX measures distance and configures time. If the laser is blocked, it will never reach the mat. Therefore, there is no way to measure the distance or figure the time, so there can’t be a velocity read.

GymAware FLEX mistake example 2

3. Bars with Plastic End Caps 

Most bars would never consider placing a plastic end cap at the ends of their barbells. However, if you run into this problem, the FLEX won’t be immediately usable because there’s nothing for the magnets to latch onto. Normally, this only happens with utility bars like trap bars or possibly some specialty bars. Once again, most quality companies would never consider using plastic, but every once in a while you might run into this.

GymAware FLEX mistake example 3 - plastic ends
Plastic end caps on a barbell?!

I simply recommend you grab a pen knife or similar and then prize the end cap out and toss it to the side. The next time you talk to your barbell vendor – dont forget to give them some lip about adding plastic end caps. Man these are barbells not pieces of outdoor furniture!

4. Bluetooth and Wifi

  1. The first step is to make sure that your bluetooth on your phone, tablet or iPad is ON.
    Note: with Android devices, their Bluetooth connection is linked to location (don’t ask me why), but what it means is that for the FLEX App you need to enable LOCATION.
    So select “YES” when you first install the App and it prompts to enable Location sharing.
  2. Next “Power On” the FLEX by depressing the Power Button.
    You should hear musical-like beeps and then it will flash a white LED and output a tick sound – This means it’s ON awaiting a bluetooth connection.
  3. In the FLEX App, tap the FLEX icon in the top left hand corner (it should say “not connected) 
  4. Note the deviceID (FLEX serial number) 
  5. Select your device ID in the list and tap the Connect button
  6. That’s it – you’re now taken to the main menu and ready to get lifting.
  7. Once you have finished your session, top left corner of screen again- tap the FLEX Icon. and then under Device actions tap DISCONNECT FLEX

TIP: If you plan to always use the same FLEX with the same phone or iPad you can set the FLEX to Auto-connect. 

This means all you have to do is open the FLEX App and switch on the FLEX. It will connect automatically. How convenient is that!

To set this to ON, once you have connected manually (as per the steps above). Tap  on the FLEX icon again (top left of screen). In the mid section of the connection screen set Auto Connect to ON.

It’s really easy to connect just make sure to take a few minutes to make sure the above  details are well covered. Once you are connected, all that you have to do is master the App. This is the fun part, and it’s so easy. I saved my favorite part for last.

5. Understanding the Capabilities of the App

The App caused me to fall in love with FLEX. It’s so easy to use and self-explanatory.  There are some core features that help place FLEX head and shoulders above the competition.  For example, once FLEX is placed on the bar, then it’s ready to measure. No need to hit START or STOP within the App… it’s ready when you are. 

And honestly what a breath of fresh air, it will record your movement and stop the recording automatically – when you start and stop lifting. Just like GymAware I guess! Why are there so many systems out there that require you to hit start and stop for every set you wish to collect? Man that simple function helps make the training so much more unencumbered and natural.

One additional super-smart feature of FLEX is that it knows when it’s on/off the bar. When it’s off the bar the App reminds you to place it back on the bar prior to lifting. – so no more missed sets. When you place it back on the bar, then it prompts you to enter the new lift weight. Cool, very cool and a better feature than you think.

The App will impress clients or upper management because it provides quantifiable evidence that your program is working. Let me explain some of the big data points tracked by FLEX:

Velocity– I hope that this one was obvious.

Power– this is the metric that most coaches are looking for in athletes like football players, baseball and softball athletes, throwers, and more. It’s a look at force x velocity. FLEX gives the athlete and coach real-time feedback on the watts being produced. We know the force being exerted on the body by looking at the weight on the bar x acceleration of gravity 9.81m/s². If an athlete has 200kg/440lb on the bar, the body must overcome an external force of 1,962N. Acceleration is measured by looking at the change of velocity (in this case an increase) divided by time, which is easily measured with FLEX . Power is measured by looking at the Force exerted times the Velocity. The ability to move something fairly heavy very fast is a goal for knock out punches, big tackles in football, and home-runs in baseball. 

