Velocity Based Training Devices: Buyers Guide 2024

Coach Travis Mash

Velocity Based Training devices - buying guide.

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How I made my VBT device decision

By now the world knows that I love velocity based training (VBT). My team is the best in the country, so of course I want the best VBT device.

When purchasing a VBT device, there are so many considerations, and companies make it even harder for you to choose. They love to pick up their most attractive VBT feature and sell it aggressively. Also, its hard to decide based on VBT reviews, because there are so many so-called influencers out there.

Coach Travis Mash

“If the VBT sensor is not validated, it might not even be able to accurately measure velocity. This would make all other features irrelevant.”

Travis Mash, Olympic coach and World Champion powerlifting

That’s why I like to start my buyer guide with the most important factor, which is 100% unbiased and independent of any brand or organization. It is – drumroll please… – “independent scientific validation”! This comes above any VBT product review, feature or fancy technology, that we usually see out there being broadcasted.

If the VBT sensor is not validated, it might not even be able to accurately measure velocity. This would make all other things (features, UX, cost, etc.) irrelevant. Here’s a deeper dive on why accuracy and reliability are so important, regardless of your goals and fitness level.

Keep reading for the latest (updated) buyers guide or watch my buyers guide video:

Watch the Buyers Guide in video

Types and Brands of Velocity Based Training devices

Let’s walk through commercially available VBT technologies and the specific VBT products (brands).

VBT device buyer guide summary
Yes there are many other important factors, but if the VBT device doesn’t measure velocity accurately or the cost is over budget, all other features are irrelevant.

Linear Position Transducers (LPT)

LPTs are the only VBT technology that directly measure velocity. All other VBT devices need algorithms to turn raw data into velocity.

An LPT is a combination of a stopwatch and a measuring tape. The tether (measuring tape) is attached to the barbell or free weight. It directly measures distance. The LPT also measure time, like a stopwatch. Velocity is simply distance divided by time. This is the most accurate and precise way to read velocity.

GymAware RS VBT device attached to the barbell with a tether (LPT)
LPT device (left) attached to the barbell with a tether.

There’s only one problem: you should either put the LPT directly underneath the bar and lift it in a 100% straight vertical line, or you should correct for the angle of the lift. GymAware RS is the only LPT device that does this crucial correction.

Learn more about Linear Position Transducers and the importance of x-axis correction via our free webinar with Dr. Bryan Mann:

GymAware RS

GymAware RS is the Gold Standard in the world of VBT devices. The list of independent scientific validation studies is overwhelmingly long and positive.

GymAware RS hardware features image
GymAware RS: the best velocity based training device out there.

I’ve been using it for many years now, and I’m comfortable to say GymAware RS is the best velocity based training device out there. Not only from a hardware point of view, but also due to the GymAware Cloud functions. If you decide to buy the GymAware RS, you’re in good company:

Bryan Mann

“GymAware is the absolute Rolls Royce of VBT devices. It’s a game changer for VBT.“

Bryan Mann, Velocity Based Training expert

Learn more about the GymAware RS.

Here’s a video of my athlete Ryan Grimsland – arguably the best male weightlifter in America – using the GymAware LPT:

RepOne & Vitruve

GymAware RS is not the only LPT on the market. Two other LPT sensor examples for velocity based training are: RepOne and Vitruve. Unfortunately, they both lack x-axis correction. This means you need to position the VBT device directly underneath the bar and move in a 100% vertical line. Not meeting those two criteria will impact data consistency. That’s why I cannot recommend these velocity based training devices.

The image below shows that if you do not move the bar exactly above the LPT, the bar distance (from pos. A to pos. B) doesn’t equal the change in tether length. The change in tether length is significantly shorter than the bar displacement. As a result, measurements show lower velocity data. GymAware RS is the only VBT device that uses x-axis correction by measuring the angle at which the tether leaves the VBT device, to solve this problem.

GymAware RS: Linear Position Transducer (LPT) with x-axis correction.
GymAware RS is the only Linear Position Transducer that uses a crucial x-axis correction.

Laser-based VBT units

A laser VBT sensor measures distance with a laser, acting the same as a tether. They’re an inexpensive way of bringing VBT to life in your gym or garage.

