Feel like you should start working out? Got an extra $5k lying around?
Great! I have the perfect fitness machine for you, Tonal!
Jokes aside (actually $5k isn't a joke, that's what you're paying), Tonal is one of the more sophisticated piece of fitness equipment on the market.
Tonal is part of the ever growing list of fitness mirror systems on the market but stands out as it acts as the training apparatus as well.
Ultimately, it offers a sleek and compact solution for home fitness.
Of course Tonal is a cool piece of tech. However, "cool tech" doesn't automatically mean it's going to be ideal for fitness. This review of Tonal is going to look past it's flash and determine if it's worth the price for your fitness or if your wallet is just taking a hit.
Who I Am: Why I'm Qualified To Write This
My name is Garett Reid and I have been in this industry for over well over 10 years. Some of my accolades include:
- Master in Exercise Science
- Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) of the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA)
- Certified by the International Society of Sports Nutrition (CISSN)
- Vice President of NSCA Strongman SIG (Special Interest Group)
- Published in the NSCA COACH journal
Further, I have been in the gym for over 20 years and have seen this industry grow. This includes seeing the implementation of new tech for fitness; some good and some not-so-good.
However, I always judge everything according to what I know is good coaching.
In A Nutshell—Breakdown Of Tonal
Tonal uses a sleek design that offers a pair of cable arms in compact form allowing a large variety of exercises to be performed. However, you must have a membership, to access the Tonal's large library of exercises and workouts.
At first glance, Tonal does look impressive. However, after the first impressions wear off, there are some major issues to consider including:
‧ High price and never-ending membership
‧ No personalized programs
‧ Inability to connect to other apps
‧ Limited amount of weight (200 lbs)
At the end of the day, Tonal is an expensive set of cable arms that require never-ending payments for it's full functionality yet still doesn't include personalized programs. While the workout system was unique when it was first developed, the recent substantial increase in technology has provided many more options for better experiences at better prices.
What Makes My Review Different
This review will look past the flash of Tonal and judge it entirely on its effectiveness to get you in shape. I'm not a massive tech guy, so the "coolness" of Tonal won't affect my review.
However, I'm also stoked to find any piece of tech that does add actual value. At the same time, I'm not going to recommend anything that doesn't pass my test. This is basically comparing the answers to the following questions:
- Do this have actually have the ability to improve the fitness of a user?
- Does the product use scientifically backed
- Is it worth it's price tag?
Tonal: A Quick Overview
Tonal stands out from other fitness mirrors as it acts as the actual training implement. This ability comes from two arms that come out, similar to a cable-pulley machine. Instead of using weight plates for resistance, it uses electromagnetic resistance to provide up to 200lbs of resistance for its library of exercises.
Ultimately, it offers a sleek, compact training system that allows a large variety of exercises with video explanation. At the same time, it has programmed workouts that allow you to follow along with as well.
Drawbacks With Tonal
While Tonal is a pretty cool piece of tech; it obviously comes with a hefty price tag. This section is going to go over that as well as some other drawbacks with tonal.
Tonal is an extremely expensive piece of fitness equipment. Just buying the machine will cost you $3,995.00. So $4k right off the bat.
But that's not all. That initial $4k only gets you the machine. You also have the option (need) to buy what they call an "accessory" bundle. This accessory bundle includes things like:
- Smart handles
- Smart bar
As you can see, this accessory bundle is more like a necessity if you actually feel like using the Tonal machine. How much? $495.00
But wait a minute, these prices don't include delivery OR installation. That's another $250. And to all those DIY peeps, you are not allowed to install it by yourself or it voids the warranty.
All in all, you're out $4,750.00. Well, actually $4,748.00 if it makes you feel better.
Just as you thought that's all...there's more! For your first year of using Tonal, you MUST buy a yearly Membership. This membership is what gives you access to the actual library of exercises and workouts. Currently it's priced at $49.00 per month. That's another $588 for year.
This makes a grand total of a $5,336 commitment!
Loses Functionality Without A Subscription
Mentioned above, you must have a Tonal membership in order to access their library of exercises and workouts. This subscription costs $49/month and must be maintained for one year.
