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A Fitness Editor's Honest Tonal Review

Jul 14, 2023

I set out to find out if the high-tech strength training machine was worth the hype.

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Shape / Kristen Geil

After teaching HIIT and strength classes at a local studio for a few years, it’s safe to say I know my way around every type of workout equipment. And when it comes to maxing out your home gym equipment, I can show you exactly what I’ve done with my allotted 3’ x 7’ space in my boyfriend’s home office.

While my small-but-mighty home gym was perfectly fine, I still paid for a full gym membership to access strength training equipment that’s simply impossible to fit in a 1200-square-foot condo. But the 20-minute commute to my gym was getting old, and quite frankly, the inconvenience was a major bottleneck in my strength training goals.

Needless to say, I nearly threw my back out in my rush to respond “YES” when I was offered the chance to write a Tonal review for Shape.

I’ve been testing the Tonal for three months now, using it at least twice a week for 30 minutes or more at a time. Here’s my honest Tonal review as a former fitness professional — plus, whether or not I think the Tonal home gym is really worth the eye-popping price tag.

The Tonal is an all-in-one smart home gym that uses magnetic weights and an adapted cable machine to offer hundreds of different strength training exercises and resistance up to 200 pounds — all bundled into one machine that’s roughly 51” high and 21.5” wide and mounts to a wall.

The machine itself costs $4,785, which includes delivery and installation as well as a Smart Accessories bundle (consisting of Smart Handles, Smart Bar, bar control module, rope, bench, foam roller, and workout mat). You can purchase the Tonal on its own — sans Smart Accessories — for $4,290 plus tax. You can then use your own attachments, but you'll need T-lock adapters to attach them to the Tonal. If you change your mind, you can purchase the accessories later. Delivery and installation are mandatory for warranty purposes, FYI.

Your purchase also locks you into a 12-month membership, at minimum, for $59.95 per month. This allows you access to Tonal’s live and on-demand classes, programs, an unlimited number of membership accounts, data measuring and progress tracking, personalized weight suggestions, music via Apple Music or Amazon Prime, and dynamic weight modes, among other perks. Without the membership, you have access to “Basic Lift,” and Tonal tracks your reps and workout time — but you won’t get customized weight suggestions, Dynamic Modes, progress tracking, and most importantly, no new workout data will be recorded.


245+ exercises in the movement library

Smart Accessories make it easy to add and adjust weights

Take a class or work out on your own

Over 1,000 instructor-led classes and 200+ programs

Quiet and feels smooth

Safety features are ideal for solo lifters or beginners

Impressive customer service and installation

It's expensive

Swapping out accessories can slow down transitions between moves

Community doesn’t seem as engaged as other platforms

You’ll need some basic knowledge of your walls and building structure pre-install

Not as minimalist as other options — and it can’t be used as a mirror

To fully understand the scope of Tonal’s abilities, I committed to using it at least twice a week during this three-month testing period. I’ve taken a variety of classes: strength, cardio, boxing, HIIT, stretching, and mobility. I switched between classes a la carte and following specific programs, which span multiple weeks and target specific goals or muscle groups. I also asked my boyfriend to test the machine in Free Lift mode, since I’m more drawn to instructor-led classes. In three months of using Tonal, I’ve done 45 workouts and completed two programs.

But before I could start hitting the gym, I had to navigate Tonal’s installation process — and I won’t lie, I was nervous about this. I live in my boyfriend’s condo in a 200-unit high-rise, and I absolutely did not want to be responsible for cracked walls, or worse, damage. Luckily, Tonal’s pre-installation survey helped assuage some of my worries. The survey, which took less than 10 minutes to complete, asked me for basic information about where I wanted to install the machine, whether it was an interior wall, the measurements of the space, the location of the nearest outlet, and more — all specs that were relatively easy for me to provide (although I did have to text my boyfriend’s dad asking what kinds of studs we had). I passed the survey with flying colors, and I scheduled my delivery date for a few weeks later with a third-party installer.

The actual installation could not have been easier. The team of three did a quick check to ensure my space met all the requirements for installing the Tonal, and then the power tools came out. It was all over in about 30 minutes, and the team thoughtfully cleaned up after themselves and took out the remaining packaging.

Here’s where Tonal’s customer service really impressed me. A few weeks later, I noticed a thin crack in my wall that hadn’t been there pre-Tonal (as I could see from old pictures of the space). I reached out to Tonal’s customer support with pictures and a description, and they quickly sprang into action. They advised me not to use the Tonal until a team could take a look, and they coordinated with a local rep to pay an in-person visit for a thorough (and free) safety inspection. Each phone conversation was followed by an email summary of what was discussed, and they gave me an actual phone number to a real human to call at any time with questions.

Everything ended up being totally fine — the installation team had tightened the bolts of the mount too tight, leading to a little too much tension and the resulting crack — and the team that came to my house even spackled the crack for me. I was, in a word, thrilled.

Shape / Kristen Geil

Let’s get into the meat of this Tonal review. Right from the start, using the Tonal feels like a premium experience (no wonder it’s backed by athletes like Lebron James and Serena Williams). The instructors pop off the screen in high-def saturated color, and the navigation feels intuitive and user-friendly. I could quickly connect my Apple Watch and figure out my music preferences (90’s Rap all the way, baby).

