Training with Tonal, the ‘Peloton for weightlifting’
The first reaction people have when they see the Tonal, a connected strength training machine, on my wall is often one of two things: 1) is that the Mirror (a different internet-based piece of fitness equipment)? 2) can I try it?
Both are valid reactions, especially when you consider how much money the industry has poured into marketing connected fitness. There are ads for the Mirror all over train stations and cars, Echelon bikes are in nearly every Costco, and, well, you must have seen or at least heard of that Peloton holiday commercial. Five years after the first Peloton product launched, the concept of an at-home workout regimen no longer requires retro workout videos of the past. Even if you’re not interested in buying one, you’re probably at least curious what all the fuss is about.
Tonal is unique in this field for its focus on weight training instead of cardio. Think of the machine like a slimmer, low-profile Bowflex that mounts flush against the wall rather than taking up an entire corner of your room. With arms that can be adjusted and folded away, it’s also a bit less likely to end up as an expensive coat rack.
At $2, plus a monthly subscription cost, Tonal’s pitch is that it will replace a personal trainer at the gym by putting an on-demand one inside your home. I’ve been working out with Tonal for a few months, and while it’s got a lot of potential, there are also a lot of quirks and flaws.
- Space-efficient design that offers a broad range of exercises
- Multiuser friendly
- Dynamic modes like Eccentric and Partner are useful for challenging yourself and / or a buddy
- No live class offerings means programs get stale quickly
- No one’s really monitoring your form
Buy for $2, from Tonal
The Tonal is a wall-mounted machine that has two adjustable arms; you can move them up and down and angle them for various push or pull exercises. The grips can also be swapped out for either two handles, a bar, or a rope. Some of these handles include an on / off button that allows you to get into position before starting the weight. The starter set also comes with a bench and a floor mat.
Inside the Tonal, electromagnets create resistance so that you can push and pull up to a maximum of pounds combined, or pounds per arm. (That might not be enough for some people, but it should suit most beginner to intermediate levels. If you want more resistance, you’ll have to wear your own wrist weights.) The center features a touchscreen that includes a roster of classes to suit your goals, whether it’s to bulk up in muscle or get toned and lean.
When you start up Tonal, you’ll need to perform a strength test to measure just how much weight you can handle. Based on the speed and force you’re able to lift, Tonal will auto-adjust the resistance and recommend weights for each program. You can also select your goals and difficulty levels for suggestions on the best classes to take. The machine keeps a “strength score” that shows you how much more you’ve been lifting over time.
Tonal currently offers a handful of coaches with different personalities, but most of their classes are structured the same way: the instructors start with some small talk then lead you through two to three sets of three to four exercises, which includes a warm-up and cool down. Most workouts last anywhere between 25 and 45 minutes, and you can also select a freestyle mode to perform specific exercises if you want to craft your own sets. Currently, the machine supports hundreds of different movements targeting all areas of the body, from arms and abs to legs and shoulders.
As the instructors talk you through the exercises, a video appears to show you how to adjust the machine’s arms to prepare for what you’re about to do. It’s a little clunky to get accustomed to at first, but I got used to it after a few workouts. As you push or pull, Tonal prepares the weight and counts your reps for you, beeping at the end for your last three reps so you know it’s almost over. If necessary, you can also pause or skip a section.
This is a similar setup to many other exercise apps, but what’s interesting about the Tonal are advanced modes like Eccentric, which automatically adds a few pounds to your last couple of reps and the “negative” portion of your lift (when you lower the handle during a bicep curl, for example) to further challenge you. I was often surprised by how much more I could lift even though it felt like I had already maxed out. There’s also Spotter mode, which is supposed to sense when you’re struggling to complete a rep and automatically decrease the weight, though I never found this to turn on unless I am shaking and unwieldy. With any kind of exercise, there’s always a risk that you can seriously injure yourself, so I wouldn’t rely on Spotter mode to save you over your intuition.
Each push and pull from the Tonal arms were smooth and quiet. There’s a small crank-like hum behind the screen, but you won’t hear much of this anyway, as Tonal offers various music radio stations you can listen to while you work out. Unlike the Peloton, Tonal music doesn’t synchronize with each move so it’s not running into similar issues Peloton is with copyrights. However, the music selections are slimmer as you can only select by genre instead of artists / albums, and you can’t personalize your own playlist.
