Width: 21.5 inches
Height: 50.9 inches
Max Tension: 100 lbs per arm
To make a medium story short: for myriad reasons I do not enjoy going to the gym, and I am not especially fond of exercise in general. But recently, a product called Tonal has saved me from the former and vastly improved my outlook on the latter. Which means that the answer to the question: "Can a Tonal home gym system make a gym-hating non-fitness person do a 180?" is an emphatic "Yes."
I really like using Tonal, a revelation due in no small part to how fascinating I find its tech and how thoroughly its deep, ever-changing well of fitness programs are produced and individualized. The only obstacle is Tonal's upfront cost, which is significant but in context not outrageous. Which means that if you hate going to the gym and/or dislike exercise, and you can make the initial investment, you have every reason to get one and very few excuses not to. Here's why.
A Smart Product for a New Age
Exercise wasn't ever part of my youth, and I never really embraced sports beyond some soccer and track events in my early teenage years. I'm fortunate to be naturally lean and fit, with low cholesterol and a strong heart, despite things like couches, Netflix and chocolate existing. Basically, I have never incorporated regular exercise into my life because I never needed to. Yes, exercise is critical; no, I don't have a super valid excuse; yes, I'm usually ashamed of it.
The punchline is that during this incessantly stupid year of devastating heath crises and political and social upheaval, I need to exercise. You probably do too. Instead of walking several miles a day by necessity, I'm mostly confined to my apartment.
For so many folks this entire year has been an absolute pile-on of depressingly dysfunctional malaise at best and horribly stressful terror... on a good day. Add unending isolation to the mix, and the only thing in my life getting regular exercise is in my freshly overdeveloped jaw muscles.
I don't mean to celebrate Tonal as some sort of Messiah (or more accurately, perhaps, the Monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey). But before March 2020, Tonal was a supremely innovative product in the home exercise space. And now, in a world where gyms don't exist —at least not as we once knew them — it is an even more essential one.
So what is Tonal, exactly? It's a wall-mounted machine with two retractable arms, onto which users attach handles and ropes and other accessories to mimic various strength-training equipment. There are no physical weights inside; rather, the equivalent resistance is supplied by an ingenious system of electromagnets. There's a large, hi-res screen on which you follow a massive amount of programs and routines led by an increasing number of fitness coaches.
Adapting to the Times
I spoke with Tonal CMO Christopher Stadler to learn what makes Tonal tick generally, but also how the company adapted to the demands — both existential and literal — of these COVID times. It's likely no surprise that business is booming: sales are up an astounding 10 times over 2019's numbers.
"I couldn't imagine a product more suited for a post-COVID world," Stadler says. "[Tonal] started out fairly focused on strength training — most of our members are doing strength training three to four times per week, which is a lot for the category... [and now we're adding] yoga, pilates, boot camp, boxing, kickboxing, pre- and post-natal [and] family fitness." There are even new (and very timely) meditation classes.
I find the production value of Tonal's classes and programs super impressive. As Gear Patrol's video producer, I'm keen to notice lighting and sound and set design. When the working world shifted to at-home-only, our video strategy had to change — we devised strategies to shoot multi-camera projects without ever being in the same room, or even the same state. Tonal's approach was eerily similar for the production of a "home workout series," which coaches created, alone, literally from their own homes.
"We shot seventy workouts over the first months of COVID and they generated about twenty percent of our workouts," Stadler reveals. "People often follow one coach throughout their Tonal journey, and so to see them at home was a glimpse into their life that was very much appreciated.”
How'd they do it? "We made sure they had the latest iPhone… and ring lights," Stadler explains. "And then we would give them remote production assistance over Zoom on how to maximize equipment, make sure lighting looked good... frame, composition... things that might not typically be in their wheelhouse.”
Even beyond their new production skills, Tonal coaches are great at what they do. Each workout is engaging, motivating, supportive and actually fun. The best fitness trainers are by necessity charismatic and positive, but the bar is higher here: trainers have to be very good on camera, and also very conscious of the "script," so to speak, so that they are addressing the video flow in their coaching. These folks are performing, expertly managing logistics and conducting an actual workout.
Their ranks are growing, too. Tonal has brought on board Ironman legend Mark Allen to develop workout programs for athletes, plus several new workouts designed by P90X creator Tony Horton. "They’re incredibly high energy," Stadler observes. "You know you’re going to leave a Tony Horton workout sweating and being sore." Also coming down the pike are sports-specific training programs for golf and tennis, all involving familiar sports celebrities.
Having cool names and personalities attached to programs is attractive, but the group mentality and energy of an in-person workout class is integral to its effectiveness. To address the obviously absent social aspect of exercise, Tonal has developed "virtual group workouts," the conceit of which any gamer will recognize: find some friends who own Tonal, and you can work out "with" them while you track each other's stats and progress.
Price and Prejudice
I must state clearly that I did not pay for my Tonal; it is a review unit from the company, which also covered the cost of installation. The full price for Tonal is $2,995, and for the complete experience you really do need to purchase the $495 accessories bundle. Delivery and installation is an additional $250. That's over $3,700 total.
The first 12 months of a total-access subscription for your entire household, meaning scores of different classes and programs, fitness tracking and constant updates to the system, is included, after which the cost of a membership is $49 per month. To compare, a Mirror with its multi-person membership ($39 per month) costs around $2,200, but it has no actual fitness equipment. A Peloton "family" package is just over $2,800 (including the bike, accessories and $39 per month membership), but it is not a home gym.
Putting the unit up against a traditional gym? If you purchase and use a Tonal and its membership, you not only eliminate the hassle of waiting to use a machine — and these days, the health precautions and risks — but also your commute to the gym itself: no extra travel time, no need to haul extra clothes and such. The locker room is your own bathroom, and every workout is completely on demand.
In theory, I could wake up, take four steps from my bed, and do a full strength-training workout — or yoga class, cardio session, whatever — in my boxers. That, my friends, is an extreme value.
But perhaps even more critical for someone like me, Tonal has erased the gym-going anxiety of a "non exerciser." Pick this apart if you will, but surely I'm not alone in being less than confident or comfortable in a gym setting. I don't know how to use the equipment, if I recognize it in the first place, and if I did I wouldn't know which to use, or for how long, or how much weight I'd require… the list goes on. Classes are equally intimidating.
To folks with similar hangups, I recommend Tonal wholeheartedly. It's a technological wonder, its programs continue to evolve, and the machine absolutely delivers on its promise to bring the gym to you. Bottom line: if you can, you should.