Do you feel intimidated to use weights at the gym? Starting at $2,995, the Tonal system certainly isn’t cheap, but it’s like having a weight room’s worth of equipment—and a virtual personal trainer—all in one sleek, streamlined machine that’s mounted to your wall. It offers up to 200 pounds of resistance and supports hundreds of moves to work your upper body, lower body, and core. Its artificial intelligence sets the weights for you, tracks your reps and progress in real time, and adapts as you get stronger, so you’re always challenged. Perhaps best of all, it offers a variety of fun and effective workouts, including partner sessions, yoga, and HIIT, with good music and encouraging, knowledgeable trainers. The Tonal easily earns our Editors’ Choice for connected fitness devices, and if you have the money for one, you won’t be disappointed.
Price and Installation Process
The Tonal system is designed to be used by adults 18 and up. Teenagers over the age of 15 can use it with adult supervision, if approved by a physician, the company says.
The machine itself costs $2,995, and you have to pay an extra $495 for the accessories, including smart handles, a smart bar, and a rope, all of which use a special T-lock system to connect to the machine. The accessory kit also includes a bench, a mat, and a roller. You need the accessories for most of the workouts, so it’s basically pointless to buy a Tonal without them, though the company offers T-lock adapters if you already own accessories you want to use with the machine.
Delivery and installation costs an extra $250, and Tonal doesn’t let you install it yourself. Finally, you need to pay $49 per month for a membership, which gives you access to the company’s library of on-demand strength training workouts, and the ability to set up an unlimited number of user profiles per household.
The company offers financing options starting at $148.89 per month for 36 month with no interest. That includes everything mentioned above, which makes the high price seem a bit more manageable.
Before buying a Tonal, you must first determine if you have suitable space in your home for it. The company recommends seven by seven feet of floor space, seven feet of unobstructed wall space, and a ceiling height of at least seven feet, 10 inches. Similar to a TV, the machine is mounted onto a bracket, which is attached to your wall with screws. It requires a sturdy wall with 16-, 19-, or 24-inch wood or metal studs, and a reliable Wi-Fi signal.
During checkout, you’re prompted to fill out an installation survey to ensure you have enough space and a sturdy-enough wall. You’re asked to pick a primary and secondary spot for the machine, and provide photos of both locations, as well as information about stud spacing. If you’re unsure about the latter, as I was, the company will provide a wall bracket adapter, which provides support for 17- to 24-inch studs.
Tonal partners with XPO Logistics to deliver and install the system. After submitting my installation survey, it took 13 days for my Tonal to arrive. It was supposed to arrive three days earlier, on a Friday, but the delivery person called to say they were behind schedule (perfectly understandable given the current global pandemic), so we rescheduled.
Aside from that hiccup, the delivery and installation process was seamless, and Tonal was communicative the entire time. I cleared a space in an extra bedroom, and on the delivery date, the installer arrived on time and worked quickly. Before I knew it, my Tonal was set up and ready to go. All I had to do was enter my Wi-Fi information on the machine and set up my account.
A Tonal customer service representative called me that evening to welcome me to the community and see if I had any questions. They told me to call or email any time with questions, emailed me additional resources to help get started, and invited me to join Tonal’s Facebook group.
How Tonal Works
Tonal uses a combination of electricity and magnets to digitize weights. It features a 24-inch touch screen, on which you can browse and play workouts, and it has adjustable arms on each side, onto which you can connect smart handles, a smart bar, and a rope. It offers up to 200 pounds of resistance, or 100 points on each arm, and supports more than 170 upper and lower body moves, like barbell glute bridge, goblet squat, inline chop, and standing incline press, just to name some. The 1,920-by-1,080 touch screen is sharp, bright, and responsive.
When you’re not using the machine, you can neatly fold its arms down so they’re not in your way. The system is sleek, measuring 21.5 inches wide and 50.9 inches high. It’s definitely more appealing than having an entire rack of weights in your home.
When you first sign into Tonal, you use the on-screen keyboard to create an account. You enter your birthday, email address, and full name, then set a password. From there, you input your height, weight, and gender, and whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced.
You then select your primary and secondary goals. The options include boost energy, build muscle, gain strength, get lean, improve performance, or maintain fitness. If you want to gain strength, the software serves you workouts and programs focused on large muscle groups and increasing your resistance. If you want to get lean, it offers up high-intensity and calorie-burning workouts.
Your initial workout is a strength assessment. First, an instructor takes you through a brief warm-up, then you do practice rounds of several different movements as they teach you how to use the machine. The actual strength assessment comes next, during which you perform four different movements so that Tonal’s artificial intelligence software can determine your starting point. After each movement, the machine will tell you how much weight you should lift for that exercise. From that point forward, Tonal’s AI automatically sets the weight for you, and adjusts it as you get stronger. You can also manually adjust the weight at any time in increments of as little as one pound.