The sleek hardware is cool and all, but the most important thing about connected fitness is whether it’s actually fun to use. After all, home workouts are only effective if it’s entertaining enough for you to do them regularly.
That’s where I found Tonal to be a bit underwhelming. Currently, Tonal doesn’t offer live classes, and it comes with pre-taped programs that you use to work out three to four times a week and repeat over the course of the month. There’s something mildly impersonal about this; whereas Peloton shines in the instructors bringing the boutique workout experience into your home by engaging personally with students, talking about their day, cracking jokes, or even pushing themselves to the point where they’re as out of breath as you are, the Tonal classes feel a bit robotic and rehearsed to the point where some of the script come across as cringeworthy. In one class, a coach flexes his incredibly sculpted biceps to show them off, then smirks at the camera. I found this to be corny, but maybe someone out there in inspired by that.
Since classes are just Tonal coaches narrating what you’re supposed to do next, followed by an instructional video of what you should be doing, it feels akin to watching a YouTube tutorial on how to perform certain weightlifting tasks. The thing about having a personal trainer (aside from someone to yell at you to work out) is someone to watch your form, and that’s just something Tonal can’t quite do. Tonal says it’s programmed the videos to be as detailed as possible, and the coaches do blurt out reminders to check your forms periodically, but without being able to see yourself, it’s hard to tell whether you’re doing a new exercise correctly for the first time.
Once the week is over and you go back to day one of the program, the content also starts to feel stale. Yes, weight training works by repetition and consistency, but hearing a coach make the same cheesy joke gets old after the second time, never mind the fourth. After two weeks of a program, I often found myself starting a different one or ignoring the machine for a few days before being ready to go back to doing the same things over again.
It’s also super easy to cheat the machine. Since Tonal is only monitoring whether a push or pull is being made, you don’t necessarily have to do the exact exercise you’re being told to do. When I was too tired to do a proper bicep curl, I found that performing weighted squat or even just walking the pulley forward still tricked the machine into counting the rep. Whenever I was too lazy to properly warm up or cool down, I skipped during those segments by either using the fast-forward button or just walking away for a drink of water.
You shouldn’t do that, obviously. Part of any physical transformation is your level of dedication, and these programs are designed to only work if you’re committed to following through the way they’re meant to be done.
As it stands, using the Tonal feels like paying to be a beta tester. That’s both good and bad: because Tonal is clearly young, growing, and learning, it’s extremely receptive to current user feedback. Employees are often personally engaging with users on dedicated Facebook groups and via emails; on one occasion where I skipped through a workout and rated it 3 out of 5 stars, someone from the team reached out to note what had happened and asked how the program could be improved. Additionally, the employee suggested other classes I might want to try that might better suit what I was looking for based on my specific reason for rating the class poorly.
The Tonal software is also constantly getting updates. In the six months that I’ve had the machine, Tonal introduced partner mode (for switching between you and a friend while working out), custom workouts, high-intensity mode, progress tracking on the mobile app, and yoga was added to the class offerings. Most of these features were things users directly requested in Facebook groups, and the team seemed to respond swiftly and directly. The whole app even updated with a new font, a cleaner interface, and classes now take place in a mood-lit set. (This all happened so quickly that it made our review photos outdated shortly after the shoot.)
But the con is obviously that the machine costs thousands of dollars for something that’s clearly still relatively early in its stages of development. It’s clear that Tonal wants to be the next Peloton, but it still doesn’t quite have that stickiness Peloton has with getting users —especially ones that are new to strength training — addicted and committed to classes. Peloton forces you to stay through class by not offering a pause button and clipping you into the machine so that getting on and off the bike is an effort in itself. That’s just not something Tonal can easily re-create with any simple formula.
Tonal’s primary focus is strength training, and while it does offer some bodyweight cardio classes, it might not be as challenging as cardio machines like bikes, treadmills, or rowers. Lots of Peloton owners have ended up buying the Tonal to complement their cardio regimen (Tonal even has a Peloton program designed to use in conjunction with Peloton classes), which could mean a lot of upfront costs for those who want a full connected home gym experience. That said, Tonal does offer a financing plan that makes it roughly $ per month (including the subscription), which compares much more favorably to a gym membership and personal trainer than Tonal’s full hardware cost. (Of course, there’s always the danger of relying on software updates to run the thing, which is now an all-too-common risk with the Internet of Things.)
