The GymWatch is a fitness tracker that for once is not about counting steps or monitoring how much sleep (or lack of sleep) you get every night. This is a wearable that's built for the gym, specifically people that head straight for the weights.
Worn on the arm or on the leg, it's all about helping you build muscle in the correct way and making sure you're completing those reps properly.
Starting life on Indiegogo as another crowdfunding dream, it raised just over $160,000, surpassing its $85,000 goal back in May 2015. With the first units already shipped to pledgers, it's now available to buy for everyone from the likes of Amazon where it's currently available for the reduced price of ¬£79.
We've spent the last few weeks trying to find out if the GymWatch really can make a difference when you're pumping iron.
Simplicity is the key to the GymWatch setup. At its heart is a small, black matte plastic box where the motion sensors and tracking smarts are stored. It's roughly about the same size as the screen on a Fitbit Surge and can be worn in a relatively discreet way without drawing too much attention.
On top of the sensor you'll find the white logo that glows when the device is turned on and can change colours offering LED feedback to slightly compensate for the lack of a screen. There's a button just below to switch it on and pressing down for several seconds will turn it off. Although as simple as that sounds, I struggled to do that on a few occasions and had to simply leave it on in my bag.
At the bottom of the sensor box is where you'll find the Micro USB charging port, which does mean you can use the pretty standard charging cable that comes with most phones if you lose the one in the box. If you own an iPhone, then make sure you keep hold of that cable. That port is concealed behind a small latch that has been impossible to get back into place since I first opened it. Now it just hangs out like a a flap on an old Sony Xperia phone.
Essential reading: The best gym wearables
This is not a wearable just about bulking up your arms though. In the box, there's two different sized velcro straps, about the same thickness and size as a heart rate monitor chest strap. The longer one can be wrapped around the upper leg and the smaller one goes around the bicep or lower arm. While the sensor isn't wash-proof, you can chuck the straps into the washing machine. There's always a worry velcro straps are inevitably going to wear out, so fortunately they look quite easy to replace. Crucially, they stay in place on the wrist, further up the arm or on the leg.
Bottom line, the GymWatch is a basic setup and that can only be a good thing when you want to focus on your workout than fiddling with too many buttons.
GymWatch: How it works
So how does the GymWatch work? It joins a unique group of wearables that use a familiar set of motion sensors in a slightly different way to the Fitbits and Jawbones of this world.
Packed into the small body is an accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer.. When combined, they're able to track the course of limb movements and measure the tension in different muscle contractions.
This can be done in real time and the hardware can learn what exercises you're performing and analyse whether your'e doing them properly. That data is sent using Bluetooth to the GymWatch app. It'll work with free weights like dumbbells, dedicated weights machines and exercises where you're adjusting using your own weights.
You can use multiple sensors at the same time as well, whether that's one on either arm or a couple around your legs or the full works to improve tracking accuracy.
GymWatch: The app
The GymWatch app is pretty much integral to the whole setup. With no screen on the device, you'll need to refer to your handset to view progress, although there is loud voice prompts calling out rep count and feedback on form. GymWatch also recently launched an Apple Watch giving you the same type of real time data on your wrist.
It's available for Android and iPhones, but I'd suggest steering clear of the iOS version as there's clearly some stability issues and runs into a lot of problems. The GymWatch team did give us the heads up with the state of the iOS app and having tried it out a number of times, it definitely has some issues.
Thankfully, it's more positive on the Android front, but it's still not without some issues. When you open the app for the first time you'll be met with a guy flaunting his muscle-bound body and the app will take some time uploading new exercises. This happens on a regular basis, which might mean having to wait or an extra minute to get into the app, but it does mean that the exercise catalogue is being regularly updated.
The app is relatively easy to navigate. The big Let's Go button pushes you into the main home screen where it's broken down into four main areas. Up first is Templates and this is where you find a selection of workouts ready for you to try out. There's a nice mix of bodyweight, free equipment and gym equipment exercises depending on what you can get your hands on at the time.
The Free Workout (Pro-Workout on iPhones) section is where you'll find the entire catalogue of exercises to perform, broken down into areas like Upper Arm, Hips and waist. You can add exercises and see where the sensor needs to be placed to get the most accurate tracking.
In Upcoming, you'll find any customised workouts you've designed yourself, except you can't do this from the app. You have to head to the GymWatch web portal to build the exercises, letting you add the precise weights and reps. I just wish you didn't have to jump out of the app to do this.
The History section is pretty self explanatory. This is where you can look back, but you're only getting details on the number of reps and the time taken for each set. There's no additional stats or analysis to view progress, which is a little disappointing and would be nice to have at hand to get a much clearer idea of progress.
GymWatch: Performance and battery life
The GymWatch is the kind of wearable where you not going to see noticeable differences just in a few weeks, but in that time you can get a good idea of whether it's having an impact. While this is clearly designed for someone that's already pretty familiar with the weights room, that doesn't mean gym newbies can't make use of it.
When it works, it's great, but there's clearly some issues on the software front that need to be ironed out. In Free Workout mode, the sensor does on more than the odd occasion count too many reps. At times, it registers reps even without picking up a dumbbell. Sometimes, it works absolutely fine, but it's very inconsistent. I found it very frustrating ending and saving a session as well as the app has a habit of being quite unresponsive.
It works best when you're using one of the pre-loaded workouts. Here you'll get more detailed vocal feedback, telling you whether repetitions were not complete or whether you're moving too fast or slow. I dropped form in a rep numerous times to see how well it responded, and it was spot on pretty much all of the time. It's just a shame you don't have the data to look back at in greater detail afterwards. It does it's best work in real time, which is not exactly a bad thing, but it would be good to have a better indication of progress long term.
In terms of battery life, the GymWatch should make it through 8 workouts and I'd say the battery holds up pretty well. You can get a good week of use out of it before you need to charge it up again. Plus it doesn't take more than an hour to get back up to 100% from a flat battery.
- Quick and easy to set up
- Comfortable to wear on arms and legs
- Useful vocal feedback
- App is unresponsive at times
- Tracking inconsistent in free mode
- iPhone app compatibility not great