Since laser VBT sensors use the first principle of velocity to calculate readings (velocity = distance / time), it should not surprise you that an independent scientific validation concludes that the FLEX bar velocity tracker that uses laser technology is valid and reliable:

“The FLEX provides valid and reliable mean concentric velocity outputs across a range of velocities. Thus, practitioners can confidently implement this device for the monitoring and prescription of resistance training loads.”

FLEX is a laser based VBT device
FLEX is a laser-based, Velocity Based Training device.

FLEX (Stronger)

FLEX is the only laser VBT sensor on the market. This unit fits on the end of a barbell like a collar. The laser reflects on a mat underneath the bar, to measure distance. As long as the mat is positioned correctly with nothing between the FLEX device and the mat, it works almost as well as the LPTs.

Overhead squat with flex velocity training equipment
FLEX bar velocity tracker using laser-based technology.

Over the last years, I have used both the GymAware RS and FLEX with my own training and that of my team. The GymAware FLEX is newer to the market, but the studies out there also give raving reviews towards the FLEX. Here’s a comparison between GymAware RS and FLEX.

GymAware RS vs FLEX table
GymAware RS vs FLEX

Accelerometers for VBT

Barbell accelerometers are more scientifically explained as Inertial Measurement Units (IMUs). They are a combination of accelerometers, gyroscope, and magnetic sensors that provide information regarding acceleration (change in velocity), orientation, and gravitational force.

Contrary to LPT’s and laser units, IMU’s are using a reversed acceleration equation to calculate velocity. By that I mean, IMUs capture the acceleration of an object at specific time intervals – e.g. every 5ms – and then calculate velocity using this data. Every additional measurement builds upon the previous measurement, since the equation used is:

Velocity = Previous velocity reading + (Acceleration * interval time)

Beast VBT device accelerometer
Accelerometer for velocity based training.

This leads to a degree of error that gets bigger and bigger during an exercise, since each time frame adds error on top of error. Put simply, these units are using algorithms and equations that are inherently flawed, some more than others, to give as close of a reading as possible. This scientific study concludes:

The IMUs used in this study were less reliable and valid.

Enode & Beast & Push band

Three accelerometers for VBT are: Enode, Beast and PUSH. Science show that:

Our results suggest that the Beast sensor is the least reliable and valid device among all the commercially available devices analyzed in this study. (…) The 2 IMUs present a lower reliability and validity and, consequently, more caution should be taken when using PUSH band and Beast sensor devices for implementing velocity-based resistance training programs.

This is probably the reason why these VBT devices are no longer available anymore. However, here’s the best alternative to PUSH band 2.0.

Camera-based systems and VBT apps:

Camera-based VBT equipment or Optical Systems are high speed cameras that are capturing images in space and time. These VBT tools can target a pixel or small group of pixels and track it as it moves. They use algorithms to predict velocities from a measured pixel to real world movement. To get accurate numbers, the athlete needs to face the camera and stay in the camera range. Spotters will interfere with the readings.

Like IMUs, there will always be some sort of margin of error with some systems being fairly extensive.

Camera based system for velocity based training
Camera based VBT equipment tracks the movement of a pixel and uses algorithms to predict real world movement.

Camera based VBT units are also very expensive. Both in hardware and in software. Plus you need a rack that matches the camera mount and not all camera VBT systems are portable when you are on the road for away games.

Others are simple velocity based training apps on the user’s mobile phone.

Perch

Perch is a camera-based VBT system. I only found one validation study that concluded “Perch provides valid and reliable mean and peak concentric velocity outputs”. One Perch unit costs $1,995. Battery, rack mount and tablet brackets are sold separately. Perch software starts at $3,000 per year for a Standard tier.

Coach Travis Mash

“I’ve been using GymAware RS and FLEX for many years now. They are the Gold Standard in the world of VBT devices “

Travis Mash, Olympic coach and World Champion powerlifting

In summary

No I didn’t cover all feature possibilities like bar path, video mode, cloud and app solutions, leaderboards and AMS connectivity etc. but if the VBT device doesn’t measure velocity accurately or the cost is over budget, these features are irrelevant.

