December 4, 2022

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The pandemic pushed home gyms so far down our collective throats that leaving the house for a workout seems downright silly. Why would you, when you can have all the fitness equipment you need in the privacy of your own home?

Smart fitness mirrors and connected home gyms play a huge part in this. From the Mirror to Tempo, these systems promise to replace your gym membership and every other piece of fitness equipment that’s been collecting dust in the back of your closet. Some of these pricey fitness tech products don’t live up to the hype, but Tonal(opens in a new tab) was a breath of fresh air in a fitness market thats becoming oversaturated with smart tech that over promises and and under delivers.

How Tonal works

Tonal(opens in a new tab) has a touchscreen and two adjustable arms that feature digital weight up to 100 pounds each. The arms can be adjusted by both height and angle to complete more than 200 different movements, from lat pulldowns and shoulder presses to squats.

Tonal with arms raised

Tonal’s adjustable arms pop out to your desired angle and height.
Credit: Jae Thomas / Mashable

Tonal with arms lowered

Tonal’s arms can easily be lowered when not in use.
Credit: Jae Thomas / Mashable

After you do the initial strength assessment (more on that later) Tonal will automatically adjust the weight for you at the beginning of each workout. You’ll see a short tutorial on how to set up Tonal’s arms and which accessories to attach. Then the workout, led by a trainer, is played on the touchscreen for you to follow. You’ll see pop-up form corrections on the screen if your technique is wonky, and you can always adjust the weight on the smart accessories if needed. Tonal also tracks your reps, weight lifted, and a ton of other metrics so you can monitor your progress over time.

On top of the $3,495 cost, Tonal will run you $49 per month(opens in a new tab) for a digital account, which gives you access to live and on-demand workout classes. You can have unlimited accounts once you have a membership, so the whole family can work out on one membership.

The basic Tonal package(opens in a new tab) comes with the smart handles, but the smart bar, smart rope, bench, roller, and workout mat are sold separately in a $495 bundle. Tonal can also be financed monthly through Affirm,(opens in a new tab) starting at $73 per month with 0% APR if the upfront cost is a bit too much for you.

Tonal smart accessories on a fluffy rug

The smart bar, rope, and foam roller are sold separately.
Credit: Jae Thomas / Mashable

The Tonal emits a very low humming noise when in use, but you don’t really notice it until the machine is turned off. It’s also extremely user friendly, and the UI is set up very similarly to an iPhone, so the navigation is pretty intuitive for iPhone users. Tonal supports both Apple Music and Amazon Music, so you can hand-pick the playlist you want to sweat to.

You’ll be able to connect your Apple Watch to the Tonal to get the most accurate metrics tracking, but it is a bit annoying to have to reconnect it every time you start a new workout. To use the Apple Watch integration, you’ll need to download the Tonal watch app and start a workout from there.

How are the Tonal workouts?

Tonal(opens in a new tab) setup begins with a questionnaire about gender, height, weight, fitness goals, and experience level. Tonal later gives you recommendations for classes and programs that will help you meet goals like getting toned, building muscle, and improving overall fitness.

The first Tonal workout for every user is the strength assessment. This workout is designed to use AI technology that helps you figure out the ideal weight you should be lifting. You’ll engage in a few different motions like lat pulldowns and bench press and get suggestions for your starting weight. Tonal will then set these weights during your workouts automatically, so you won’t have to adjust them manually.

Tonal also uses AI to monitor when you can lift more weight and when you might need a spotter boost. There are a ton of dynamic weight lifting modes(opens in a new tab) too, like chains mode and burnout mode, which change the way the weight feels and can make your workout even more challenging.

Person with long hair using the Tonal rope smart accessory.

The smart accessories can easily be swapped out for different movements.
Credit: Jae Thomas / Mashable

As someone who only occasionally lifts weight, I found the initial AI weight recommendations to be too high. I wasn’t able to finish full sets of 15 reps during the workouts with some of my AI recs, so I ended up retaking the strength assessment. There might be a bit of adjustment needed to really get the perfect weight recommendations — the AI isn’t perfect.

Both the strength assessment and the normal workouts have a ton of guidance to ensure you set up and execute your workout correctly. During testing, I replayed the first few video tutorials to get a feel for how to swap out the smart accessories, and was impressed when Tonal felt me fidgeting with the weight control and gave me pop-up instructions on the screen on how to manually adjust the weight.

When compared to other digital fitness classes, Tonal classes really work your muscles. While you could get away with bullshitting a Peloton or Mirror workout, Tonal makes you work hard — and it’ll leave you sore the next day. I inadvertently lost a few pounds during Tonal testing, and I felt like I began to get stronger as well.