If you are the kind of person who is already mentally prepared to commit to weight training, the Tonal is an excellently designed machine that’s much sleeker than your traditional home gym equipment. It’s space-efficient and great for multiple people in the house to use since each profile saves their personalized weights for the next time they work out. Plus, you can’t deny the perks of grunting and sweating in your own private space instead of a public gym.
But is the Tonal going to get you the body you’ve always wanted? Not exactly. But really, no machine can promise that since diet is another huge part of that equation. However you choose to exercise, know that working out doesn’t have to be expensive — getting over the mental hurdle is the hardest part.
There's no better time to get fit than the present and in many cases, people's homes are becoming their fitness centers of choice. Luckily, a premium home gym equipment market has popped up to meet demand, giving fitness enthusiasts all everything they need to get a professional personal training session in their own living rooms. That's right, a new wave of smart fitness technology and equipment is helping to recreate both the gym and fancy studio classes at home with live and on-demand classes, touchscreen displays, built-in cameras and all-in-one systems.
All that said, smart gym equipment is pricey -- typically costing a few thousand dollars -- so it's not yet accessible to everyone. But if you're truly ready to bring a fitness studio into your home, replacing your gym membership or weekly SoulCycle class with a smart exercise bike could pay for itself over time. It also ensures you always have access to your favorite fitness machine, weights and whatever else you need to complete your workout routine on a regular basis. Also, because you spent a pretty penny, there's a really good chance that your smart home gym equipment will not suffer the same fate as that exercise ball, kettlebell and yoga mat that are now taking up space in your closet.
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As with any new technology, it can be expensive at first, but the costs can come down over time as more products hit the market. Whether you want to do resistance training, high-intensity interval training, a full body workout, indoor cycling or other workout routines, this is the top smart workout equipment you can buy right now.
Best budget exercise bike
Echelon Connect ExEchelon
Lusting after the Peloton, but don't have the funds to get one for your home gym? Echelon's Connect Ex series starts at $ and offers a similar experience, but you need to bring your own screen. There's a built-in tablet holder for it when you're exercising.
Like Peloton, you can participate in virtual cycling classes, both on-demand and live. And since you're using your own tablet with the bike, you can forgo those classes and watch Netflix instead, which you can't do with the Peloton.
Read our hands-on with Echelon.
Best full-featured exercise bike
Peloton BikeTyler Lizenby/CNET
Peloton's $1, Bike is a spin bike designed to mimic what it's like to ride on the road. This indoor bike has an adjustable seat and handlebars and features a inch touchscreen display. Use the display to participate in live and on-demand classes from home -- this feature costs an additional $39 per month.
Peloton recently introduced its new Bike+ spin bike, which has a movable touchscreen display and costs $2,
Read our Peloton Bike review.
Best smart boxing gear
Want to pretend to be Rocky in your own home gym, but have no idea how to box? FightCamp's in-home boxing bag, guided workout classes and smart boxing gloves can help. FightCamp has sensors that you place inside the boxing wraps you wear on both hands, under the boxing gloves.
Those sensors can tell you how hard you're hitting and how many punches you land. Every workout tells you how many punches to throw and the sensors give you real-time info to see how you're progressing. Access to classes is $39 per month, and the base package with just the wraps and sensors will cost you $ The full package with gloves, an exercise mat and a bag, is $1,
Read our hands-on with FightCamp.
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I tried the $3, digital weights machine that's like a Peloton for strength training and found how at-home fitness systems are the future — at least for those that can afford it
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- Tonal is an at-home workout machine that's like a Peloton for strength training that mounts to your wall and offers on-demand coaching and digitally-connected personalized exercises.
- It costs $3, and is one of the first products in the at-home fitness workout market that focuses on resistance training instead of cardio, like Peloton does.
- I gave Tonal a try in to see how it compares to traditional weight lifting.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Tonal is an at-home strength training machine that uses electromagnetism to create resistance and mounts to your wall for a personalized workout with over exercises, like deadlifts, bicep curls, and overhead presses, and on-demand coaching.
