Tonal: A weight room and personal trainer in one!

Tonal makes some big promises: A full weight room that mounts on your wall, delivering up to 200 pounds of resistance combined with an AI personal trainer and coaching system. Think Peloton, but for weight lifting. Mine showed up last week. Is this really the holy grail of weight lifting, or is this just another $4,000 piece of gym equipment that’s going to collect laundry?

To preface, I’ve been driving to the gym to use the weight-room 3 to 4 times a week for the last 4 years. I’ve legitimately been able to sculpt my look to match my dream physique. Of course, there’s no end to that journey, but I like to think I know what I’m doing.

Unfortunately, we moved about 6 months back and the closest (quality) weight room is about a 15-minute drive for me. That’s been brutal on my schedule. To make matters worse, we simply have no room in our new house for a home gym setup. So, I started looking for other options and based on how much we’ve loved our Peloton Bike and Peloton Tread, I decided to stick with the theme of technology-driven, high-end home gym equipment.

Why did I choose Tonal?

  • Tonal mounts on my wall and takes up virtually no space.
  • It folds up out of the way and isn’t an eyesore.
  • It’s compatible with normal cable-machine attachments (standard handles, bars, ropes, etc. will all work with it).
  • It supports up to 200 pounds of resistance (this is plenty for me).
  • It integrates with my favorite fitness apps (Apple Health, Strava, etc.)

How much is it?

List price is $2,995, but by the time you’re done paying tax (~$250), delivery ($250), and buying “optional” accessory kit (it’s really not optional–you need it), you’ll be looking at about $4,000.

And if you want to take advantage of the classes and AI coaching. That’s another $49/mo.

I don’t think any piece of home gym equipment is worth that kind of money. But the community seems to be filled mostly with people who suffer a bit from “gym-timidation” (They want to do the work, but are nervous to step into a real weight room). Or, like me, simply can’t make a traditional gym work with their schedule and don’t have room for a home gym. This is where Tonal has clearly found a niche.

Who’s it for?

Tonal’s marketing makes it clear that they believe the value of their product is in the classes, and the AI coaching. While this might be interesting to people who are new to weight lifting, I think they’re missing their real potential: This thing has other features, unrelated to “classes”, that make it WAY better than a normal weight room.

But more importantly, it’s for people who are serious about doing strength training at home. Let’s be honest, those workouts you buy on DVD that come with a 2lb dumbbell aren’t going to do much to build muscle. Tonal is the “pro” version of that. And they’re serious.

First, the Tonal itself

The installation is done by a professional team who mounts it on the wall for you. (It’s very, very heavy). They set it up, make sure it’s all working, and give you a basic overview.

As you can see, it’s designed to replicate a traditional cable machine in a gym. By using electro-magnetic weights, it can dial up the resistance up to 200 pounds.

The arms are fully adjustable, exactly like a cable machine: height, angle, etc. You can also attach traditional handles, ropes, etc. Honestly, it feels EXACTLY like a cable machine to me. The resistance is perfect.

But it’s way better than a cable machine!

  1. 1lb Weight Increments: You can adjust the weight with the touch-screen in 1lb increments. (If you have a buddy, they can actually change your weight in the middle of a rep!)
  2. One-touch load and de-load: Just touch a button on the handle. Set the weight, get yourself into JUST the right position, then press the button on the handle to feel the weight load up. Feel like you’re in trouble? Just press the button, and the tension disappears.
  3. Lots of Data: It counts your sets and reps for you, including time under tension, total workout time, total pounds lifted, and tons more.
  4. Spotter Mode: Yup. If it senses you are struggling to complete a movement, it will decrease the weight until you can complete the rep.
  5. Eccentric lifting: During the negative portion of the rep (you know.. as your curl is going back down), it can actually ADD WEIGHT. This is well studied and massively increases the effectiveness of the training. But, it’s almost impossible to get this in a normal weight room. (Imagine 30lbs while you lift up.. but 40lbs on the way back down). You can adjust the settings to match your needs.
  6. Chain Mode: This will fight you in small increments to mimic the feeling of working out with a “chain”. Those constant small changes to resistance shock your muscles and provide way better results!

In short, if you’re a serious weight lifter, I guarantee this will give you a better workout than anything you’ll find in your current weight room. This stuff is really innovative, and the creators continue to add interesting features (like the ones above) with each new update.

For people new to weight lifting

As mentioned above, this is where Tonal believes their real niche is.

  • They have a decent collection of weight-lifting programs you can choose from, including many that are designed to help you accomplish a specific goal. (Want to be a better cyclist? They’ve got a program for that). This collection is growing quickly.
  • The programs will automatically select the best weight for you for each movement. (You can override it if you need). But this solves what is often the most intimidating part for new weight lifters.
  • The touch-screen shows you EXACTLY how to do each movement. You can rewind it and watch it again, and the instructors do a great job coaching you on exactly what your form should be.
  • Your stats are tracked, so you can see your progress over time.

In short, if you’re new to weight lifting and have no idea where to start, this is actually a surprisingly good way to dive in!

Not all puppies and unicorns

The product is still relatively new, and I can tell you straight up that the software is loaded with strange glitches. A few examples:

  • The sensors will often cheat me out of the first rep. (Reporting I’ve done 11, when I know I’ve done 12, as an example).
  • The instructor dialogue during the “classes” is cheesy and seemingly never-ending. You’ll spend an hour doing a workout, but you’re forced to listen to irrelevant stories and anecdotes. (I get it, they’re supposed to be motivating. But I’d rather just do my workout).
  • The UI (user interface) needs a lot of improvements. Some of the buttons are way too small, some too big, and some aren’t intuitive. I suspect this will all improve over time.
  • Buttons on the handles are way too sensitive. If you toss your handle to the side to put another accessory on, there’s about an 80% chance it accidentally presses the button and loads up weight. Very annoying.
  • Constant safety warnings and notices that have to be tended to. Again, I really just want to do my workout.

Tonal continues to push out improvements and updates, so I remain optimistic that they will eventually address all of these items.

A big gold star for the Tonal Community

Tonal is deeply and actively involved in connecting with the growing community on social media. The coaches and instructors, as well as the corporate office, are all well-represented. They respond quickly and honestly to questions, and I’ve personally seen feedback from customers incorporated into the product surprisingly fast!

The instructors are top-notch. They really know their stuff. (And in a world of bro-science-fitness, this was a pleasant surprise). You can also interact with the instructors on social media. They seem to genuinely enjoy their fans and their community.

Is it worth it?

For me? Yes. It’s better than a weight room in so many ways, and it takes up almost no room. I’m sold. I also feel strongly that it’s a great solution for someone who’s new to weight lifting, but doesn’t want to endure the world of personal trainers and disgusting weight rooms.

As with all home gym equipment, I’d really recommend coming up with some other way to make sure you’re really going to use it before you take the plunge. This is a serious investment, and the last thing you want is for it to turn into another new-years-resolution-gone-wrong.

That said, If you’ve got $4,000 burning a hole in your pocket and you’re serious about upping your strength-training game, Tonal is a no brainer.

If you decide to buy one..

Do me a favor and use my referral link. You get $100 off the smart accessories if you do!