Between the rising costs of gym memberships and the growing popularity of workouts like Peloton, it's no surprise that new companies are popping up that offer unique options for people who want to exercise from their homes.
Among those growing ranks is Tonal, a startup based in San Francisco that manufactures and sells an all-in-one training tool that evaluates your strength and adapts as you progress through its digital weights program.
What is it?
Tonal looks like a vertical TV screen that attaches to your wall. It has two arms that look like the standard arms of a weight machine and can be stowed away when not in use. It uses digital weights to provide users with a strength-based workout. The screen shows you workout videos as well as your progress during a workout. You can choose to add on the accessories bundle for extra; it includes Smart Handles, Smart Bar, a rope, bench, mat, and roller.
Tonal's screen is what makes it stand out as a home-workout product.
How's it work?
When you use Tonal for the first time, you register as a user then go through a practice workout where the machine learns your current strength levels. It then creates a workout plan for you based on the practice workout, as well as other variables that you choose such as how often you want to work out and what your workout goals are. If you prefer not to follow a workout plan then you can simply use Tonal as free weights.
Some users create their own workout plan on their own or with a personal trainer. Either way, Tonal measures several data points as you workout so you can easily track your progress.
How do you set it up?
A trained technician installs the Tonal machine for you. As long as you have 16" studs in your home and a reliable WiFi connection, then you'll have no issues with the installation. And if you move, you can have a technician come and move the Tonal for you.
Installation isn't free. It's $250 and you are required to have a trained technician install it for you.
How much does it cost?
Tonal is quite the investment. The base package is $2,995 and doesn't include the bench, mat, or any other accessories. You also have to subscribe to their workout video service for at least 12 months at the rate of $49 per month. There are financing options available for $199 a month, which is comparable to many luxury gyms and studios. The accessory set is $495.
Just as a comparison, our Best of the Best home gym costs $1000.
What we found through testing Tonal
We had a BestReviews tester use the Tonal machine over the course of two weeks, working out either at the Tonal showroom or the Tonal HQ in San Francisco.
We found that Tonal was easy to use, from the ability to log in to the quick pairing of Bluetooth headphones with the audio of the machine. However, with all these cool features, we worry that some users might dislike how much technology is required to workout.
We did the Brain and Brawn program over the course of testing and found it to be suitably challenging. We liked that it utilized familiar moves while tracking reps.
Tonal remembered our tester's latest progress and updated the weights accordingly. However, we were slightly disappointed that the program used the same three workouts from week to week, rather than providing some variety. However, Tonal is constantly releasing new workouts and programs.
A major benefit: All the workouts were around 30 to 45 minutes long, making home-exercise even more efficient.
The actual workouts were easy to follow, especially because most of the moves were preceded by a trainer showing you how to do it. We also tested a single workout that featured a mixture of familiar moves as well as new ones that worked best with the range of movement Tonal allows.
Our main drawback: Looking at the screen from an angle was difficult at times and we had to adjust the machine between most moves in every workout.
Weighing the costs and benefits
One of the things we liked best about Tonal is privacy. If you're one of the many people who is self-conscious using weight machines in a gym then you can avoid that discomfort with Tonal. It's also a good option if you are set on making a home gym but don't want to buy a variety of machines. Or if you've been considering using a personal trainer but would rather workout on your own, Tonal is a great stand in.
The machine itself is also excellent. If you have any level of tech savviness, then using it won't feel too different from your smartphone (just much bigger). The screen is well-designed, the workout bars have a lot of capability, and the many features, such as Bluetooth connectivity, make it an exciting addition to any home. There's no lack of workouts to do with it, so you'll likely never get bored.
Overall, we enjoyed using it to work out (while seeing some moderate results over the two weeks) and that's the most important thing you could ask for.
We expected price to be the biggest detriment for many shoppers. But, when we spoke to a Tonal salesperson, she said that the main concern for shoppers wasn't the price. (This makes sense when you calculate how much you spend on fitness in a year, between gym memberships, at-home equipment, personal trainers, and more.) Instead, she said that shoppers were wary of buying equipment from a startup rather than an established company.
That being said, between the installation, the accessories, the subscription service, and the Tonal itself, you'll likely spend about $4,500. You can return the machine within 30 days for free, but you do not get your installation costs back.
And while it is well-designed, our tester occasionally found it tricky to follow the trainers. The amount of tech know-how might also turn off some shoppers.
Is it worth it?
If weights are your primary workout, then of all the at-home products we've seen, Tonal is your best bet. We especially liked it if you feel uncomfortable using machines in public. You get almost every imaginable weight machine's capabilities in one small package. It also would be cost-effective if you have multiple house members paying for gym memberships who would all be willing to switch to Tonal.
But if you're more concerned with pure cardio like running, or don't mind going to the gym, Tonal might not be worth the initial investment. Since similar products are coming out at an increasingly rapid rate, we might see a more affordable alternative in the future.
Eliza McGowen is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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