Distance– this one is great for bar jumps, trap bar jumps, and keeps athletes honest with depth. Coaches can use the barbell squat jump to monitor readiness on a daily basis monitoring jump heights and there’s a way to monitor total time for a 3-repetition set giving a look into the neuromuscular system and ground contact time. If the athletes are recovered properly, their muscle spindles and golgi tendon organs will ensure minimum ground contact time resulting in a lesser total time. 

Total Reps and Total Load– with these numbers coaches can track average intensities, acute to chronic thresholds, monotony and strain, and any other means of monitoring. There is a lot of research and data from certain camps that gives coaches parameters to ensure programs will be successful and safe. However, if you aren’t tracking particular data points, then we both know that you are simply guessing. The FLEX App makes it easy for us to deliver a successful product to athletes giving them a tool to reach his or her goals without putting them in any unnecessary risk.

Bar Path- this is a tool that all coaches should use to monitor improvement and to point out deficient movement patterns with ways of correction. For example, in the clean the bar should travel in towards the midline of the body immediately as the barbell leaves the floor. It should continue to travel inwards until the bar meets the body somewhere around the upper thighs or hips. After the bar leaves the hips, there will be a little bit of horizontal travel away from the body never passing through the original vertical line of force created by gravity acting on the barbell. Bar path allows coaches the ability to give athletes a visual of his or her current path of travel, which helps to gain buy-in for a coach’s verbal cues or corrective drills.

Bar path - gymaware FLEX
Bar path app.

Tracks PRs- the FLEX App automatically keeps track of personal records in each exercise that you use. You can also enter current personal records when you download the App to establish base performance levels. I love this feature because it makes this important task automatic and effortless.

Tracks velocity PRs- I enjoy this feature because it encourages athletes to perform each movement with maximal effort to produce true compensatory acceleration. Compensatory acceleration is a training methodology made popular by Fred Hatfield and Louie Simmons, and it means to accelerate the bar as fast as possible throughout the entire concentric contraction. True compensatory acceleration ensures that the maximum number of motor units are recruited along with the maximal rate of force development. It’s encouraging that an athlete can set some type of personal record even when he or she is squatting 75% of their 1RM maximum for 5 sets of 5-repetitions. 

Estimate 1RMs- I recommend all strength coaches, weightlifting coaches, and any coach other than a powerlifting coach listen up to this feature. There’s a section on the App that walks an athlete through five submaximal sets starting at 50% of his or her 1RM and ending with 85%. Minimum velocity thresholds (MVTs) are the known 1RM velocities of various movements like the bench press with a MVT of 0.17m/s. This simply means that most people perform their 1RM bench presses at 0.17m/s. All of these come standard with the FLEX App along with the formula to estimate 1RMs. This allows coaches to assess strength progressions even during the season without the risk of injury that comes from maxing out. 

Video Mode- this is my favorite too (yes, I have a lot of favorites as you can tell) because it allows me to show my athletes their movement patterns that result in positive velocities along with the velocities that come along with dysfunctional movement patterns. There’s even an overlay that displays bar path and velocity on the same screen, which is a powerful learning tool for athletes. I love these video options for displaying highlight videos on Instagram because they allow me to teach my followers while entertaining them as well. 

Community. Gyms can be lonely for the majority of us. With the FLEX App, we never have to be alone. We can post our highlight videos or summary cards automatically produced by the App summarizing the focus of each session: total tonnage, number of sets, number of reps, average velocity, and a pie graph showing the focus on power and strength. Meanwhile you can scroll through the community screen, check out the stats of each individual and comment on videos or workouts that may be posted.

Favorites. This is where you can create workouts for yourself or your athletes. I have used a lot of the prescription software out there, and this one is the easiest to use by far. It’s also great to have your velocity and programming in the same place especially when it comes to data analysis. It’s a new era. If you want to be a great coach, you are going to need to get used to data analysis. Data simply quantifies a coach’s current programming in the following ways:
– Allows coaches to quantify improvement
– Allows coaches to quantify what’s working, what’s not, and why
– Allows coaches to measure versus guessing

The Favorites section of the FLEX automatically tracks total tonnage, number of reps, and number of sets. Upon completion of a workout, the FLEX will also calculate average intensity and total time duration, which are both excellent data points to track for future decisions. Once you have average intensities, total tonnage, and the number of reps, you can easily create a graph showing effect size, acute to chronic ratios, monotony, and strain. All of these markers are crucial for the long term development of an athlete. 

