Tonal Review: A Home Gym for Folks Who Want to Get Ripped

The majority of smart home fitness products center around cardio workouts instead of lifting weights. Ride a bike, do some burpees, plank for five. Some systems include lightweight dumbbells or kettlebells, but even when those are part of the package, they are used in interval training workouts designed for toning and slimming down. They aren’t helpful for meeting the goals of a structured weight lifting regimen: adding mass and piling on a good amount of strength. Until now, if you wanted a good weight lifting experience at home, your only option was to stack a pile of weights in your garage and grunt away in your self-imposed dungeon like an extra in Orange Is the New Black.

Tonal addresses this home fitness hole with its simple-to-use system. Similar to home fitness competitors like Mirror, Tonal is a large, rectangular wall-mounted device that displays interactive workout programming on a big screen. The one major difference with Tonal is the pair of adjustable arms that extend from the system. Each arm houses a cable that provides an adjustable amount of resistance of up to 100 pounds per arm. Attach some of the included accessories and you can perform a wide range of strength-building movements, from bench presses and squats to bicep curls and rope extensions.

The pre-programmed workouts that appear on the screen are delivered by knowledgeable, encouraging trainers. The music selection is pretty great too. If you’ve got the cheddar for one—the Tonal unit costs about $3,000, plus a monthly subscription—you’ll find it to be one of the most comprehensive strength-building systems in the increasingly crowded “smart home gym” marketplace.

Lift Off

You’re probably familiar with all the clanging and banging a traditional resistance machine makes as the weight plates slap together at the end of each rep. The Tonal emits more of a subtle whirring; the system uses electromagnetic force instead of weights to add resistance to the cables. The cables extend from the arms and attach to a variety of handles to mimic most of the free weight and cable movements you’d find at your standard Planet Fitness. Tonal comes with a bar, a pulldown rope, and a set of handles. The bar and handles are equipped with Bluetooth-enabled buttons that let you switch the resistance off and on. This is a great feature that allows you to keep the weight disengaged while you get into position, then turn it back on when you’re ready to lift.

Photograph: Tonal

The workouts appear on a high-definition touchscreen that’s bright, clear, and extremely responsive to taps and swipes. The workouts are accompanied by a wide range of excellent music you can select. (I recommend the ‘90s hip hop station.)

The setup routine is simple. After you enter your vitals (age, height, weight, goals), Tonal guides you through your first workout. The instructor takes you through a warmup, then a series of movements designed to teach you how to use the machine. After that is the proper strength assessment, in which you perform a series of movements that Tonal’s software uses to determine your strength levels. For all of your workouts after the assessment, the software automatically sets your weight for every movement, constantly adjusting the resistance as you grow stronger. You also have the option to adjust the weight manually if you’re feeling especially beastly on a given day.

Muscle Memory

Tonal offers hundreds of workouts, from traditional strength and high-intensity interval training programming to yoga, Pilates, barre, and meditation. You can even call up kickboxing classes and dance cardio, as well as more specific training programs, like pre- and post-natal workouts, triathlon training, and family workouts. There are recovery, mobility, and Theragun walkthroughs to help ease those post-workout aches. Tonal can also track your heart rate if you wear an Apple Watch or a Bluetooth-enabled tracker.

There’s also a free lift option, where you can just pick each movement as you go. You can even create your own custom programming via the Tonal app. If you’re working out with a partner, you can do in-person partner workouts; the system will automatically adjust the weights for you and your partner and keep track of both of your reps as you trade turns.

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