With Tonal, performance anxiety at the gym could be a thing of the past — no more feeling self-conscious in front of your seemingly more experienced gym-goers, no more plus minute round trips to the gym, and no more gym memberships.
That is, if you can afford the $3, price tag.
Tonal was invented by Aly Orady, a Hewlett-Packard veteran who wanted an easier way to stay in shape at home that didn't involve sweaty, used equipment and tedious trips to the gym.
It operates similarly to its cardio cousin Peloton, whose stationary bikes retail starting at $1, Both are a part of a growing trend that is seeing digital, at-home fitness systems on the rise and gym attendance and boutique fitness studios declining in popularity. Even Apple is getting in on the at-home fitness trend, which has only been amplified by the pandemic, with it's new Fitness Plus subscription service.
Tonal is one of the first products in the market with a focus on strength training. Fitness experts have increasingly stressed the importance of resistance training in addition to cardio to maintain good health. And in an interview with TechCrunch, Orady said that a significant amount of Tonal users also own a Peloton bike (amounting to a collective $5, investment, if you were wondering.)
I tried a Tonal workout for myself at the company's San Francisco showroom in late It was a bit hard to get used to at first, but I knew that if I were to own one, I'd adjust and would eventually have a convenient way of staying fit in the privacy of my home.
Too bad it's way out of my budget and that even if it wasn't, mounting such a piece of equipment onto a wall in my rental apartment would likely make my landlord less than pleased.
Here's how my workout went.
When I work out, I opt for weight lifting rather than cardio. So Tonal stuck out more so than would a cardio-based at-home fitness machine, like the ultra-popular Peloton bike.
And that's something Tonal has going for it — it's among the first strength training-focused, digitally-connected fitness systems that you can use in the privacy of your home.
The company has a showroom in San Francisco's Cow Hollow neighborhood, so I decided to give it a try.
I was a little apprehensive. Eliminating the need to travel to and from a gym is appealing, and so is not having to work out surrounded by strangers.
But I didn't know how I'd like using what is called digital weights instead of tangible, more traditional dumbbells or machines.
The resistance is created through electromagnetism, which basically means that the weights are digitized.
You can activate the resistance yourself from the Bluetooth-connected handles or from the screen. Just click the button on the handles with your thumb to turn the weights off …
Every fitness guru will tell you that strength training is a big part of staying in shape. But weight rooms can be intimidating when you're just starting out, which is why I'd rather take a toning class like pilates than step foot in a gym. Plus getting to a gym and back can also suck up a lot of time. So I was anxious to try Tonal, a new personal weightlifting device that doesn't use a single weight or require its own room in your house.
Tonal's "weight machine" looks like vertically mounted TV screen for your home or office. No weights, no metal plates, no barbells, just two giant arms that extend outward from the sides of the screen at the push of a button plus a built in coach on its touch screen.
Read:3 smart gyms tested and rated: Peloton, ClassPass and Mirror
Instead of changing weights with a metal rod, you adjust a number on the display: 30 pounds was my starting weight, but Tonal can offer up to pounds of resistance. I grabbed the handle and bent my knees into position to do my first row, half expecting this thing to unbolt from the wall and tip me over in the process. Instead I was met with a good amount of resistance as I pulled back the handle -- the same feedback you'd get from a physical weight.
OK, I was impressed. But where are the weights? The wall-mounted box could probably hide 30 pounds blocks behind the display, but not pound worth. The answer: The weights are digital, too.
Digital weights for a digital world
Unlike traditional weight rooms at your local muscle factory, Tonal doesn't need physical weights. All it needs is electricity. The machine uses an electromagnetic resistance engine to generate the opposing force needed for the cables to give your biceps a rough time.
Aly Orady, the CEO and brains behind Tonal, used his engineering background to come up with the concept of a digital weight-based system after losing 70 pounds and quitting his tech job.
"I needed to figure out a way to keep the weight off and make working out part of my job", says Orady, who built the first prototype in his apartment roughly three years ago. He says Tonal is the first machine of its type to use this type digital weights rather than old fashioned metal plates and gravity.
