GYMAWARE VS CAMERA BASED SYSTEMS
In this article we examine the drawbacks and limitations of Camera Based Systems when compared to GymAware. Our opinions are formed from over 20 years of experience developing solutions for measuring weights room performance and we are uniquely positioned to offer commentary on this issue.
We’re not against any technology type. We have spent time and money investigating and testing the feasibility of all available options, including Camera Based Systems. These systems certainly have many appealing aspects, but what we’ve discovered is that while using camera based tracking technology for VBT has great promise, reasonably priced technology that is reliable and accurate is still out of reach. Our own findings are supported by the insights in Dr Jonathon Weakley’s systematic review of commercially available VBT products, which highlights that the validity of camera based systems is simply unknown. On the other hand, no other product of any technology type has been studied and validated as much as GymAware.
UNDERSTANDING THE TECHNOLOGY
GymAware is a Linear Position Transducer, or LPT for short. LPT’s are characterised by the tether you attach to the bar that spools in and out of the housing.
Despite the long name, it is actually simple technology. Just imagine using a tape measure and a stopwatch to measure the distance the barbell moves and the time it takes. This basic concept is at the heart of what GymAware does.
The important point to make here is that GymAware directly measures displacement over time. We take these actual measures and calculate velocity.
VELOCITY = DISTANCE / TIME
Camera Based Systems have been around for some time. Remember the Xbox Kinect? That’s the same technology. They use a fixed camera to gauge depth and track movement that can be interpreted into performance metrics.
To try and simplify how it works, start by thinking of your computer or phone screen. The image is made up of pixels, thousands of tiny squares each of a different colour. Seen from a distance pixels blend together and you see an image or movie.
Camera based systems can target a pixel or small group of pixels and track it as it moves. Movement is measured in pixels, and a formula converts this to physical world measurements.
When we investigated camera based systems there were two key drawbacks. Firstly, we found affordable camera technology was not good enough to offer the minimum levels of precision our customers demand. Second, they do not measure displacement directly, and so another layer of complexity, and therefore potential error, is introduced (the technology must be top shelf AND the algorithm has to be exceptional).
GymAware is the most studied commercially available VBT product. It has proven itself time and time again to be the most accurate and reliable device on the market. There is a reason GymAware is the benchmark all other products try to meet.
Based on what we know, there are no studies validating major commercial camera based products and just a few investigating camera based smartphone apps. It is not clear if they actually work well enough to be used in a coaching environment.
The beauty of GymAware’s direct measurement is how accurate we can get it. We are talking about scientific levels of precision. GymAware offers unrivalled accuracy, repeatability, and intra-unit reliability.
You can trust the data GymAware delivers meaning you can interchange different GymAware units and still rely on those results. You can make decisions based on small percentage changes in velocity with confidence.
“Consider this? Do you want your players or athletes second guessing the measurements?
Do you want to allow them to question you and your coaching?
A system that fails to provide accurate and repeatable measurements will open the door for the athletes to question the result which can have negative flow-on-effects to the coaching program itself.’” – Evan Lawton (Founder of GymAware)
As already mentioned, there are few independent studies available to help us understand the accuracy of Camera Based Systems. All we know, based on Dr Weakley’s review paper, is that smartphone apps might be helpful for delivering, “…a quick ‘snap-shot’ of training intensity, but substantial inter-device error may exist.”.
At GymAware we are transparent with our pricing. It’s right there in the shop. For enterprise level purchases, we will quickly provide a simple quote for multiple units, accessories and subscription to our Cloud platform.
Pricing for Camera Based Systems are difficult to determine because they aren’t publicly available.
From the information we’ve managed to gather, GymAware is significantly cheaper than Camera Based Systems. The following table shows what you might expect to pay as of January 2021 for an order of 12 Units with iPads/Tablets, Accessories and a Cloud License.
|PRODUCT||HARDWARE||SOFTWARE||TOTAL YEAR 1||TOTAL YEAR 5|
|CBS Company A||$37,000||$8,000 per year||$45,000||$77,000|
|CBS Company B||$68,000||$6,800 per year||$74,800||$102,000|
|GymAware||$28,811.4||$575 per year||$29,386.40||$31,686|
Table1: Gold Standard Technology for a fraction of the price.
Note that with camera based systems your startup costs are significantly higher, and when you look at the longer term, your costs significantly blow out. GymAware is the gold standard and compared to camera based systems is enormously cost effective.
System cost DOES NOT equal a better VBT system
GHOST REPS & MISSED REPS
If you are familiar with using VBT products, you might have seen that sometimes a rep is counted when that particular movement was not a rep at all. Things like dropping the bar, unracking the bar or even rolling the bar can sometimes cause a rep to be counted by VBT devices. These are ghost reps. Coaches and athletes hate them and admittedly they can be very tricky to solve.
All products use algorithms to determine if a movement should be counted as a rep or not. This is NOT the algorithm for measuring distance and thereby velocity that is required by camera based systems. This algorithm answers questions like whether the single deadlift that precedes a hang clean should be counted as a rep or ignored. And what impact counting or ignoring that deadlift might have on being able to count the proceeding hang cleans.