As you work out, Tonal’s AI learns from your body and customizes the instructor’s guidance based on your strength output, range of motion, and pacing. The software splices together hundreds of videos in real time, so a beginner might hear more verbal cues compared with someone more advanced. During workouts, there’s also an Info button on the left side of the screen that you can press if you’re unsure how to do a move.
Tonal doesn’t have live classes, like Peloton, but it offers a wide selection of on-demand, expert-created beginner, intermediate, and advanced workouts and programs. Workouts range from 15 minutes or less to more than 40 minutes. You can browse workouts and programs by duration, coach, category, level, and goal.
Or, if you want to do your own thing, Tonal supports free lift workouts. From the main Explore screen, just pull one of the cords on Tonal’s arms to bring up a Choose Your Move menu showing all the different exercises you can do. You can browse exercises by accessory, arm position, body region, or muscle group. This menu also shows a number of active recovery options. When you select a free lift exercise, Tonal sets the weight for you and counts your reps, just like when you do an expert-created workout.
In Tonal’s companion app, you can create custom workouts, a nice feature for advanced users and those working with a personal trainer. You give your workout a name, select the moves you want to add, and specify the duration or number of reps for each. You can create different blocks, like a warm-up, then one or two strength blocks, and a cool down. Once you create a custom workout, it’s synced to your Tonal.
One of the features I really like is Spotter mode, which reduces weight when you start to fatigue on your last few reps, then gives you that weight back after you’ve completed a rep. You can alternatively opt for Burnout mode, which lowers the weight when you start to fatigue, then keeps reducing it until you finish the set.
There are also a few advanced workout modes, including Chains, which simulates the effect of lifting with chains, and Eccentric, which adds weight to the negative portion of your lift to increase your time under tension and help you get stronger, faster.
Tonal records your activity on the device itself, and syncs this information to its companion app. You can click on your profile to view stats such as your strength score, which goes up as you lift and get stronger. Your profile also shows how much you’ve improved since starting, the total volume of weight you’ve lifted, and how many workouts, movements, and programs you’ve completed.
A Tonal spokesperson told me that users generally increase their strength by 25 percent in their first 90 days.
You can swipe down from the top of the machine’s screen at any time to adjust the volume, change the music station, skip to the next song, adjust screen brightness, turn the machine off, or put it to sleep. This menu also lets you connect to Wi-Fi, pair Bluetooth headphones, add a smart accessory, check whether your Tonal is up to date, and change the time zone.
My Experience With Tonal
When setting up my Tonal account, my primary goal was to gain strength, and my secondary goal was to get lean. I have weight room experience, but haven’t strength trained in about six months, so I selected the intermediate level. Tonal suggested I join Strong Is Beautiful, an intermediate three-times weekly program designed to build strength, so I did.
All of the Strong Is Beautiful workouts I’ve done have been around 40 minutes. You start with a five-minute warm-up, then do one or two strength blocks with two to four exercises in each block, then a five-minute cool down. Between big lifts on the Tonal, you do body weight exercises like push-ups, mountain climbers, or planks, and active recovery moves like lying hamstring stretch or runners lunge. I like that most Tonal classes include a warm-up and cool down, because it’s easy to skip these steps when you’re working out alone at the gym.
The nice thing about Tonal is that it’s basically like having a personal trainer in your home. The instructors show you how to set up the machine for each movement, and give you verbal cues about your form. You can take as long as you need to set up for each exercise, and pause the workout at any time. When you’re done, you’ll see a summary on the screen showing how much you lifted, your time under tension, and other stats.
I also really like that Tonal sets the weight for you, so you don’t have to guess or remember how much you can lift for each move. The weight Tonal set for me was always good—challenging, but not impossible.
Coach Natalie, who leads the Strong Is Beautiful program, is knowledgeable and encouraging (so are all the other Tonal trainers). Natalie is a body-positive coach who encourages you to work out to feel good, not to punish your body or look a certain way. She says “all bodies are good bodies” and encourages you to think about what you’re thankful your body can do. She has educated me about the importance of time under tension and active recovery.
Tonal offers a good variety of music stations, including country, early ‘00s hip-hop, early ‘00s pop, electronic/dance, hard rock, hip hop, house beats, indie rock, techno remix, top 40, yoga ambient, yoga flow, ‘80s pop, and ‘90s hip-hop. I have it set to the top 40 station, and often find myself dancing between each set and Shazaming songs.
In the two weeks since I started using Tonal, I’ve done 14 workouts, and it says my strength score has increased 21 percent. Just like with the gym, it can sometimes be hard to motivate yourself to work out, but wanting to stick with the Strong Is Beautiful program has been a big motivator. And just like when I drag myself to the gym, I always feel a sense of accomplishment after a Tonal workout.
