Is Tonal's AI-powered home gym worth the cost? I tried it to find out
Tonal brings smart strength-training programs home—for a price
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When building your home gym, you may consider the typical recommendations—an exercise bike, a treadmill, a pair of dumbbells. But if you want to get creative with your workouts and focus on building strength, take your training to the next level by investing in Tonal, a smart workout mirror with digital weights—and, of course, with a hefty price tag. Tonal lets you take a variety of classes such as dance cardio, HIIT, pilates, and yoga, but it’s real advantage is its resistance cable system that allows users to easily learn to strength train at home and lift up to 200 pounds. The total first-year cost between the machine, accessories, and membership clocks in at just over $4,000. For that kind of money, it has to be a great product—right? We tested it to find out.
What is Tonal?
Tonal is a Peloton-esque workout mirror that features strength training workouts, thanks to its resistance cables that let you lift up to 200 pounds. But for days you aren’t feeling like lifting heavy, Tonal offers other types of classes that don’t utilize the cable arms such as dance cardio, yoga, pilates, and mobility. Tonal also offers meditation sessions for your rest days when you want to take a moment and work out your mind.
This wifi-enabled vessel about the size of a wall mirror but with the thickness of a flatscreen TV streams workouts directly on its screen. It looks something like The Mirror, but it's less reflective and has movable arms and handles. It achieves its function and compactness thanks to internal electromagnetic resistance that, when paired with its “Smart Accessories,” allow you to do much of what you'd usually do in a gym's weight room—bench presses, rows, lat pulldowns, deadlifts, and so on—with a single machine. You can pair it with your phone to play music, or connect to one of Tonal’s music channels, which have options like pop and hip-hop.
Tonal also uses AI to identify which weight is best for you for each exercise and automatically adjust the weights in real time as you go through a workout. Tonal challenges you to complete a certain number of reps at the weight it has prescribed you, and as you get stronger over time, the device increases your weight for each exercise. Tonal offers multi-week workout programs that include strength training, cardio, yoga, partner exercises, and more, all of which are led on the screen by a rotating cast of trainers. You can also take one-off prerecorded classes or participate in a live class, which air multiple times a week.
Like most things, Tonal has a learning curve. You adjust the arms alongside the screen and clip the smart handles, bar, and rope in and out depending on the workout, which can be a little confusing at first, but grows routine after a few tries. As with most cable machines, the weights have an inherent instability—particularly when using the long bar—so they can feel heavier than they really are.
How much does Tonal cost?
That price starts at $2,995, plus tax; plus delivery and professional installation ($295); plus the “Smart Accessories”—the handles, bench, and mat that you need to do a lot of the exercises—($495); plus a monthly membership fee ($49), which adds up to a (very) grand total of about $4,600 for the first year. There's also a financing plan for about $70 a month for 48 months not including membership fees—on par with the high-end gym membership it’s designed to replace.
What we like about Tonal
The AI-powered technology helps you improve with every session
Tonal has you take an introductory class which shows you how to move the arms of the machine and assesses your strength level by having you perform some basic movements like a bench press and deadlift. Tonal senses when you’re lifting with ease or difficulty, and automatically adjusts the weight. You also select a goal—for example, “get stronger” or “boost energy”—and Tonal suggests classes and multi-session programs for you to try.
You don’t need to continue taking strength assessments after your initial session. Tonal measures your output during class and continuously updates the weight it recommends you lift. And if you feel the recommendation is too heavy or light, it’s easy to alter the load during class with just a tap of the screen. I felt Tonal’s initial strength assessment was spot-on, and week after week, I was slowly but surely lifting more weight and getting stronger. Tonal will also give you feedback on your form, like if you're moving too quickly or not extending fully, which I found to be a helpful feature.
Our former health and fitness editor Sara Hendricks agreed, in her initial review of Tonal. “In almost all cases, it was smarter than I am,” she wrote. “Sometimes I had to adjust the weight a pound or two, but in most of its workouts, it was spot-on. In fact, a few times, I was assigned a seemingly low weight that I scoffed at, deciding I would be fine bumping it up a little. But by the halfway point in the set, I'd realize that, yes, for the reps required, I needed the lighter weight originally assigned to me.”
The instruction is top-notch
Every session I took with Tonal was fun and challenging—they kept me coming back for more. I took mainly strength training classes, to take advantage of Tonal’s unique resistance system, and I left each session thoroughly fatigued. Each workout was varied enough that I never found them repetitive or got bored with my options. Tonal keeps you motivated with its optional leaderboard that records how many hours you’ve spent exercising, and during live classes you can participate in the “social zone” which lets you virtually congratulate other members during your workout. And while your coach won’t be able to see you during live classes—the camera isn’t used—they can see your workout progress and cheer you on.
The detailed form cues from instructors helped me progress and stay safe during my workouts. Tonal’s instructors are upbeat and motivational and give excellent direction to keep you on track. For example, I was told to “stand tall and picture a glass of water on my head” to stay balanced, and I feel that mental picture helped me nail my movement. The instructors helped me feel prepared for the workout and confident in my abilities, and made me look forward to class.
The workouts are very customizable
Of the workout mirrors we tested, Tonal has the most customizable options in your workouts. Tonal lets you set the music channel you want to listen to—stations include “2000s” “hip hop,” and “top hits”—fast-forward and rewind the instruction in 10-second increments, and skip entire movements if you desire.
You can also create your own workout. You won’t have an instructor leading you through class, but you can select what movements you want to do, how many reps and sets you want to include, and break the movements into “blocks” (e.g., you would finish all your sets of lunges and squats in block one before moving on to your sets of bicep curls and bench presses in the second block).
What we don’t like about Tonal
Its screen isn’t as reflective as others
It’s difficult to truly watch yourself in Tonal’s reflection compared to other, more reflective workout mirrors. Thanks to Tonal’s excellent instructors and AI-powered feedback, I didn’t find this to be too much of a hassle. I felt prepared for each movement just by listening to instructors and didn’t worry about poor form too much. However, true beginners may struggle and find that Tonal’s instruction can’t quite make up for in-person training, and want a reflective surface to watch themselves in.
It isn’t rental- or small space-friendly
Tonal must be bolted to the wall and while it can be removed with effort, I wouldn’t recommend it to someone who rents or moves frequently, because heavy, semi-permanent fixtures tend not to mix well with lease agreements and moving trucks.
Additionally, the Tonal requires 7 feet of space around the machine for users to fully extend and use the arms of the machine for various movements. That means a 14-foot chunk of wall space and 7 feet of depth is required. Though the machine has a fairly small footprint, you end up using more space than you might imagine.
Should you get Tonal?
From the perspective of making strength training accessible and fun, Tonal is excellent, and arguably the most robust at-home system for total fitness that you can get. Most of its competitors—the Pelotons and Mirrors—focus more on cardio or body-weight training and many don’t involve weights unless you buy them separately. Tonal combines top-notch instruction with up to 200 pounds of resistance in a compact package that’s mostly unobtrusive in the home, making it the best option for those who enjoy strength training.
Though you can get a great workout with Tonal, beginners may lean toward a typical reflective workout mirror to keep an eye on their form. Additionally, Tonal may not be suitable for those who rent, as it must be installed on the wall, nor those who don’t have ample floor space.
That said, the workouts are great, especially if you enjoy strength training. If you feel the price is in your budget, and you know you will use it, Tonal may be worth it for you.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.