Tonal's built-in trainer works better than your fitness app
The hardware was just one part of the equation. He knew he Tonal also needed the level of guidance you get from a personal trainer at the gym.
If you've ever used a coaching app on your phone like Sweat or Sworkit, it's pretty much the same concept, but on a much larger screen: The coach demos the move you're about to do, and then you join in. But Tonal takes it to the next level, because the machine knows when you're engaging the cables, it can count reps for you, and the coach actually waits for you to finish your reps before moving on to the next exercise. The machine may not be able to correct your form, like a real-life trainer would, but it felt a lot more interactive than just following along with a demo video on my phone.
The training system comes with eight different coaches -- who are elite personal trainers in real life -- to guide you through workouts to bulk up, trim down or get stronger or all of the above.
But not before giving you a fitness assessment. The machine had me do a few different exercises to determine how much I should be lifting to achieve my goal of getting stronger. This already seemed like a better approach than the weight guessing game I played on the rare occasion that I did make it into the gym.
With my results on the screen, I was ready to do my workout.
Real-time data to guide you
Most of the exercises I did were weight-based for upper body, legs and core (check out the video if you want to see the types of exercises), but Tonal also gives you the option to mix it up by adding different attachments to the arms like a bar or rope to target different muscles.
And because the machine has real-time feedback about how much you're lifting, the speed and even the quality of each rep, it can react by either increasing or lowering the cables' resistance, which is what happened when I struggled to complete a rep toward the end of my 30 minute session.
It was like having your own spotter at the gym, minus the embarrassment.
Tonal is also designed to keep track of your progress over time and modify the exercises and resistance as you get stronger rather than just repeating the same old gym routine. That should give you a more efficient workout with faster results.
Price and availability
With its $2, price tag, those results won't come cheap. Still Tonal is on par with a similar weight machine, but you also have to factor in a $ installation fee, the optional $ dollar accessory kit plus a $49 monthly fee for the personal training service, so all in you're looking at a $3, investment.
This gives you an unlimited number of accounts which each person using Tonal will get a customized routine.
Tonal may end up getting more features down the line. Orady said that future software updates bring more specialized training programs and could potentially unlock the other sensors, mics and cameras currently dormant in the machine.
I didn't notice any results after my initial 30 minute session with Tonal, but I did work up a sweat and felt some soreness the next day, so I'd definitely be curious to test it out for a longer period of time to see if I notice progress faster than with my regular routines.
You can buy Tonal now on the company's site with deliveries beginning in September for San Francisco Bay Area residents. Tonal will roll out to other cities in the coming months.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.
Machine weight digital wall
|[no sound]||People work out using Tonal in their homes.|
Strength You Can Feel. Results You Can See.
Training That Adapts To You
Forget plates, barbells, and bands. Tonal uses revolutionary dynamic weight that adjusts to your every move, delivering personalized workouts to help you be your strongest self.
How It AdaptsExplore Equipment
Personalized Training For Every Level
Your Tonal experience begins with a quick evaluation, so it knows precisely how strong you are. From there, Tonal tailors every workout so you can lift more effectively.
Get detailed performance analytics that track your strength by body part to help you reach your goals faster.
How tracking works
Most Innovative Companies - Wellness
“Both your personal gym and your personal trainer, Tonal sits at the vortex of today’s fitness trends.”
Editor’s Pick: Best Home Cable Machine
“The ideal at-home muscle-building machine. The magnetic resistance isolates muscles for a killer pump. Bonus: It doubles as a gym jukebox, too.”
Best for Strength Training Sans Weights
“Owning a Tonal is like having a spotter and a strength coach on demand.”
In the News: Women's Health
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Finance your Tonal over time with Affirm while you build strength to last a lifetime.
*$63 per month cost applies to equipment only. Membership, accessories, and delivery & installation not included. Rates are 0% APR based on credit and subject to an eligibility check. For example, a $2, purchase might cost $/mo over 48 months at 0% APR. Payment options through Affirm are provided by these lending partners: affirm.com/lenders. Options depend on your purchase amount, and down payment may be required. Membership, Accessories, and Installation not included. Subject to eligibility.
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Work it out. Sweat it out. If you don’t love it, we’ll take it back. No questions asked.
We’ll deliver and set up everything so all you have to think about is your first workout.
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