At GymAware we have been refining our algorithms for our entire twenty year history. We have evolved our rep detector multiple times, and have constantly been tweaking it to handle dozens of specific edge cases experienced in the weight room.
Our rep detection is highly sophisticated and we emphasise the point because when you use GymAware and ‘it just works’, many years of development went into getting the system to function that way.
And what about missing reps entirely? If you do perform a series of squats and one fails to be counted, this is a missed rep. This won’t happen with GymAware. If you’re comparing systems and ghost reps or missed reps are part of the conversation, we can confidently say this isn’t a problem with our technology.
EASE OF USE
Setting up GymAware is easy. Simply place the PowerTool on a metal mass (like a small weight plate), pull the tether twice to connect to an iPad and zero the tether position, attach the tether to the bar and the unit is ready.
Place the unit under a lifter, or upside down with a custom rack attachment. Use it for jump testing, or attach it to an upright rack for lateral movements. It can be used for pin loaded exercises, chin ups, leg press and nordics. The unit is incredibly versatile.
And all the while our touch free mode means you are experience rapid workflow in the gym, rapidly transitioning from athlete to athlete.
If you travel, GymAware is highly portable, weighing less than 2 lbs, and extremely durable. The unit does not need to be configured or calibrated, whether you change racks, exercises, athlete or location.
From what we have experienced and researched, camera based systems can require some level of calibration for different exercises, athletes and lifting platforms. This is obviously a time consuming process and makes setup and portability a challenge. This also limits portability, even within the same gym. Lastly, certain racks might not be compatible with camera based systems.
When we first stepped foot into Clemson University back in 2004 for a product demo, we noticed that the athletes were all very different when setting up to lift. For example, when squatting some athletes were stepping back 1 ft and others 3 ft. At this point in time our system didn’t have angle correction, and we instantly recognised how this negatively impacted accuracy of our measurements.
Without angle correction you have to control lifting position. With a small group you might be able to dictate where everyone stands. If you have any more than a few players, this isn’t going to be possible.
Suffice to say, we solved this problem and GymAware’s angle correction means coaches do not have to concern themselves with the exact relative position of the GymAware unit.
This brings us back to our own investigations into camera based systems. Affordable technology does not appear to correct for angle. Again, camera technology can do this, but costs are prohibitive. The VICON system, for example, is used as the gold standard comparator in validation studies and features 36 cameras and costs around $100,000 USD.
Our research indicates that angle correction is not available with commercially available camera based products. This feature is ‘coming soon’ but in our experience, this is only going to be solved with enormous difficulty.
GymAware has an extensive exercise library and is far more versatile than you might have thought. There are 400+ exercises to choose from, but the limits of the library are really due to imagination and practicality. If an exercise is not listed, it’s usually because it has very little requirement for measurement.
All the main compound and olympic lifts are available. Plenty of unilateral movements as well. But you might not know GymAware can also measure:
- Chin ups
- Leg Press
- Kettlebell Swings
- Landmine Press
- Nordic Hamstring Curl
- Pin loaded exercises
Due to the fixed nature of camera based systems and the manual exercise calibration process, the amount of exercises you can measure seems to be much more restricted.
The part of the product most undervalued by purchasers of VBT devices is the interface, most often a smartphone app, and the features the product makes available to you. The industry focuses so much on the technology, we haven’t realised that VBT device companies are as much, if not more-so, app and software development companies.
App development is not easy, or cheap. If an app does not already have certain features, and that company has not offered it in the past, it is no sure thing it will be available in the future.
The GymAware Teams app is as complete as you can get. There is a comprehensive feature set for implementing velocity based training, and a suite of specific options built in consultation with the best coaches on the planet for making workflow as smooth as possible.
OTHER KEY FEATURES AVAILABLE IN GYMAWARE THAT MAY NOT BE AVAILABLE WITH OTHER PRODUCTS
|Cluster Timer||Video Record and Replay||Bar Path|
|Velocity Drop-Off targets||Complexes||Auto Record|
|Angle Correction||Data collected without Wifi||Multiple Parameters – track two metrics at once|
The GymAware PowerTool features a rechargeable 2.6Ah Li Polymer Battery which has 28 hours of continuous motion capture and usually lasts our users about a month in between charges.
Camera based systems are mounted to the rack so charging the unit is something you need to consider. You either need to supply power to the rack, which will be a task in itself, add cost and create clutter. Or, systems will need to be unattached and carted to a charging station, possibly at such high frequency (every day perhaps) to make this impractical. You could purchase battery packs to keep units charged in between uses, but this costs more money, and those batteries will also need to be charged.
There are several other practical considerations that could impact the way you operate a weights room.
- Certain racks might not be compatible with certain Camera based systems.
- Athletes can’t face the opposite direction, something we often see in larger groups. Readings might be negatively impacted if an athlete is not directly facing the camera.
- Spotters will interfere with the readings.
- There is a limited range that the camera can capture which might also need adjusting every time the camera, lifter or exercise change.
When factoring in all of these key points we are confident GymAware is remains the best VBT solution. The lure of new technology is compelling, but we are not convinced the reality matches the potential. Coaches should consider all of these factors before making a purchasing decision, and if you do have any questions, we are here to help.