Last Updated on January 8, 2023 by Jeff
Nearly every piece of home gym equipment, personal trainer, video series, or fitness app promises the same magic word: results. The problem is that they if they don’t possess a combination of convenience, flexibility, motivation, and variety, it might not keep you in the game and coming back to the machine for the long run. What’s more, many programs have their limitations, from poorly communicating proper form for exercises, to a lack of community which can all leave you feeling lost and unmotivated. The result: less than great results.
Tonal is a revolutionary at-home gym system, an “entire gym on your wall” that promises to deliver long term, achievable results across a wide range of goal types from toning to strength training and even to improving overall performance in a selected sport. You might be thinking you’ve heard that all before. And you would definitely be correct. But it seems with Tonal, there truly is something different going on. We’re talking digital-based magnetic resistance, video with virtual personal trainers, zero footprint, and socially-interconnected motivation.
What is Tonal and What is Digital Resistance
While on first glance it looks like a 24” touch-screen with arms, Tonal is a fully integrated and connected device that really is comparable to having an entire gym right on a wall in your home. Specially designed arms give you the ability to micro adjust weight all the way up to 200 pounds.
But what makes Tonal truly exceptional is the “weights” are digital and the machine uses micro-incremental magnetic force to create resistance. This shouldn’t be underestimated. This means that you aren’t using gravity or momentum in your movements. In fact, you simply can’t use those forces to cheat or help you lift, push, or pull more than you should. The only force you’re using is literally your own strength. And Tonal knows exactly what you’re capable of. It’s constantly measuring your workouts and adjusting accordingly in real time to keep you challenged while still being able to progress. It’s not an exaggeration to say, once you start using it, the Tonal home gym will quickly know you better than you know yourself. And the best part is it will keep you honest in a straightforward way.
Videos guide you through every single movement and the Tonal Spotter option gives a “a helping hand” by automatically reducing weight load if you start to struggle during the end of a set. The machine is constantly assessing your ability, monitoring your effort level, and making micro adjustments to keep you challenged but not discouraged. Tonal is taking the concept of a smart home gym and running with it.
After the unit has been delivered and professionally installed (this isn’t a DIY project), you will connect, set up an account and do a brief program that gives Tonal your baseline strength assessment. This assessment is surprisingly accurate in terms of knowing your limits. With that knowledge, Tonal will set the resistance for every exercise in any program you select. In a nutshell, Tonal knows what you can do, so no slacking. That doesn’t mean it’s too difficult – it keeps resistance right in that sweet spot of challenging but manageable. From there, Tonal keeps track of your workout performance in order to progress you accordingly throughout your program, keeping you on track with steady increases and improvement.
You’re Not Alone On the Path to Fitness: Tonal’s Coaching and Training Videos
With Tonal, the coaches and the videos are a highly integrated part of the overall package and appeal. Tonal has seven coaches including the company’s Head of Curriculum and Performance, Kelly Savage. Kelly teaches the high-performance training program. Paul Wright, a former football player trains the Sport Performance program. Liz Letchford is a functional strength and injury prevention specialist while also studying
for her PhD in Exercise Physiology. Nicolette Amarillas is Tonal’s Strength Coach. She practices holistic strength and is a postural specialist as well. Natalie Carey teaches a program on full body confidence. Jackson Bloore teaches about major muscle development through mindset, motivation and actionable advice. Bianca Buresh’s program is called Muscles for Motherhood.
What’s interesting is that while anyone can get a great workout with any of these coaches, but as you see each coach has a focus and specialized background that gives them a deep knowledge of different areas of fitness. Essentially, you’re never going to experience a bland, generic workout with this kind of coach roster.
In addition to the coaches, Tonal guides you through all levels of every exercise with easy-to-follow, clear video demonstrations and breakdowns. The programs that are available cover goals such as building muscle, toning up, increasing strength, speed, power and endurance, cardio-boosting, stretching and recovery. The cardio-boosting programs typically focus on high intensity interval training or HIIT, which feature short bursts of higher intensity work, a brief rest and then repetition until the time is up.
Tonal Extras and Add-Ons
Even with a fully integrated system, additional options are always nice. Sold separately, there are several options including the Smart Handles which allow you to adjust your weights with a click of a button. The handles also track every movement and rep and show progress in real time. A Smart Bar also uses the same on/off for weight adjustments and can be used for every bar-based exercise. The Smart Accessories kit includes:
- Smart Handles
- Smart Bar
- A mat
- A foam roller (used during stretching and recovery exercises)
- A rope (to add variety to your workouts)
Tonal Radio provides the right music for your mood and it even fits your program type. Additionally, Tonal Spotter reduces the weight if the exercise becomes too difficult.
Getting Connected to Stay Motivated
Tonal understands the social component of exercise and works to connect you with common interests in their health. The key to achieving goals whether with a trainer in the gym or using a home gym with seven trainers is the ability to actually follow through with the provided guidance. Belonging to a community can help keep motivation on track in a number of ways. First, you receive the support you need as well as the ability to ask and answer questions related to your progress. Second, competition (even if with yourself) can be a great way to keep motivation high. Finally, posting to a community and social media provides accountability that can be hard to achieve alone.
Tonal is not the first to use connectivity for home fitness, of course. There are many fitness apps, machines and products that give you the ability to track their progress and receive feedback from their groups. From those like-minded strangers, real bonds can emerge and help you stay the course in achieving your fitness goals.
