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The Tonal Review—The Latest In High-Tech Home Gym Equipment

Quick Take

Technology continues to impact the fitness space, now more than ever, and Tonal is the latest in a small grouping of tech-focused fitness equipment that’s delivering a new spin on strength training. If their product design, website layout, and other details are any indicator, we suspect its parent company is the same people that were behind Mirror, but rather than being a fitness tracking and interactive workout delivery mechanism, Tonal adds actual strength training to the mix. It’s a clever and space-saving piece of equipment, and though it’s not suited for everyone, it’s at the very least worth a second glance. What’s more, the Tonal is a cut above Mirror for the simple fact that it’s a touchscreen rather an app which relies upon an iOS device.

The Tonal itself measures 21.5 inches wide, 50.9 inches high, and is 5.25 inches deep, with wall brackets styling for various wall stud measurements. The unit’s smart touchscreen measures 24 inches. At 150 pounds, professional assistance is required for the installation up against the wall. Magnetic resistance provides up to 200 pounds of resistance, or 100 pounds per side, and given the multitude of angles which can be worked, a secure fit is essential.

It’s important to keep in mind when shopping for cable-pulley systems that resistance levels differ from the free weight experience. Depending upon the movement and the angles involved, engineers can make 200 pounds feel like a ton or a feather. But with essentially 100 pounds available per handle, like a magnetic dumbbell, it’s easy to see where even advanced lifters can be challenged. One has to assume that consumers interested in the Tonal system are looking for something different than the norm, but maximum resistance levels are always a consideration. Just remember to think of this like having a 100-pound magnetic dumbbell in each, or either hand, with capabilities of unifying into one for 200 pounds, and it’ll be easier to imagine.

A most seductive idea indeed for those desiring a resistance-based workout in limited space, without all of the clanging and banging of weight plates. Downright sci-fi in some respects, the Tonal does bring to mind the hopes and dreams of techies looking to flex. The question of value hinges largely on the buyer’s needs, but it does seem an interesting proposition priced at $2,995, up to $495 for accessories, $250 for installation, and $49 per month for the service, financeable for payments around $150 per month.

Features

First things first, interactivity and personalized training is the big advantage available with Tonal. With  Once purchased, a monthly membership fee of $49/month gives users access to a host of training options geared towards a variety of goals and skill levels. From the start, one can choose individual workouts and available routines.

Secured up against the wall, users can utilize a pulley system to work against the resistance of the machine’s magnetic system. The digital system features a display screen to indicate resistance level, with forces maxing out around 200 pounds. The smart touchscreen also affords users a dynamic means of interacting with the programming, from selection to communication. The pulleys are attached to adjustable arms which allow users to re-direct the motion into any number of directions. Music comes by way of either Tonal Radio or one’s Apple Music playlist, and users report a wide range of musical styles and genres suitable for all tastes.

Measuring 21.5 x 50.9 x 5.25 inches, the machine weighs about 150 pounds and does require professional installation. It’s recommended that users have at minimum seven feet of floor space, seven feet of clear wall, and a minimum ceiling height of 7 feet, 10 inches, preferably 8 feet. Solid walls are obviously required, and 16-, 19-, or 24-inch wood or metal studs. As with most modern exercise equipment, a suitable Internet connection is required, Wi-Fi and/or wired connection.

For an additional $495, the Tonal also comes with a smart accessory bundle: Smart Handles, Smart Bar, Rope, Bench, Roller, and Workout Mat. In this way, the wall-mounted machine serves as an all-in-one gym. The Smart Workouts offer three basic stylings -Guided Workouts, Custom Workouts, and Free Lift. The exercises are all accessible by way of the dynamic 24-inch touchscreen and audio speakers.

Sub-types of available workouts and programs include:

  • Build Muscle — Workouts targeted at building specific muscle groups
  • Tone Up — A more full-body focused workout that balances resistance and interval training
  • Get Started — An entry-level kickstart to fitness that teaches the basics and helps you figure out what direction to take your training in
  • Athletic Performance — Intense workouts geared towards building strength, power, speed, and endurance
  • Cardio Booster — Cardio routines, high intensity interval training, aerobics to maximize calorie burn
  • Stretch & Recover — Self explanatory, a mix of yoga and other stretching exercises with mobility and joint health in mind

Each week new workouts and programs are added frequently to ensure that users never tire of your routine. Tonal has also mentioned their intent to add classes to their arsenal as well. While not entirely clear on what that entails, the idea of more training options being available is definitely a good thing.

tonal workout bench press

What’s especially interesting about the Tonal rig is the machine’s ability to dynamically alter resistance in order to help reach your goals. The machine uses a magnetic flywheel for resistance in a similar fashion as the NordicTrack Fusion CST, and because this resistance is controlled digitally the machine uses data from sensors within the machine to set and adjust resistance accordingly. Unlike weigh stacks, users can’t get away with adding extra swing or leverage to your reps, and with the coach on the screen, they can get a better look at correct form to make sure form is performed correctly.

One of users’ favorite built-in features, and something that those looking to push their limits will love, is the integrated Tonal Spotter, a function to be turned on or off as seen fit. This function acts like having a friendly spotter in the gym, slightly reducing weight at the tail end of the set if the machine senses a struggle with the reps.

Beyond that, Tonal will set resistance levels for individual users—that’s how smart it is. Rather than the guesswork of “How much should I lift” or “I’m gonna go light today”, Tonal gauges strength and resistance to ensure that users are pushing hard enough through their workouts. In addition, buttons on the Tonal’s grips are used to engage and disengage the weight on the bar on command—again, genius. One can draw the bar/grip/etc into position, and basically just hit go.

But whether one opts to use the features or not, consider that good, old fashioned workouts are still in play here. With the attachments, one could easily knock out the following sample routine.

  • Dynamic Stretch – 10 minutes
  • Lying Cable Chest Flyes – 4 x 10
  • Flat Chest Press – 4 x 10
  • Standing Chest Flyes – 4 x 10
  • Triceps Press Down – 3 x 15
  • Lat Pull-Down – 3 x 15
  • Dynamic Stretch – 10 minutes

All together, users report being able to perform more than 170 different variations of exercise using the machine. Unique workout options reported by users include “Chains,” which replicates the negative resistance felt when lifting barbells loaded with chains.

tonal overhead bicep workout

At the end of the day, the Tonal effectively picks up where Peloton left off in the space of getting a virtual personal trainer into the home at a fraction of the cost of hiring a real human on-demand. That said, it’s also a very pricey piece of kit when compared to more conventional home gyms out there. Those who really need the added motivation/push of a trainer might be better off spending their money with Tonal, however if they know their way around a workout already and/or are comfortable pulling workout routines from the web or other resources, they can easily save some coin by going for things like the Bowflex Xtreme 2 SE, or the aforementioned NordicTrack Fusion CST.

The Tonal package also comes with an app for phones or other devices. In addition to heart rate and caloric burn, the app tracks progress to include workout poundage and progress being made. Having the app on additional devices means one can take their workouts with them when travelling.

One way to look at the Tonal is how it contrasts with the more traditional resistance-based system of exercise. One of the most obvious barriers to weight lifting in the home is the space and costs required. Consider the other end of the spectrum, which might well be the Force USA G12 All-In-One Trainer, a large rack which includes a Smith Machine and multiple plate-loaded and weight-stack functions. For a large swath of the population, this is simply too much, both in terms of function as well as long-term costs. Having to buy more plates and other accessories is burdensome enough, but what about the sheer size of the rack? And where does one put it?

One of the biggest selling points for the Tonal is that it requires so little space. Once professionally-installed, the entire unit essentially takes up a wall mount and space required for the bench. And yet, the number of accessories provided allows for nearly the same exercises as a full-sized rig or wall-mount. Granted, the audience seeking a Tonal is probably the direct opposite as that which would want a high-end free weight or stack unit. But is that not in fact the point?