Many people will think that they will just use it for a year and then go on using Tonal without a subscription after. Think again.
Without a membership, Tonal loses a lot of its functionality. Things like:
- No workouts
- No exercise descriptions
- No tracking
It even loses things such as your choice of Dynamic weight selections such as Eccentric Mode. This is a pretty cool feature of Tonal that will automatically add 25-60% weight at the top of the movement for heavy eccentrics. However, you don't get this if you don't pay.
You have two options. $49 a month or a very expensive set of cable arms.
Yet Another Problem With Tonal Membership
I personally found this issue to be very worrying.
There is no locked price for the subscription and it can go up at any moment.
I recall one reviewer who stated they were paying $720 a year at the time of their comment (I forget when it was).
Keep in mind that you basically need to have the membership to use the system. This means you're now stuck with a piece of equipment that has a price that can increase at anytime and you need to pay if you want to use it.
More Expensive Than A Gym
A popular reason to buy Tonal for many people is they figure it will pay for itself over time. This is compared against a membership.
I understand someone might say this to convince themselves to buy one but it's not true.
At the time of this review, Tonal cost $3,999. We'll just call it $4k. Your average gym membership is around $50. Assuming there are no other expenses, you'll need 80 months, 6.7 years, to pay it off.
But wait, that's only if there was no recurring membership payment. At $49/month, you'll never "save" money.
Only Produces 200lbs Of Weight
Tonal is not going to be for any serious lifter as it only produces 200lbs. For some people, this number is exceptionally low for exercises such as your primary exercises:
- Back Squats
- Bench Press
While we could say; "But those are just a few exercises", these are your primary exercises. When we consider how much you spend, you shouldn't have to worry about maxing out on your primary movements.
In fact, when reviewing the Reddit forums, maxing out on lifts was a common complaint, even if the overall review was positive.
Virtual Coaches: More Bark Than Bite
One of the major selling point is having a "virtual coach". When watching the commercials, they make it seem as there's more interaction with these coaches then there really is.
Obviously you are not actually interacting, but many reviewers were underwhelmed with their role.
At the same time, many reviewers report issues with some coaches:
- Some described as "annoying".
- Many are repetitive in instructions, apart from the fact you rewatch the same thing.
- There's a marked difference in exercise explanation.
Remember that all you can do with Tonal is rewatch the same workout programs. As such, you're basically rewatching the same "movie" over and over.
Of course you can turn down the volume and turn up the music. Just know the "virtual trainers" don't seem to be all that.
No Personalized Workout Programs
I was very surprised to learn this but there are no personalized programs in Tonal. For example, when you use an app like Dr. Muscle, it will ask you a series of questions, similar to using a personal trainer.
Dr. Muscle then uses its AI system to craft a specific program for you accordingly. At the same time, Dr. Muscle will walk you through your program for long-term, making adjustments as needed.
Tonal does no such thing!
Tonal merely gives you access to their library of programs that you can then run. You basically click around and use different programs as needed. This is nothing like having a personal trainer.
In my opinion, a personalized program has much more value than pre-written programs as they:
- Are built to meet your specific needs
- Can work around injuries
- Tell you how to progress
- Help you reach goals faster.
Now this is more of a concern for beginner lifters as they really don't know what to do.
To be clear, following pre-written programs can work. However, when you're paying $5k, you should get some personalization.
It's the difference between a suit right off the rack and a tailored suit. There are some really great basic suits out there and they are cheaper. However, imagine going to a tailor, paying them a lot of money, and then they just give you a suit off the rack.
Wi-Fi, Passwords & Frustration
One thing you need to understand about Tonal is you must have WiFi to use it.
In addition, you must log in every time you want to workout. I would hate this as I have enough things I need to sign into.
Further, I saw more than a few reviews claiming they had issues with not being able to sign in. For example;
Whether it's not remembering their password or their password not working, there were reports of being unable to sign-in AND not being able to recover their password.
Can you imagine downing your pre-workout only to find you can't sign in for your workout?
Can't Link To Strava, Youtube Music, Google Fit...
This could be a "small" issue yet becomes a huge concern due to its high price tag. You would think that paying $5k would get you a system that would be able to link to your other favorite app.
