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Tonal Home Gym review: Heavyweight trainer in a compact package

Tonal Home Gum arm training.
Tonal Home Gym
MSRP $2,995.00
“The pain of paying the high price tag for the Tonal smart weight trainer is quickly forgotten the first time you flex your growing muscles.”
  • Compact Size
  • Multiuser support
  • Personalized, effective workouts
  • Detailed instructions by trainers
  • Interface lets you move at your own pace
  • Expensive
  • Requires professional installation
  • Limited cardio, pilates, and yoga workouts

When you think of a weight machine, you picture a bulky contraption with hefty weights, massive arms, and a tangled web of pulleys and cables — something like those Bowflex home gyms. Tonal turns this idea on its head with a wall-mounted weight machine that is the size of your average full-length mirror. Does the Tonal live up to the hype and deliver a body-busting workout? Or does it crash and burn? I tested it in my home gym and turned my family loose on the machine to find out.

Professional installation is required

Installation is the sticking point for the Tonal. It is a wall-mounted device and needs to be professionally installed. The company does not support self-installation.

The installation requirements are strict — you need two studs approximately 16 to 24-inches apart, and they need to be oriented so the 2-inch side is facing out. I had it installed in a room refinished by the previous homeowner and was worried that the studs he installed were not the standard distance apart.

Installation took about 60 to 90 minutes, with the bulk of that time spent trying to find the studs. The bracket is secured to the wall with eight bolts, and the Tonal attaches to the bracket. You can remove Tonal from the bracket for warranty repairs or replacement. The installation is secure, and I don’t feel like the unit is going to tear from the wall. If you move to a new location, Tonal will send out another team to install the unit at your new location for a fee.

Tonal’s winning feature is its compact size and sleek design. The unit has a smooth-pulling cable system and easy to swap out accessories. The unit ships with two smart handles and you can purchase a $495 accessory pack with a rope for two-handed exercises, a bench, and a bar. These accessories are required for a lot of the exercises making them a must-buy.

You do need room, approximately seven feet wide, seven feet long, and seven feet high, to extend the arms and perform the exercises. When you are done, the arms fold flat, and the unit only sticks out a few inches. Its compact and modern look is eye-catching and adds to any room.

No wasted time adjusting weights

The Tonal adapts to your workout goals, providing you with a workout perfectly suited to your strengths and weaknesses. Your first workout is an assessment that gauges your strength and assigns you a strength score. Tonal then automatically adjusts the weights of each subsequent exercise based on your score. You can change these weights manually if you want, but I hardly ever had to adjust it as the machine did a great job predicting my strength.

Not only does this predictive weight help you exercise at the optimal level, but it is incredibly convenient. You don’t have to remember which weight you used for each exercise. You also don’t have to keep track of when you need to increase the weight, as Tonal does that for you as well. I found the workouts and weight choice to be focused and effective. I could feel the burn during the exercise and was typically sore the next day.

Mostly on-demand workouts

Tonal has a growing library of workouts from which to choose. You can select a multiday workout program that gives you a new workout each day. You also can choose an individual workout if you have created your own workout plan. Tonal even lets you choose one exercise at a time, like a bicep curl, for those who want a quick, targeted training session.

I could feel the burn during the exercise and was typically sore the next day.

Almost all of the workouts are pre-recorded and led by a single instructor in a small, studio gym with just the Tonal and no other distractions.  The service offers group classes that let you work out with other Tonal owners.  There are no live classes like Mirror or Tempo, both of which host multiple live classes a day. Tonal also supports multiple users and delivers a personalized experience for each person.

A focus on strength building

Tonal is a weight trainer and focuses on building strength. It does include the yoga, pilates, and cardio workouts found on competitors like the Mirror or Tempo, but these exercises are not the emphasis. Tonal is ideal for upper body workouts. Rows, flys, and curls — you can do various versions of each one. The lower body workouts also are effective, but not as diverse as the upper body and core workouts. Most of the lower body workouts involve quad-busting squats or lunges, but you can’t attach the cable system to your ankle to do lateral leg raises or adductor exercises, for example.

I especially liked the detailed visual instructions from the trainers. You can see how to set up the arms and watch the instructor perform the exercise before you begin. The camera often showed the movement from different angles, allowing you to figure out exactly how you are supposed to move. Once exercising, you can go at your own pace and the trainer will not move ahead until you signal that you are done. Tonal also has sensors to detect your form during an exercise. If you are doing an exercise incorrectly, Tonal will tell you what you are doing wrong.

Tonal surprised me with how effective it is at strength training. I was not expecting the workouts to be so challenging and comprehensive. After 20 workouts with the Tonal over a few weeks, I began to see improvements. My body felt more toned, and the muscles in my arms and legs were more visible. The progress was more than skin deep. I found it easier to lift household items.

Our take

Most people who see the Tonal weight machine on my wall want to try it. All of them have come away impressed. Despite its diminutive size, the Tonal delivered a muscle-busting workout for my upper body, core, and legs. Its biggest drawback is its price tag.

Tonal is not cheap. The trainer costs close to $3,000 plus $500 for the smart accessories, which include a smart bar, a rope, a bench, a roller, and a workout mat. You also have to pay $250 for shipping and a professional installation. Lastly, there is a monthly membership fee of $49 per month with a minimum 12-month commitment. The subscription is not included in the purchase, and there is no free trial.

How long will it last?

The Tonal has a solid construction — the unit is very securely mounted, the arms are heavy-duty, and all the accessories are rugged. Our only concern is the articulating arms, which mix metal and plastic in the hinges. Can they handle repeated stress as the weight I lift increases?

I spoke to Tonal, and the company assured me that they have not had any issues with hinges and offer a three-year warranty if there are any problems. Tonal has a limited warranty that covers parts and labor for one-year and parts for three-years. The accessories are covered for a year. 

Is there a better alternative?

With its relatively compact size and large display, Tonal is in a category of its own. Its closest competitor is the NordicTrack Fusion CST, which is equipped with a 10-inch display, electromagnetic resistance, and iFit interactive training. Though less expensive, the machine is significantly larger and heavier than the Tonal. The Bowflex Revolution is a comparatively-priced, resistance-based home gym, but it lacks the virtual training of the Tonal. Another similar connected home gym is Tempo Studio, which leverages traditional dumbbells and a barbell with its exercises.

Should you buy it?

Yes, especially if you want a strength trainer that will fit into a small space.

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