November 3, 2021
A New Way to Lift Heavy Sh*t
We’re loving Tonal, a digital weight platform that automatically adjusts to your personal needs.
By Selene Yeager
Menopausal women need to lift weights—a.k.a. lift heavy sh*t—to maintain their essential muscle mass. But there are barriers: Not everyone has easy access to or enjoys going to the gym. Most folks only want to buy so much home equipment. If you don’t have a coach or a training plan, it can be hard to know exactly what to do; what weights to use; and to motivate yourself to get the job done.
I’m a certified coach and trainer and I have still always struggled with this element of my active life. I love the results of strength training. The logistics, not so much. So when I got a chance to try out Tonal, a digital weight system that promised to deliver a personalized home-based strength training experience without tons of equipment I was intrigued.
Having used it daily for a couple of weeks, I’m now obsessed. This isn’t an advertisement for Tonal. They’re not a sponsor of the podcast and I’m not a paid influencer. But we get a ton of questions about resistance training in our membership and social media channels, some have asked me about Tonal specifically, and after experiencing it, I felt like this was an option worth talking about.
Tonal is a dynamic digital weight system that hangs on your wall like a vertical flat-screen TV. It has adjustable arms and various attachments including handles, a bar, and a rope, which you attach to the cables on the arms to perform your exercises.
When you touch the screen, the machine fires up and it’s time to workout. To start, it walks you through a strength assessment to set your baseline resistance. Then you choose the type of training you want to do and start a program. One of the dozens of Tonal coaches comes up on the screen and walks you through your workout.
What I love most is that the machine automatically sets and adjusts the weight for each move in every workout based on your performance. Unlike traditional weights, it can increase or decrease by small increments instead of 5-pound jumps, and it can provide up to 200 pounds of resistance. The system also uses more than a dozen sensors to provide real-time form and technique guidance based on your range of motion, positioning, and pace. It tracks your sets and reps for you. There’s even a “spotter” mode so if you’re lifting heavy, it detects when you’re stuck and slightly bumps down the weight. When you’re done, it gives you a workout summary and keeps track of all the work you do, automatically adjusting over time.
Along with the hundreds of on-demand coach-led workouts, there are live, Peloton-style classes, where you can join a session in real-time (I haven’t done that, as it’s not really my preference, but I see the appeal). You can also create your own customized workouts if you like.
If I’m totally honest, I’ve always had a hard time making myself go to the gym. It’s another thing to schedule. It takes time to get there and set up and break down. I don’t like to go when it’s crowded (even pre-COVID). You get the idea. So, I’ve always struggled with being consistent and wasted a lot of gym fees along the way. I have some weights here, but not enough for the kind of workouts I really love, like heavy deadlifts and the like. With Tonal, I love that I can go into the backroom, push a couple of buttons on a screen and bang out a 30-minute, muscle-quivering, 100 percent guided super-effective workout. It’s actually a fun break in my day that has the benefit of making me stronger. I look forward to it.
There are dozens of non-resistance workouts and sessions I haven’t yet touched like yoga, kickboxing, recovery, triathlon, HIIT, boot camp, and so forth. So it’s also nice to know that I’ll probably never exhaust the system’s potential.
All that smart technology comes with a price, of course. And in this case, that’s north of $3,000 when all said and done, since accessories and installation are separate and there’s a subscription fee (which is unlimited so the whole household can use it) of $49 a month. Tonal is an investment. No question. But, if you use it to its fullest capacity, it pays for itself in terms of equipment, coaching, classes, and gym fees. They also have various payment plans and a full refund available within 30 days of installation.
If you’re into CrossFit and/or Olympic-style lifting, this system will not replace cleans and snatches and the like. Of course, you can absolutely, positively get a complete workout at home without it with inexpensive options like a TRX system and some weights. But for those who have tried those options and just not used them, blown gym fees in the past, and want a solid, consistent way to strength train, Tonal is an excellent option.