When it comes to Tonal, it doesn't seem so. Many people have complained about not being able to connect to other software such as:
- Google Fit
- Android Tech (Galaxy Watch)
- Apple Health
- Youtube Music
- And more...
I can't imagine why they would make this an issue but many customers are not happy about it, such as;
As the above reviewer stated, this is not an over-the-top request. Syncing with other software is pretty normal now; but not with Tonal.
It's surprisingly difficult to get access to their actual programs so good on them for keeping that a secret. However, I was able to look around and make some guesses.
For one, they have a strength building program that's 2-weeks while another is 4-weeks. I question how either of these are enough time. Sure, you could just repeat them, but I'd much rather see an 8-week minimum program designed for long-term progress.
Now while I couldn't see the specific programs, I can't talk specifics. However, from reading Reddit reviews, all of the programs seem to be your basic HIIT or circuit style training with a bunch of exercises thrown in.
Not horrible but these make progressive overload significantly more difficult. Again, with it's price, I'd expect more.
Tonal For Bodybuilding
I can't imagine anyone serious about bodybuilding would use Tonal.
However, if you know how to use cable arms, I'm sure you could build a decent body.
You will be held back by the lack of weight so you won't be able to become a mass monster, but you can build a nice physique.
I think the biggest area of concern would be your legs, mainly do to the weight issue. In addition, I think the legs can benefit from using a variety of machines more-so than the upper body.
All that said, even though you could, it doesn't mean you should. If you're serious about bodybuilding, you're going to need either either a full gym or an awesome home gym. You'll also need a dedicated bodybuilding program. Tonal is none of this.
Verified Reviews For Tonal
Summing Up: Tonal Review
If I could describe Tonal with one word, it would be "cool". Then I'd use "expensive" and "lacking".
What I mean is if we take the price away, you get a nice, sleek set of compact cable arms. I love using cable arms as they do allow a large variety of great exercises. In fact, cable arms would be the first piece of equipment I'd buy after a barbell.
With that in mind, the issue isn't if Tonal is useful. Of course it would be.
The issue with Tonal rests in two problems.
- The price. Tonal is incredibly expensive. At about $5k total, buying one is a huge decision for most people to buy; and that's just for the people who can actually afford it. The point being that it better be exactly what you need for it to be worth it.
- It lacks a lot. Even without considering the price of Tonal, it lacks a lot of basic features. This includes:
- No personalized programs
- Inability to connect to other software and/or apps
- Loss of functionality and all workouts without a subscription.
Considering everything, I'm not even sure I could say it's worth it due to what it lacks. I think there are much better options out there if you are willing to spend money; heck, there are better options even if you're not willing to.
Dr. Muscle: An Alternative App For Professional Lifters
While Dr. Muscle doesn't have a sleek, fitness system built into it, it more than makes up for it with its AI system.
Offers Personalized Programs
I think the number one difference between Dr. Muscle and Tonal is that Dr. Muscle provides personalized programs. And when I say "personalized", I mean truly personalized.
Upon downloading Dr. Muscle, you complete an onboarding process in which you're given a series of questions. These questions are very similar to what I would ask if you came to me.
After you're finished, their AI system does its thing and provides a legitimate training program. To test Dr. Muscle, I have entered different answers to see what it would provide. Each time, Dr. Muscle's system would end up reading the changes and create a program to fit the new information.
What's even more is that the programs it produces are extremely similar to what I or other qualified coaches would use. This in itself makes Dr. Muscle stand out as this is one of the most important variables for success.
Continual Support For A Lifetime
Not only does Dr. Muscle provide a high-quality program, it's AI system will walk your through it. It will tell you exactly what to do from Day 1. It's so efficient, I'm confident that a brand new lifter will be able to easily succeed in the gym from day.
As Dr. Muscle was designed by PhD holders, it's AI systems has the ability to guide you just like an awesome personal trainer. This means that it will take the input from your sessions and analyze it to prescribe you further instructions.
Further, it can tell if any change is needed and prescribe as necessary. For example, it can adjust:
- New Exercises
Dr. Muscle is much more than just an app; it really is like a trainer-in-your-pocket.
