Tonal, which retails for $2,995, is a strength training smart home gym created by Silicon Valley engineer Aly Orady. Orady was trying to find an easy way to exercise while attempting to lose weight and working long hours. Using his expertise, he invented a machinecombining electromagnets and a cable machine to provide the experience of a weight room and a personal trainer in one.
I had the chance to try out Tonal at its New York-based showroom, and it was quite the humbling experience. From learning how to operate the machine to learning how much I could truly lift, I understood its appeal among fitness enthusiasts and athletes alike. But is it worth it for you to have in your home? A smart home gym is a big investment, and you deserve to get your money's worth.
Here's a detailed look at how Tonal works, how it compares to other smart gyms, who it's best suited for and the pros and cons of owning one.
- This space-saving machine looks good in a living room or bedroom.
- Improve your form and receive feedback.
- It's quiet, which works well if you live in an apartment building or share space with others.
- You can use the machine on its own without taking a class.
- The price is high and the cost doesn't include all accessories or installation.
- Installation may be difficult in a small space.
- It can be time-consuming to adjust the arms for a full body workout.
How we tested
Testing high tech fitness equipment can be time-consuming because you have to learn the different features, get a feel for the machine and determine how it could be improved. When I tested out Tonal, I tried doing various strength training exercises that I normally do on traditional equipment to compare the experience and difficulty. I also tried out Tonal's classes and completed its initial strength assessment.
I looked at these important features:
- Ease of use: Is the touchscreen intuitive? Are classes easy to find? What about the equipment itself?
- The quality of the materials: Does the machine feel sturdy? Does it hold up well to use?
- Price point: What features are included and which cost extra? Is it worth the money?
- Potential target audiences: Who is Tonal most useful for?
- How it compares: What sets Tonal apart from other smart gyms?
How much does Tonal cost?
Tonal itself will run you $2,995 plus tax. Tonal also offers a payment option of $63 a month for 48 months. Each purchase includes a 30-day trial and three-year limited warranty.
You can also opt to pay another $495 for the smart accessories bundle, which allows you to do some additional types of workouts with extra equipment: smart handles and a smart bar (featuring Bluetooth capability), rope, bench, foam roller and a workout mat. Without this bundle, you just get the standard two handles.
Additionally, you'll have to pay extra for installation, shipping and a Tonal membership. Delivery and installation is $295 to every state except Hawaii and Alaska.
The Tonal membership is $49 a month and is required for the first 12 months from purchase. It provides an unlimited number of membership accounts, allowing an entire household access to unlimited workouts and all of Tonal's personalized features. After the year is up, you have the option to renew your membership or simply use the Tonal as a standalone machine. However, that defeats the purpose of Tonal, as you won't be able to access the thousands of on-demand classes at your fingertips.
How does Tonal work?
Tonal is a sleek, space-saving, vertically wall-mounted home gym that is powered by electromagnets. It has two adjustable long arms with handles at the end, similar to a cable machine, on each side of a large flat screen with touch capability. The magnets designed for Tonal provide the resistance for all of the exercises you do with this machine, which means you don't need to store any bulky weights. The purpose of Tonal is to replace all types of strength training equipment -- you'll just need the one machine to get a full-body workout.
Tonal has 17 different sensors to assess your form, technique and speed, and it gives you feedback based on this to help you self-correct. The smart accessories, such as the smart handles and smart bar, also feature a gyroscope motion sensor that connects them to Tonal's system and tracks your reps via Bluetooth.
Tonal also has the unique ability to determine which of your muscles are recovering or ready to work, based on your previous workouts. It uses muscle readiness along with your most recent Tonal workouts to calculate and categorize the muscle groups as either fatigued, recovering or ready. To do this, it uses a color code with three "zones."
- Red zone: You should rest your muscles or do some mobility exercises.
- Yellow zone: It's OK to work these muscles, but see how you're feeling.
- Green zone: Muscles are fresh and ready to work out.
Tonal can fit best in a 7-by-7-foot space with 7 foot, 10 inch ceilings. It works best with wood or metal walls that have stud widths from 16 to 24 inches. If your wall is made up of other materials such as concrete, plaster or stucco, you will have to verify that the wall is 1.25 inches or less in thickness.
One thing to keep in mind is that the gym has to have a power outlet within 6 feet and a strong Wi-Fi connection. Unfortunately, you don't have the option to install the Tonal on your own to save some money. Tonal's professional installers will set up your machine and make sure that everything is working smoothly. If you move, there is also an additional relocation charge (subject to moving details) to cover the cost of disassembling and re-installing your Tonal.
What it's like to use Tonal
As someone who has been weight training for about 10 years now, I'm pretty well-versed on many of the exercises and their techniques, which is why I was excited to try Tonal.
Upon looking at Tonal's smart screen, it can be a little overwhelming at first because of the various programs and options. I found the best place to start was through Tonal's strength assessment, which customizes your own weights for the exercises. The showroom trainer put me through the assessment to see how much I could deadlift, bicep curl and squat, among other exercises. I was using this feature in demo mode, but normally after the assessment, Tonal memorizes and calibrates your exercises based on your numbers.
The handle attachments have T-locks on the ends, which you have to twist in to lock onto the arms of Tonal, ensuring they won't detach during your workout. Before using any of the smart accessories you need to also attach the control clip, which is a small, gray plastic cover that fits around the handle of the accessory. You have to click it on and off to activate and deactivate the motion sensor. If you're using multiple attachments during your workout, keep in mind you will need to unclip and reclip the control clip each time. This can get annoying after a while, since it's an extra step you normally wouldn't have to take before using an attachment on a traditional cable machine.