Perhaps the most famous socially-connected equipment is the Peloton bike. For years, you could only join a gym and take the Peloton classes in person. Now, the Peloton bike can be purchased for home use with live classes streaming 24 hours per day, plus more than 5,000 workouts of varying difficulty to choose from at any given time. Other companies have started offering similar services including LiveRowing with the Concept 2 Rowing machine, as well as streaming and live connection services on virtually all of the machines sold by Life Fitness. In addition to these machines and their connection options, there are a number of apps and wearable fitness trackers like the FitBit and Jawbone which sync with selected machines and track all of the same metrics that gym machines do at a fraction of the cost.
Installation and Getting Started with Tonal
While the Tonal home gym is technically “zero footprint” the full Tonal set up requires an eight foot by eight foot space for your workout movements. Beyond that, the only requirements are a wall with standard, 16” studs and an accessible power outlet. Each unit must be professionally installed by Tonal trained technicians and the average installation time is about one hour, start to finish. From there, the new Tonal owner will get the chance to ask any final questions and then get to work starting their Tonal account, picking their perfect program and committing to it.
During this initial phase each trainee will take the strength assessment test which looks at baseline strength and flexibility, and assess goals. Every movement will begin with a suggested weight range and every day there will be adjustments based on strength, plus range of movement for that day. Tonal automatically tracks and records metrics including: exercise reps, Range of Motion (ROM), time under tension and actual power. Time under tension is the time during every exercise that the muscles are actually working. For example, during a bicep curl the time under tension occurs as the weight comes up toward the shoulder as well as the time as the weight is lowered back to the starting point, if the move is done correctly. If done incorrectly, time under tension may only be the time during the lifting portion.
This is where the Tonal coaching and video demonstrations become vitally important. Improper form not only decreases the efficacy of aprogram, but it can also lead to injuries as well. If a trainee needs to lighten the weights to maintain proper form that is not only highly advised but incredibly easy, especially with the Smart Handles and/or the Smart Bar. The controls to adjust weights are right there and just a simple click away. As the exercise becomes more familiar and you get more accustomed to the Tonal system, weight can be increased.
Tonal weights are digitally created using magnetic force rather than gravity. You can make smaller weight adjustments using this system rather than being forced to go up in two or even five-pound increments before they are fully ready. Micro adjustments mean that the weight can go up by as little as a single pound and can be easily changed for every set or even for every rep.
How to Get Tonal, Warranty, and Subscription
You can order Tonal from their website. For those who can have Tonal installed, the unit comes professionally installed by trained technicians and is covered by a three-year warranty. Returns of the unit must be arranged within a 30-day time frame, however. The coaching and other programs are covered by a subscription service that is currently just under $50 per month with a full-year commitment. This subscription covers every potential trainee over the age of 18 in the household with everyone eligible for their own account, strength assessment and program goals under a single plan.
Tonal Home Gym Highlights
• The Tonal unit is professionally installed in your home. Since it’s on the wall, it’s technically doesn’t have a footprint. But it requires an 8×8 square foot of space (for your workout)
• Tonal Radio for workout music that matches your mood and the program.
• An initial strength assessment, which allows you (and the machine) to learn which weights to begin with and how to continually adjust for improvement.
• The “Spotter” feature that reduces weight in case you are struggling at any point.
• The digital “Chains” feature for creating the effect of increasing resistance throughout the rep.
• Access to world-class coaches who help define and reach goals.
• Access to video breakdowns and demos of every exercise.
• Full tracking of every metric so that you can see your progress in real time.
What We Love About Tonal
• Digital/magnetic resistance eliminates the need for weights, gym memberships and bulky machines.
• Takes up very little space and has an incredibly sleek design.
• Versatility, accountability, and motivational tools are built in to the system.
• Guides beginners and advanced users alike through every exercise so that proper form and technique become second nature.
• Coach-led programs are easier to stick to and provide tangible results.
• On-screen metrics provide immediate feedback and can help with long-term goals and motivation.
• Unit is professionally installed and set up.
• Limited availability currently.
• Subscription service is necessary to receive the full benefits of the Tonal system.
• Bluetooth-based Smart Handles and Smart Bars are amazing features but are sold separately. You can use your own handles with the adapter.
• Return period is 30 days and must be arranged via email.
Final Thoughts on the Tonal Home Gym
Tonal is a great total home gym concept, especially for those who want to improve their fitness and reach their fitness goals without having to deal with going to the gym, or for those who do not have the space for equipment in their homes. Having set programs guided by trained professional coaches provides inspiration and motivation, especially to those people who tend to start out strong and then lose motivation without the sustained accountability. The connectivity is another great tool and provides real examples of progress during every workout. For you who are super competitive, this can be the perfect tool to get the best performance out of every single workout so that there are never any wasted moves, time or energy. Since the screen shows when exercises are not to full capacity, it serves as an instant motivator to move faster, lift heavier and to put more effort and attention into the movements.
Another amazing benefit of Tonal is how it provides a safe workout. Gravity and momentum aren’t factors here. Since these are digital weights, there is nothing to drop on the floor or toes. Even more critical, is you aren’t using momentum to “cheat” and pull more than you should. Finally, if you’re struggling, the unit has the Spotter option which will automatically adjust to a lower weight so you can finish the set safely.
Typically, hiring a trainer in a gym is an additional fee on top of the gym membership itself. And those fees can add up quickly. Alternatively, purchasing equipment and setting up a home gym usually leaves you trying to figure out the proper form and programming for your specific goals. Some free resources and videos that can be found online are helpful, while others provide no real guidance aside from a demonstration of the exercise.
In combining the DNA of a traditional home gym with the most cutting-edge smart devices, digital electromagnetic power of a Tesla, and socially integrated motivation of Peloton, Tonal is truly revolutionizing the home gym. But the bottom line is it produces results. At the moment, Tonal has limited availability but will be reaching more market areas in the very near future.