Over time, you’ll be able to track your progress using Tonal’s strength score feature. As you do more workouts and lift more weight, your strength scores for upper body, lower body, and core will increase.

screenshot of tonal app showing strength score

Credit: Screenshot: Tonal

screenshot showing tonal's muscle readiness feature

The Tonal app also shows you which muscles are fatigued and which ones can stand a workout, based on your workout history.
Credit: Screenshot: Tonal

The only qualm I had with Tonal’s workouts is that they assume a baseline level of fitness, which might be disheartening to folks who are on a new fitness journey. Nearly every class I took, even when set to beginner, had a section of pushups and other full-range bodyweight workouts with few modifications offered that might be a bit too difficult for newbies. I can see this becoming barrier for entry for folks just starting to work out, and it would be easy to get discouraged when you can’t do all the moves of even the easiest workouts on the platform.

What types of workouts does Tonal offer?

Tonal offers classes across the following types: barre, bootcamp, boxing, cardio, custom, dance cardio, family fitness, golf, high intensity, kickboxing, meditation, mobility, pilates, pre and postnatal, quick workouts, recovery, strength, Theragun, warm-up, and yoga.

Tonal's workout types listed in the app

Filter workout classes by workout type, length, difficulty, instructor, and more.
Credit: Screenshot: Tonal

Tonal's movement types listed in the app

Or brush up on your squats, bench presses, and more when you filter by movement.
Credit: Screenshot: Tonal

You’ll also be able to filter classes to pick ones with certain coaches, goals, durations, body regions, level, muscle groups, and look at your completed and saved classes. Of course, Tonal will also recommend classes for you which will show up on the home screen (as well as the app) and you can parse through programs, live class schedules, articles, Tonal 101 tutorials, and different individual movements to get a head start on your workouts.

Tonal vs. Mirror

We reviewed both the Tonal and the Mirror, and the Tonal is hands down going to be a better option for strength training. The Mirror is the slightly more budget-friendly option at $1,495, but Tonal has more features than the average fitness mirror that make the higher price seem more reasonable. With a touch screen, AI weight adjustments, real-time form corrections, and all the smart accessories, I enjoyed Tonal workouts much more than Mirror workouts.

Tonal classes also tended to challenge me more than Mirror workout classes, which needed more self-motivation since they mostly relied on bodyweight and free weights. There’s something about a cool (and expensive) piece of technology to motivate you to workout, and Tonal does that. As someone who almost never seeks out strength-focused classes, Tonal made me excited to lift weights.

Person kneeling in front of the Mirror.

The design of the Mirror is more streamlined and stylish, but Tonal has way more smart features.
Credit: Jae Thomas

One thing to note about Mirror versus Tonal though, is that the instructors at Mirror tend to be a bit more friendly and personable than the Tonal instructors. Tonal instructors seem a little more corporate, like they’re on a script. They speak about Tonal as though it were a person, saying things like “Tonal is your best friend” or “Tonal just knows you” which is a bit dystopian and slightly creepy. You won’t find high-vibe wacky instructors at Tonal like you do at other digital fitness services (looking at you, Peloton), but if you’re into more straightforward workout classes, you probably won’t mind the scripted feeling, if you can get past the instructors speaking about Tonal as though it’s a sentient being.

The price of the Tonal trainer got a $500 price increase from the original price of $2,995 as of July 18. The new base price of the trainer is $3,495, and that does not include tax, shipping, installation, accessories, or the monthly membership fee. Tonal attributed this price increase to “macroeconomic conditions” and supply chain issues. This isn’t a big surprise considering the current state of inflation — we’ve seen other fitness companies moving their pricing around as well. Recently, Peloton also announced it would be raising its monthly digital membership cost.

We’ve rated the Tonal a 3 out of 5 in the bang for the buck category because of this hefty price increase.

Is Tonal worth it?

If you managed to buy your Tonal trainer(opens in a new tab) before the price increase went into effect, it was definitely more worth it. Now that the cost has gone up by $500, buying it outright is a huge investment. If you’re still interested in bringing a Tonal home, the best route would be to finance it through Affirm, which starts at $73 for a 48-month term.

Even with the financing option, Tonal is a big investment. What makes it worth it is that it acts as a complete strength-based training program, so you can feel free to toss all your dumbbells and traditional weights. I’m personally not a fan of strength training (I’m a die-hard Peloton bike fan), but Tonal actually made me want to get stronger, and it made weight lifting much more accessible skill-wise than going to a gym and fudging around on random machines.

Bottom line, Tonal is worth it for folks who want to take strength training more seriously and for families where multiple members will use it, which will help justify the high price.



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