The machine delivers up to 200 pounds of total resistance and challenges you more than a dumbbell because you can't use gravity for momentum. I was surprised at how challenging the machine was and how humbling it was to learn that I could not do bicep curls on this thing as readily as when I used free weights. The deadlift also felt harder, but I liked that Tonal improved my form with each rep and I could truly feel the movement in my hamstrings. I also performed lat pulldowns and standing chest flys, which felt reminiscent of the ones you do on a cable machine at the gym.
Workout programs and exercises
Tonal has a growing library of live and on-demand classes with over 60 programs and over 1,000 guided workouts (beginner through advanced). Tonal's classes are taught by 14 coaches, with 11 of them teaching live classes including yoga, HIIT, Pilates, strength training, mobility, boot camp, meditation and tons more. You can do over 200 exercise moves on Tonal through a program, guided workout or a custom workout. Tonal's Performance Innovation team updates its database regularly and includes new programs and guided workouts daily with new movements added every couple months.
To make workouts harder, Tonal has five dynamic weight modes: Spotter, Burnout, Chains, Eccentric and Smart Flex. These modes challenge your workouts the way a personal trainer would.
- Spotter: Spotter acts the same way a gym partner would to spot you and sense if you're struggling to complete a rep. It reduces the resistance to help you finish that rep.
- Burnout: This mode lets you keep reducing resistance in a high-rep set so you can complete your last rep successfully. This replaces having to swap out multiple weights between reps.
- Chains: Mimics real-life chains that are normally limited to making squats or push ups harder. However, through Tonal the chains mode lets you add chains to any movement.
- Eccentric: Changes the amount of resistance from the concentric portion of the lift to the eccentric to optimize time under tension.
- Smart Flex: Adds continuous resistance until it senses you're struggling, then adjusts to a weight that is comfortable yet challenging for you.
Tonal also has an app that is basically the machine on a smaller screen and helps you keep track of your workouts. Additionally, it has an on-the-go section filled with workouts that you can do even when you're away from your Tonal.
There are some strength exercises (such as a pull-up and hip thrust) that can't be done on the machine because of its hardware, but Tonal tries to replicate some of their movement patterns. For example, you can do an exercise that mimics a chin-up on Tonal, but not in the traditional sense of hanging from the bar. The chin-up on the Tonal looks like a variation of a lat pulldown using the smart bar with a supinated grip, which works the same back and arm muscles as the chin-up. This might be a good way to learn the movement of the exercise, but it's not an actual chin-up.
I tried an upper body and core class that was no longer than 20 minutes. It took some getting used to, because I had to swap out attachments for some of the exercises, then remember to attach the control clip and change the resistance on the screen. According to the showroom trainer, this transition would've been more seamless had I not been using the machine in demo mode. Once you own a Tonal, the machine memorizes your weights from your assessment, and will automatically change the weight for you between exercises. If I had these movements set to my personal lifting weights, I could've left out the step where I manually changed the weight.
Pros and cons
After testing the Tonal, I was able to get a clearer idea of why this machine is such a big deal. However, like any other piece of fitness equipment, it has its positives and negatives.
- It is a space-saving machine that doesn't look like an eyesore, even if it is installed in a living room or bedroom.
- It's quiet, which works well if you live in an apartment building and don't want to disrupt the neighbors.
- You can connect your Amazon Music or Apple Music account and listen to your own beats during your workout.
- You aren't limited to just using it for the classes, and you can do your own customized workout. You can also improve your form and receive feedback from Tonal while doing so.
- Your walls have to meet the requirements to install Tonal. I ran into this issue because I live in a prewar building, and my walls were too thick to detect the studs properly. The other option is to have a stud build out, which requires working with a professional contractor and takes up more time and money.
- Space may be an issue, especially if you live in a small apartment. Finding a large enough wall space near an outlet isn't always feasible, depending on the layout of your home.
- The price point is high for a machine that doesn't include the cost of its own custom accessories or required professional installation.
- If you're doing a full body workout, it can be a nuisance because you have to manually adjust the arms for each upper- and lower-body exercise. It also takes a few tries to learn what buttons to press and how to adjust the arms.
How does Tonal compare to other smart home gyms?
Other smart home gyms such as theand NordicTrack Vault offer strength training and a variety of classes, but none offer digital weights like Tonal does. Tonal is the most expensive of the four (while Mirror is the cheapest, at a full $1,000 less), but it also has more features for the price point.
It's hard to compare the Tonal to the other popularbecause of its advanced features. Its ability to assess your fitness ability and detect muscle readiness is a game-changer. Plus, I love that the machine is able to tell if you're slacking on your exercise and knows just how much to challenge you.
But every smart gym offers something unique. If you want to be able to see your reflection as well as your instructor as you do exercises, you may want to opt for the Mirror or Nordictrack Vault. If you don't want to worry about mounting your smart gym to your wall, the Tempo is a better option. Similar to Tonal, Tempo can also correct your form using 3D sensors.
Final verdict: Is Tonal worth it?
Overall, I don't think Tonal is for everyone. While it does have beginners' classes and can correct form, I can't see a novice exerciser wanting to drop over $3,000 on a high-tech workout machine. I do think this is a weightlifter's dream, and it will appeal to those who are well-versed in strength training and are tech-savvy. If I had the space and money, I would consider purchasing a Tonal for my home.
If you want the luxury of owning a high-tech fitness machine that also doubles as a personal trainer, you may find the price point worth it. It may even be less expensive than some personal training sessions with exclusive trainers. Ultimately, I think the decision will come down to your fitness experience and budget, as well as if you're willing to learn how to do all of the traditional strength training exercises on one machine.
Another important factor to consider is if you plan on returning to a gym. If you're one of the many people who fell in love with at-home workouts and canceled your gym membership indefinitely, investing in a top-tier smart home gym like Tonal may be a good alternative that pays off in the long run.
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.