Tonal Home Gym Review
Founded in 2018, Tonal was one of the first smart gyms on the market. Founder Aly Orady lost 70 lbs after discovering the power of strength training but struggled to keep it off as he had little time to commute to a gym. He invented Tonal, a smart gym that uses electromagnet weights to be an at home solution for people who don’t have time to go to the gym.
When I first saw Tonal’s smart mirror my first thought was: “whoa this thing looks intense." This stark metal smart gym offers two cables powered by electromagnetic weights and offers up to 200 lbs of combined resistance. Each cable is 100 lbs each and has a similar feel to a cable machine that is found in most gyms. Sitting in the middle of the product is a 24” interactive display which is much smaller than the majority of its competitors. Tonal offers a variety of training workouts including strength, barre, cardio, high intensity, kickboxing and meditation. Eager to test this gym for myself, I took a visit to Tonal’s Palo Alto store to test it out.
Smart technology helps with strength gains
As mentioned earlier, Tonal uses digital weights through a cable system to create a weighted experience. You can adjust the weight according to your comfort, or Tonal’s technology will do it for you. If you think the weight is too much or too little for you at any moment during your workout, you can customize it accordingly. At the end of your activity, it gives you a strength-profile to monitor your progress.
What makes this technology interesting is you can get set up for a lift without triggering the weight. And then, once you are ready to engage in your exercise you can add weight on command. I decided to test out a deadlift during my test. After getting into the correct position, I tapped the smart bar triggering the weight and I instantly felt the 100 lbs I originally set for the lift. It is a strange feeling to go from zero weight to one hundred lbs in just a tap — that would take some getting used to.
The electromagnetic resistance mirrored the same experience as an in-gym cable system but felt more high-tech. While the cables feel sturdy, I kept wondering how long they’d last knowing the cables at my gym were prone to wear and tear.
Because Tonal artificial intelligence is in its cables, Tonal can count your reps and monitor your pace when you are participating in exercises that utilize them. This is extra important as these are the performance metrics that have some of the most impact on your performance. However, you’re on your own when you are doing non-cable exercises like jump squats.
Good classes with repetitive programs
I took Coach Jared’s Leg Power class which was positioned as 35 minutes of lower body gains. The smart handles subbed as a kettlebell for goblet squat and split squats. Jared offered guidance on how to get set up in each exercise and Tonal gave me a warning when the weight was about to hit. I heard a beep again once the weight had been lifted. The class was challenging and my legs were definitely sore the next day.
Tonal prides itself on having a wide-variety of programs designed to support different goals. However, a piece of feedback I’ve heard consistently is that the classes in each program repeat week-over-week. That means if you take a 4-week body lifting program, you will watch the same pre-recorded classes every week. That makes for a tedious experience as it’s like watching the same television episode over and over. In contrast, Mirror and Tempo offer unique classes for each day in your program which feels more motivating.
If you don’t need instruction (or you’re sick of their classes), Tonal offers a “free weight” system so you can program your own workouts. This is great if you need little instruction and want to work out on your own. For me, one of the benefits of smart gyms is the ability to not have to think and to follow someone else’s lead. It is worth noting that even if you prefer this option, you are still required to pay their $49 a month membership fee.
When you turn off the Tonal, it’s very obvious this is a piece of fitness equipment. It’s just a black display and will stand out like a sore thumb in your home. It needs to be drilled into your wall and professionally installed so you can’t move it on your own. I wish there was a way this could be hidden when it’s not in use. Forme Life’s Studio Lift has similar arms to Tonal’s strength arms but the arms are tucked away when it’s not in use. Tempo’s unit stores the weights so you can’t see them when they aren’t in use.
It’s also worth noting that Tonal’s screen is much smaller than smart gyms like Tempo or Mirror. The videos don’t even take up the whole screen and lacks the immersive IRL feeling.
A big investment
Tonal is one of the more expensive options on the market. It costs $2,995 to receive the unit but in order to take full advantage of it, you will need to purchase the smart accessories for $495. Delivery and installation costs $250 so this brings you to a whopping $3,750 dollar expense. It’s also worth noting that their monthly membership is $49 per month which is $10 more than Mirror, Forme Life or Tempo.
So, is Tonal worth it?
Tonal’s smart technology is impressive, but it's expensive and my main concern is the longevity of its equipment. Though the Tonal mirror looks like a massive strong piece of metal, it’s worth noting that it has a few plastic parts. It’s not noticeable until you touch it but you can definitely hear it. When you start exercising with the cable arms, you’ll begin questioning how long it will last. Only time will tell since it’s only been around for two years. Forme Life’s gym could suffer from a similar problem but it felt much smoother.
Because Tonal relies on cables, you also don’t have much flexibility in exercises and once you hit that 200 lbs Tonal ceiling, that’s it. Unless they change the electromagnetics to be stronger somehow, you won’t be able to lift more than that with their current system. My preference continues to be the Tempo as it utilizes free weights so I can guarantee the longevity my smart gym. Plus, they have a more diverse content library and live classes.