The idea that 200 pounds of resistance might not be sufficient for a hard-core powerlift begs the question of whether such a lifter would be shopping in this direction. That said, there’s no question hypertrophy can be achieved with such a poundage, particularly when cables and pulleys are involved. A barbell with 200 pounds is much different machine using digital magnets. To that extent, one may very well get a better chest workout with Tonal as there’s less wobble with the smooth, magnetic resistance. Significantly less damage done to tendons and ligaments and more Time Under Tension (TUT) means more clean muscle break-down and fewer aches and pains. That said, even a lifter who sports a 400-pound bench press would find ample use for movements with a 100-pound dumbbell, particularly if it’s the smooth action of magnetic resistance as opposed to the heave-and-hoist of iron.

With a starting price point of $2,995, the Tonal is significantly cheaper than a full-blow all-in-one free weight system like the Force USA G12 at $4,999, but a little more than the NordicTrack Fusion CST at $1,999, or the Bowflex Xtreme 2 SE at $1,599. That said, Tonal brings a high-tech workout system which very much mirrors a personal trainer, and for the demographic considering this system, that might be good to go. This would certainly be the case with the Bowflex models which use a patented Power Rod system that users either love or don’t.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Does Tonal provide enough weight?
A: With up to 200 pounds of resistance offered, users can split that into 100 pounds for either hand. Consider a 100-pound magnetic dumbbell in either hand as a comparable.
Q: Which is better, Tonal or Mirror?
A: Tonal is more expensive, but much more robust in its offerings in that if offers digital magnetic resistance and cables.
Q: Does Tonal work without a subscription?
A: Yes, the machine is still usable without a subscription but services are obviously reduced.
Q: Is Tonal worth the money?
A: Ultimately that's a question for each individual to make, but there's no question Tonal brings a most unique package to the table.

What’s Changed From 2020 to 2021

Upgrades are a constant within the Tonal community, and with 2021 come several. The smart system now includes an additional warm-up set to the Custom or Free Lift Mode, which is typically 60% of the recommended weight. More streaming devices are now recognized by the program for music integration, and the program has also added a new timer with 6-second countdown.

Another big upgrade has been a tweaking of the HR Zone indicator in the top left corner of the trainer. New Guided Workouts include: Smart Build with Coach Nicolette; Explore Your Core with Coach Paul; The Light Within with Coach Allison; and Super Sweat with Coach Jared. As with most new online workout formats, celebrity trainers are a big part of the Tonal Community. New additions are certain to come in future seasons with member recommendations leading the way.

Company releases state that future upgrades could include more direct user feedback by way of camera technology. Presently the system operates using sensors and gyroscopes to gauge repetition speed and pressures. But with the boom in interactive technology at hand, one can easily envision more live, one-on-one training sessions in the future.

 

Pros

Space-saving design
Instructor-led workouts at home
Access to wide range of fitness activity on demand
50+ new workouts added weekly

Cons

Steep sticker price and carrying costs
New company—long term viability questionable
Requires professional installation

tonal single arm row workout

Warranty Details

Tonal offers a 1-year warranty for the trainer, with two years for the parts, and one year for accessories. Frankly, the warranty seems a quite low given the cost of the machine and the force being generated by way of a wall mount. This is a legitimate point of concern as it’s not hard to imagine the need for technical support. Customers should certainly make sure the installation is performed properly and the wall is strong enough to support this kind of machine. Going forward, an expanded warranty would be a big plus for the product. A relatively new product and service, this would be the one area where concern would be warranted.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, this is an exceptionally niche workout rig, and one that comes with a steep sticker price, but depending on the needs and budget, it could be perfect. The fact is, a customer would be hard pressed to price-match the options afforded here with dumbbells and free weights. The brand has packed a ton of clever functionality into one machine, so for someone who loves all things high-tech, and wants the personal trainer experience without leaving the home, it’s an easy recommendation.

Rating: 81%

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