You can easily create supersets and circuits too. Once you have created the base round with exercise selection, reps, and velocity, then you can modify the number or rounds to complete the circuit. Once you watch the video that I created to go along with this article, I believe that all of this will make way more sense. I actually designed one day of a program on the video where you can see all of this come to life.

Something that I really like and haven’t seen before is the option to record a workout and then STAR it to add it to your favorites. This is one easy way to create pre saved workouts. The next time you go to do this workout you select it from the list and its pre-populated ready to go. It also lists your previous velocity as the target.  How cool is that! So now, you get to do repeat workouts with the aim each time to best your previous velocities.

If you want to step this up a notch and your buddies also use FLEX then, via the community you can view their workouts and select ones for you to do.  Sneaky hey, just let your buddy do it first then you can STAR it and add it to your FAVORITES list for you to follow it through and try and best their velocities. I’ve already mentioned the community feature, but this is another way to make your training fun and exciting. Nothing is more fun than trying to beat your friend at a workout. 

One thing to note is not everyone lifts the same weight so in this case as long as you both have the exercises in the workout listed in your 1RM section, then you can automatically set your weights of the same percentage that your buddy used. If you don’t, I show you on the video just how easy the process is.

6. Not realizing that the FLEX is integrated with the GymAware System

This was a big one for me personally because I coach a bigger team of athletes. By using the GymAware system, the data from each of my athletes’ sessions are stored automatically in the GymAware Cloud. This makes data collection, analysis, and decision making so much easier. There are endless metrics that coaches can analyze with the GymAware System. Here are a few of the metrics coaches can look at in the cloud:

  • Concentric Mean Power (W)⁠
  • Concentric Mean Velocity⁠
  • Concentric Peak Power (W)⁠
  • Height (m)⁠
  • Eccentric Minimum Velocity⁠
  • Eccentric Peak Velocity (m/s)⁠
  • Concentric Mean Force (N)⁠
  • Concentric Peak Force (N)⁠
  • Concentric Peak Velocity (m/s)⁠
  • Concentric Rep Duration (s)⁠
  • Concentric Work (J)⁠
  • Contact Time (s)⁠
  • Dip (m)⁠
  • Eccentric Peak Power⁠
  • Eccentric Peak Force (N)⁠
  • Lift Distance (m)⁠
  • Mean Watts/kg⁠
  • Nordic Displacement⁠
  • Peak Watts/kg⁠
  • Rate of Force Development (kN/s)⁠
  • Reactive Strength Index (m/s)⁠
  • Rep Duration (s)⁠
  • Rep Rate (M)⁠
  • Time Peak Force (s pk N)⁠
  • Time Peak Power (s pk W)⁠
  • Time Peak Velocity (s pk m/s)⁠
  • Vertical Distance (m)⁠

If you have top athletes like me, you will eventually need most of these metrics. Coaching is like figuring out a complex puzzle. When my athletes enter periods of plateauing, I will look at all metrics until I understand the problem. For example, the Reactive Strength Index will give you a solid look at an athlete’s elasticity compared to his or her force production. This will let you know to focus on joint elasticity or strength to produce higher levels of overall power. The GymAware System is an easy way to look at your entire team in regards to production and performance. This is perfect if you are reporting to upper management or creating the best athletes possible. 

The App continues to add features and other improvements almost every month or so. You will be able to set target velocities for each session, rest times, and get immediate feedback on mean or peak velocities. If used properly, you or your athletes should never miss a weight in the gym ever again. The App will keep the data organized for the most unorganized athlete allowing him or her to focus on each individual repetition.

I hope that this article has answered all of your questions regarding the GymAware FLEX wireless velocity units. Maybe the article let you know some things that you are doing incorrectly that you thought were correct. The FLEX  is the very tool we take with us to competitions throughout the world. Right now, I am in Las Vegas at the USA Weightlifting National Championships, and I have two of our FLEX units right beside me. Remember, you are either measuring or guessing, and the GymAware FLEX   makes measuring easy, fun, and affordable. 

Being a World Champion in powerlifting, Travis competed at a world-class level in Olympic weightlifting and has coached professional Olympic weightlifters alongside Don McCauley and Glenn Pendlay at Team MDUSA. Now Travis coaches the most successful weightlifting team in the USA.