I have truly enjoyed all the classes I have taken on Tonal. The beginner classes are too easy for me, but the intermediate classes are perfect. By the end of an intermediate workout, I’m sweaty and the next day I’m sore. Tonal has challenged me, and I know I’ve gotten stronger using it. Some of my favorite moves are the bench press, bicep curl, bent over row, seated row, and tricep extension.
Overall, I feel I get a better strength workout using Tonal than I do at the gym. To be honest, free weights at the gym intimidate me. It’s hard to remember all the exercises you can do with them, and I don’t want to injure myself by doing it wrong, so I always end up using the same machines I’m comfortable with. Tonal is user-friendly, and makes it easy to try new moves I never would have done on my own at the gym. My boyfriend is an avid gym goer who isn’t afraid of free weights, and even he says he gets a better workout on Tonal than he does at the gym.
When I initially tested Tonal, my main gripe was its lack of real-time form feedback. Since then, the company has started rolling out a feature that delivers guidance on your range of motion, position, and pace. The company says it plans to expand the types of feedback it offers in the coming months, but right now, I found that its form feedback is still very basic. During a 35-minute workout that included eight different moves—four on the Tonal and four on the floor—I got feedback for three moves.
After a set of barbell bicep curls, it said to lower my arms slower. After a set of barbell front squats, it said “imagine a glass of water on your head and stay level.” And after a set of goblet curtsy lunges, it said “lower yourself down slower, and with control.”
The form feedback flashed on the screen so quickly that I could barely snap a photo of it. It would be nice if it stayed up a little longer.
The company currently relies on sensors in the machine and gyroscopes in its smart accessories to understand your reps, but says it plans to bolster its form feedback feature with advanced camera technology in the near future. Tonal says it has been working on this feature for three years, but may have started rolling it out now to stay competitive against Tempo Studio, a new smart home gym that features sophisticated form-tracking software.
Tempo uses a 3D motion capture system and artificial intelligence technology to track your joints, comparing where they are in relation with each other to determine whether you’re doing an exercise correctly. Tempo can, for instance, tell you if you’re leaning back to help complete a rep. If on the next rep you correct the mistake, it will let you know.
Tonal’s basic form feedback doesn’t yet come close to Tempo’s, but it’s encouraging that Tonal is continuing to up its game.
Partner Workouts, Yoga, and HIIT
One of my favorite Tonal features is the ability to work out with someone else, and any workout on Tonal can be a partner workout. You simply find a workout you want to do together, tap the buddy icon next to the start button, and have your partner sign in. If they don’t already have a Tonal account, they’ll be prompted to create one.
During the workout, Tonal automatically adjusts the weight for you and your partner. So if you can lift 25 pounds for a certain exercise, and your partner can lift 50, Tonal will adjust the weight based on who’s up. It’s nice to do the workouts with someone else because you get a break between each set, your partner can help adjust the machine when needed, and can give you feedback on your form.
During our first partner workout, Tonal missed several of my boyfriend’s reps, so he ended up having to do more than recommended. It didn’t appear he was doing the move incorrectly, so we couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t counting correctly. He ended up having to do about 20 reps to get credit for the recommended 12. Needless to say, he wasn’t amused by this. I’m pretty sure this was just a fluke, because we didn’t experience the problem to this extent again. Tonal does occasionally miss a rep, but usually only if you’re going fast.
One of my boyfriend’s minor gripes about Tonal is that the cords rub against his arms for certain exercises like standing overhead press. This doesn’t bother me as much, perhaps because my arms are smaller than his.
When you’re done with a partner workout, you can toggle back and forth between each person’s workout summary.
In addition to the strength training workouts, Tonal has some yoga and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) classes. I’m a yoga practitioner and teacher, so I was eager to try out these classes. I enjoy doing a strength class one day, then a yoga class to help recover and stretch the following day, so it’s nice that Tonal offers both.
There aren’t too many yoga classes on Tonal right now, but the company adds new content weekly. As of this writing, there are a handful of recovery yoga classes, shorter sessions to teach you basic moves such as chaturanga, and longer power yoga sessions.
I have very much enjoyed both the recovery and power yoga classes. The yoga teacher, coach Frances, does a good job of offering modifications for beginners while making her sequences challenging enough for an avid practitioner like myself.
Since receiving the review unit, I have used my Tonal nearly every day, and some days I’ve done two workouts on it. It has challenged me, and I’ve absolutely gotten stronger using it.
If you’re looking to start lifting, or want to level up your existing routine, the Tonal system is a solid addition to any home gym, provided you have the space and money for it. It supports more than 170 moves ranging from dead lifts to chest presses, and offers a nice variety of effective, fun classes and programs for everyone from beginners to advanced lifters.
Priced at $2,995 plus tax, delivery, accessories, and a $49 monthly membership, Tonal is one of the more expensive connected fitness machines on the market, surpassing the $1,995 Tempo Studio, which combines traditional weights with AI technology. But it’s the only product we know of that combines sophisticated weight training equipment with genuinely smart software, making it worth the high price, as well as our Editors’ Choice.