Utilizes The Latest Training Methods Backed By Science
Not only does Dr. Muscle provide personalized programs,
However, Dr. Muscle uses these training methods in a correct and methodical manner. You can be assured that your program is optimized with no fluff.
In addition to special sets, it uses:
- Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)- Type of autoregulation used for measuring proper intensity. Studies show it's highly effective at fatigue management and progression (Impellizzeri, 2004).
- Daily Undulating Periodization (DUP)- A method of altering volume and intensity on a daily basis. Studies show it may offer superior benefits to other forms of periodization (Zourdos, et al. 2016).
- Rest-Pause Sets- A type of special set that uses shorter rest periods. Studies have shown it can produce significantly greater results in strength and muscle growth compared to traditional training (Karmifard, et al. 2023)
I have reviewed a lot of apps before and many of these apps will offer a "risk-free" trial. However, Dr. Muscle is the only one I know of that actually is "risk-free".
What I mean is that when you download Dr. Muscle, you can start using it immediately without needing to provide any payment information. I personally love this.
In other words, you can start using Dr. Muscle right now. If you like it, then you can look at memberships. If not, you can carry on.
Tonal Vs. Dr. Muscle: Side-By-Side Comparison
|Who is it designed for?
|Trainees who are looking for a quality program that they can follow to build muscle and strength while improving body composition
|Affluent population of those looking for a complete home workout system.
Not for those serious about fitness progression.
|Simple and straightforward that takes less than 5 minutes. Simplistic goal specific design.
|Must order the Tonal system and wait for it to be installed.
There is a learning curve that exists with navigating the interface.
|AI designed by leading muscle building researchers creates a baseline program from your information including training experience.
Monitor each exercise using your effort and ‘reps in reserve’ to adjust loads depending on actual performance.
Suggests adjustments and rest ‘de-loads’ based on your individual progress.
Can run forever
|A library of pre-written workouts
No personalized programs
|Home workouts available?
Tonal Vs. Dr. Muscle: Summary
Tonal and Dr. Muscle are both premium fitness options. However, there's only one I would recommend; Dr. Muscle.
Tonal is a sleek and cool piece of tech for sure. In addition, cable arms are one of my favorite pieces of equipment after the barbell.
However, as fitness professional, one of my pet peeves is pre-written programs or workouts. In my opinion, this is a big blow to Tonal.
In the same breath, this is also why I believe Dr. Muscle is superior. Dr. Muscle delivers top quality programs that were designed by PhD holders. Still, it has a continually updated AI system that will grow with you and adjust your program as needed.
Verified Reviews for Dr. Muscle
FAQ: Free trial, cancel anytime & more
How much is Tonal ?
Tonal is one of the more expensive fitness units on the market. Currently, the price can be broken down as:
- Tonal Unit: $3,995
- Accessory Bundle: $499
- Delivery & Installation: $250
- Membership: Mandatory 1 year membership at $49/month
How much is Tonal membership?
At the time of this writing $49/month.
Is Tonal worth it?
This is totally up to the individual. However, there are significantly cheaper options out there that are just as, if not more effective. It ultimately depends on what the individual is looking for.
My Take On Tonal
Tonal made a huge impact on the fitness scene when it was first introduced. It offered an alternative for people who want a single piece of equipment where they can perform all of their fitness.
And if we take the price away, Tonal is pretty cool. I would like to have a pair of cable arms in my home; who wouldn't?
However, the price would need to be right and it's nowhere near $5k. Let's remember we can get actually cable arms for half that right now.
Even when we throw in the actual training programs, I'm still very shocked. In fact, I think the biggest shock to me when researching Tonal was that they don't offer personalized program.
Sure they offer a library of workouts but you can already get that in your home with an array of various options.
At the end of the day, you're paying for a very expensive set of cable arms that aren't built to support the weight needed by those serious about their fitness. Other than that, you get generic workouts.
If someone wants a truly optimized program, they can check out an app like Dr. Muscle. If you're thinking about getting a Tonal system in your house, I would definitely encourage you to check out Dr. Muscle first. Dr. Muscle offers a true risk-free trial so you can start today and see if it's right for you.