VBT device buyer guide summary

Velocity Based Training equipment – only for marketing

I believe VBT to be a necessary expense to any organization or individual that wants to maximize athletic development and keep athletes safe. However, there’s an expense to any of these units, so you are going to want them to work. We are also in an era in the high school, collegiate, and professional team weight rooms that mimics the cold war space race. LSU purchased a $1,000,000 weight room, so Texas purchased a $2,000,000 one. The same is happening amongst high schools and professional organizations as a way of recruiting and brand awareness. 

I am all for this, but the new equipment needs to do what it says. I have also witnessed the good ‘ole boy system of strength coaches purchasing equipment from a sales rep that happens to be a lifelong friend. I know of one university that spent well over $100,000 on VBT equipment that they now don’t use because the system didn’t work as well, so the strength coach just left the units up on the racks as marketing tools. That breaks my heart. As a coach that loves VBT, that’s the saddest thing I have ever heard.

VBT devices and time in industry

Another area to consider about each product is the length of time in the industry. Unfortunately, lately there have been a few companies that were fly by night leaving organizations holding expensive units with no support or updates. If you are looking to invest in VBT, I recommend taking a deep dive into the company as you would a potential partner. Technology is constantly changing regarding the hardware of a device as well as the software. If a company has been in business less than a decade, you might take a deeper look at the company and get some references, or look elsewhere to be safe. 

VBT system and scientific validation

No matter how many velocity based training buyers guides or reviews you refer to, nothing beats the authenticity and unbiasedness of independent scientific research. Fortunately, there are a number of scientific research articles out there that validate certain VBT instruments. These are studies performed by scientists outside of the organization of any particular brand with zero conflicting motivations such as money or kick backs. These studies validate some companies, and unfortunately make it quite clear that some instruments aren’t living up to the hype.

These studies look at accuracy, precision, and each individual parameter or feature that coaches can use to improve his or her athletes. For example, there are studies that look at accuracy, repeatability of measurements on multiple reps, and peak velocity compared to mean velocity like this piece of research (Fritschi R, et al., 2021). While other studies look at the different parameters produced by each like power, bar path, and force. These are all amazing tools for improving athlete performance, but those parameters need to work. (Weakley, J, et al., 2021) did a fantastic job with their meta analysis taking a look at all of the research, checking each for validity, and comparing the remaining valid studies. As usual, LPTs appear on top, and the FLEX unit receives positive validation.

Feel free to look over the pieces of research that I have cited below and the research that each of them display. I want each of you to have velocity tools that work. My mission is to provide as many coaches as possible reliable information to create the best possible results for their athletes. I consistently consult with weightlifting coaches that directly compete with my athletes. I love that my athletes win most of the time. However, it’s more important to me that the field of athletic development is positively impacted from the information that I produce. Therefore, go out there and buy the most expensive unit or the cheapest, but make sure that whatever you purchase actually works and provides the data it says that it will. I can say with 100% confidence that the tools I use in my coaching and research do exactly that.

About Travis Mash

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.


References:

  1. Clemente FM, Akyildiz Z, Pino-Ortega J, Rico-González M. Validity and Reliability of the Inertial Measurement Unit for Barbell Velocity Assessments: A Systematic Review. Sensors (Basel). 2021 Apr 3;21(7):2511. doi: 10.3390/s21072511. PMID: 33916801; PMCID: PMC8038306. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8038306/
  2. Weakley, J., Morrison, M., García-Ramos, A. et al. The Validity and Reliability of Commercially Available Resistance Training Monitoring Devices: A Systematic Review.Sports Med 51, 443–502 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-020-01382-w
  3. Sánchez-Pay, Alejandro & Courel Ibáñez, Javier & Martínez Cava, Alejandro & Conesa-Ros, Elena & Morán-Navarro, Ricardo & Pallarés, Jesús. (2019). Is the high-speed camera-based method a plausible option for bar velocity assessment during resistance training?. Measurement. 137. 10.1016/j.measurement.2019.01.006. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/330295693_Is_the_high-speed_camera-based_method_a_plausible_option_for_bar_velocity_assessment_during_resistance_training
  4. Wadhi T, Rauch JT, Tamulevicius N, Andersen JC, De Souza EO. Validity and Reliability of the GymAware Linear Position Transducer for Squat Jump and Counter-Movement Jump Height. Sports (Basel). 2018 Dec 19;6(4):177. doi: 10.3390/sports6040177. PMID: 30572577; PMCID: PMC6316460. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6316460/