After telling the Tonal a little bit about your goals and your fitness level, the home screen automatically populates with suggested classes and programs, as well as ones that are trending or that you’ve previously saved. Heading to the Explore tab lets you search for the perfect workout since you can filter by workout format, length, coach, muscle group, and more. Tonal also lets you know which muscle groups are primed and ready to work with an anatomy map; for example, if you did chest and back yesterday, those muscles will be yellow or red depending on how intense your workout was. Meanwhile, your lower body muscles will be green, indicating their readiness.

I started with the Intro to Tonal Workout to set my starting weights for basic movements (like deadlifts or bench presses) and helped me learn how to add on and take off the Smart Accessories. Right away, I could tell my Tonal weights wouldn’t quite coincide with my dumbbell weights; in fact, the Tonal felt measurably harder. That’s not a design flaw. As one customer service rep explained to me, any weight you lift feels about 25 percent heavier than free weights because of the constant tension.

The helpfulness of Tonal's Spotter feature quickly became clear to me when I tried a barbell front squat. While struggling to get into the correct position, I accidentally turned the weight on via Bluetooth — resulting in 50 pounds of weight I was not ready for. Instantly, the Tonal sensed that the barbell was tilted and in an unsafe position, and the weight turned off before I could hurt my back. This feature makes the Tonal ideal for people who want to lift heavy AF but don’t have a gym buddy for a spotter. It’s also great for beginners who may not feel confident (yet) in how much weight they can lift or what their form should look like. And FYI, Tonal also gives regular form feedback during your reps, letting you know if you should be further away from or closer to the Tonal for each move.

Tonal’s Smart Accessories are what take this home gym to the next level. The handles and barbell connect to the Tonal via Bluetooth, allowing you to turn the magnetic weight “on” and “off” with the press of a button. You’re able to get into position safely, then turn the weight on when you’re fully ready to start your set. To me, this was a game-changer and helped me feel even more confident and excited to hit new PRs. If you want to add your own accessories (like a curl bar or ankle straps), and Tonal sells T-lock adapters that you can use — but the Bluetooth features of the Smart Accessories are so, so worth it.

As far as the actual class and programs go, I found them as engaging and challenging as similar workouts from Peloton or Tempo. The instructors are all uniquely charming and bring their own energy and style to the workouts, and the classes are thoughtfully structured into “blocks,” which consist of several sets of 2 to 5 exercises. Each class has a clear goal, and I especially loved the ability to skip intros or rest periods when I was short on time (you can also fast-forward or rewind by 10 seconds, and pause as needed). I never felt quite as engaged with the community as I do during Peloton cycling classes, which could be because I don’t actually know anyone else who owns a Tonal and/or I didn’t prioritize taking live classes during my test.

My biggest frustration came from classes that required me to switch out Smart Accessories in between every movement, which slowed down my workout and just felt annoying, TBH. I’d love to be able to filter classes by Equipment, so I could only do workouts that required one piece of equipment. That said, once you figure it out, it’s pretty easy to adjust the accessories and Tonal’s “arms” for each movement. I especially loved the diagrams on either side of the screen that show you if Tonal’s arms are in the optimal position for each exercise.

Design-wise, I’ll be honest: The Tonal isn’t exactly an enhancement to our walls. I did my best to offset it with art, but in our small living space, it’s impossible not to notice the Tonal. The Tonal can’t be disguised as a mirror, like other home gym systems can. In another world, I’d love to have the Tonal in a dedicated home gym space — but because of our condo layout, it has to live in our living room. Do I love it? No, but it’s manageable in my mind (my boyfriend, however, disagrees).

Shape / Kristen Geil

Look, I know it’s annoying to say “it depends” here but… it depends. I’d long wanted a Tonal, and I’m more than willing to pay the membership fee for the convenience of being able to deadlift 75 pounds from my living room. (Disclosure: I received the Tonal free through our testing lab but paid for Smart Accessories and the monthly membership fee myself.) I'm also committed to at-home workouts and strength training, so I knew the Tonal wouldn't gather dust.

I’d recommend the Tonal for households in which at least two people will use it regularly, especially if strength training is a priority and they’re committed to working out at home (bonus points if they’re in a smallish space and trying to cut back on workout equipment clutter). Paying for the Tonal and a gym membership is just lighting money on fire, IMO.

But if you’re a fitness beginner and still learning what workouts you’re most attracted to, there’s no need to impulse-purchase a Tonal. Start slow with dumbbells and resistance bands, then see whether the Tonal could fit your needs.

Unlike other workout home gyms, Tonal’s weights are part of the frame (instead of separate pieces of equipment that require their own storage). With the membership, Tonal also automatically tracks your weights over time and adjusts them as you progress in strength, so you never hit a plateau. Tonal also offers five dynamic weight modes, which change the challenge of each movement in smart, personalized ways:

Price: Membership: Dimensions: Training types: Digital weight max: Warranty: Return: SetupEase of useFunctionalityPerformanceFeaturesAccessoriesChains: Eccentric: Smart Flex: Spotter:Burnout: