Tonal: Your Entire Gym On The Wall
Ditch the old dumbbells at gym and embrace intelligent workout system at home.
Imagine your perfect gym – with a personal trainer available at any time, and it’s not across the town, but across your room. For any fitness enthusiast, Tonal is revolutionary. Tonal is a weight machine as well as an AI enabled fitness system that applies electromagnetics and machine learning for personal training. In this case, Tonal and its peer digital fitness solution providers are the winners. Traditional gyms, gym equipment manufacturers, and personal trainers that sell gym-based courses, are the losers in the digital transformation.
Key elements of Tonal
Tonal’s design is simple. It’s a flat-screen monitor with two arms on the wall of the apartment (see Chart 1). To simulate physical weights, Tonal uses electromagnets to create resistance at different levels up to 200 pounds, instead of heavy metal disks. To work out, users just need to turn on the device and pull out the two adjustable arms and select customized courses from around 200 options.
Value Creation of Tonal
- Sheer convenience of working out at home:
With Tonal, users can work out any time at their home. No more excuses skipping workout simply because the gym is far away. While Tonal users can certainly avoid the hustle of commuting to the gym, they also enjoy the luxury of owning the entire space and skipping the wait line in front of certain equipment in the traditional gym setting. Additionally, Tonal’s design allows users to save space at home – a wall is all what’s required.
- Intelligent and personalized training:
Tonal applies machine learning that uses advanced intelligence to provide users with personalized training. Just like what personal trainer does in real life, first time user of Tonal is asked to go through a quick assessment which Tonal uses to recommend weights and movement and set personal training goals and plans. Users then follow the “virtual coach” on the screen to complete different repetitions and sets.
Moreover, Tonal reacts and adapts in real time. It dynamically adjusts resistance while a user lifts during a set to maximize every movement of the user and keep the user challenged. Users no longer need to move the heavy metal disks back and forth to adjust weight in a traditional gym setting. What’s more interesting is once Tonal identifies a user struggling to finish a repetition, it will automatically dial down the resistance to help the user finish the set. It’s just like a personal trainer standing next to you to give you a boost at the right time.
Additionally, with Tonal, training plans and feedbacks are consistent. In a traditional personal training scenario, it’s hard to avoid man-made errors made by personal trainers to keep training record, let alone to mention that the potential transition of personal trainers could completely overwhelm all the prior training progress. Since all the training data was accurately and safely saved in Tonal’s system, users are getting the most consistent feedback on their speed, acceleration, power, and motions to improve performance.
Tonal’s users can celebrate workout with peers around the world on its platform. Users can cheer each other up on Tonal’s online community, or even meet up offline and make friends with one other.
Value Capture of Tonal
- Smart equipment:
What comes together with its electromagnet and machine learning technology is Tonal’s smart equipment. Tonal’s all-in-one design allows it to save space yet offers a wide range of configurations with its adjustable arms. Besides, Tonal’s accessories are more than just hardware. In fact, most of its accessories are smartly connected to Tonal’s system (see Chart 2). For example, there are buttons on each of the two handles. Users can adjust the weight with just a click of button (see Chart 3). Never worry about dropping a dumbbell on the toe again.
- Course taught by world-class coaches:
Whether a user wants to build muscle, get lean, stretch, or recover, he or she can find the right course from a wide range of selections on Tonal. The courses are videotaped by world-class coaches. New course content is created constantly.
Tonal’s current price of $2995 plus $49 monthly subscription isn’t small investment for many families. To address customer’s doubt of a new product and increase sales conversion, Tonal opened showroom in San Francisco where customers can schedule a workout and experience the product. The showroom is also a channel for Tonal to collect customer feedback that can be used for refining the product.
Why are traditional gyms, equipment manufacturers and personal trainers losers?
As more people choose to work out at their home using Tonal, the traffic and membership revenue of traditional gym will shrink. The large capital expenditure of opening a traditional gym will be even harder to recoup with the rise of Tonal.
Additionally, due to the fragmented nature, it’s almost impossible for traditional gyms to achieve network effect. A gym can only attract certain number of members due to its geographical constraint and limited capacity. Tonal’s ecosystem on the other hand, could create an ecosystem where more users attract more professional coaches that offer better courses, and in return, attract more users. Besides, more data collected from users can provide more input to optimize its machine-learning algorithm, and further improve user experience. Traditional gyms can never do that.
- Gym equipment manufacturers:
Traditional equipment manufacturers such as Technogym, Precor, and Life Fitness will suffer from the loss of both their B2B and B2C customers. As fewer gyms might exist going forward, fewer equipment orders would come from the gyms. Some end customers who used to buy bulky gym equipment at home from those manufacturers will likely shift to the more futuristic and space-saving Tonal.
- Personal trainers:
Personal trainers that rely on selling their courses to make a living could face revenue drain as well. Their current course offerings might be hard to compete with top-class trainers hired by Tonal. Personal trainers’ limited schedule and capacity also couldn’t compete with Tonal’s on-demand coaching. The potential man-made errors mentioned earlier and different levels of professionalism might also be barriers for customers to stick with personal trainers at gym.
The Road Ahead
In fact, Tonal isn’t the only company in the AI-enabled digital workout space. Peloton offers internet-connected cycling bike, tread and digital studios. Mirror is a similarly at-home device (a mirror-like screen) that lets you see video of a fitness instructor and classmates for exercises like barre, yoga and pilates.
Moving forward, there are a few questions that remain to be addressed. How can these companies bring down manufacturing costs and make their products more accessible? How can they improve machine-learning algorithm to optimize customer experience?
As a revolutionary force, how are these “winners” going to deal with their relationship with the “losers”? Can they empower the “losers” instead of disrupting them entirely in this transformation? Will they partner with equipment manufacturers to design better hardware at lower cost? Will they invite personal trainers to join their platform to provide live courses via streaming? Let’s wait and see.
 Dickey, Megan Rose. “Tonal launches at-home digital strength-training system.” September 2018. https://techcrunch.com/2018/08/16/tonal-launches-at-home-digital-strength-training-system/, accessed March 2019.
 Schwab, Katharine. “This $2,995 home gym is like Peloton for weight-lifting.” Fast Company, August 16, 2018. https://www.fastcompany.com/90219278/this-2995-workout-machine-is-like-peloton-for-weight-lifting, accessed March 2019.
 Ebenezer, Samuel. “Get Ready for the Smartest Home Gym You’ve Ever Seen.” Men’s Health, September 24, 2018. https://www.menshealth.com/fitness/a23339994/tonal-workout-review/, accessed March 2019.
 Tonal. “Digital Weights.” https://www.tonal.com/digital-weights-the-future-of-fitness-today/, accessed March 2019.
 Tonal. “Equipment.” https://www.tonal.com/equipment/, accessed March 2019.
 Tonal. “Coaching.” https://www.tonal.com/coaches/, accessed March 2019.
 Tonal. “Buy Tonal.” https://www.tonal.com/product/tonal/, accessed March 2019.
 Tonal. “Visit.” https://www.tonal.com/visit/, accessed March 2019.
 Peloton. “Bike.” https://www.onepeloton.com/bike, accessed March 2019.
 Mirror. “How It Works.” https://www.mirror.co/how-it-works, accessed March 2019.
Student comments on Tonal: Your Entire Gym On The Wall
I’d never heard of Tonal and had never thought through how “AI” could be applied to workout equipment, but it makes a lot of sense. Unlike most of these massive scale, big data, AI plays, however, that >$2K pricetag is eye-watering! We’ll see if they can get enough scale to really apply machine learning to workouts (beyond getting the buzzword funding/stock boost). Also having to install the unit on a wall of your apartment is a big investment that may represent too much of a commitment for many people (especially because it’s really only weight training?). If I’m going to spend $2K and have to dedicate a certain amount of space, why wouldn’t I get a Nautilus or Bowflex and get a wider range of weight training possibilities? You’d have to believe that the big data fueled personalized workouts are real (or the display unit is just a lot more aesthetically pleasing…).
IF they can get the scale, I think the AI-powered personal training and classes are an excellent idea. It would be amazing to know based on your body and what’s healthy how hard you should be pushing, etc. Plus, while some users may really want another person there egging them on, others (like me) would probably prefer to work out without a personal trainer standing over them BUT get the knowledge and calibration personal attention provide. The social sharing aspect is a nice way to motivate yourself through your friend and family network.
As to the future of these AI workout companies, I’ll definitely keep an eye out and my muscles flexed.
Thank you for the response Marissa, and happy birthday!
Re the Nautilus and Bowflex comparison, you really surfaced the key issue here. I think one major value proposition of Tonal was that it aims to provide users with a wider range of movement/activities than Bowflex does, and with comparable if not less amount of space in your room. But I do agree that they need focus on innovations in product design to keep delivering such value proposition before someone comes up with a solution to override that.
Re the installation problem, I agree that it’s a big commitment to have such a big thing on your wall. Meanwhile Tonal’s team is working to make it as less painful as possible by staffing their expert installation team to your room. https://www.tonal.com/installation/
Wow, this is cool! I grew up with a small gym inside my house, and this seems like something that could free up an entire room. The only deterrence is the huge price point and the monthly subscription costs–that is pricier than some gym memberships that exist out there. One concern I have though is who the actual target audience might be. Any guesses? It may appeal to those who don’t want/are afraid of going to the gym, but for the avid gym goers, I’d imagine the appeal and tangibility of traditional equipment beat some flimsy machine. I’d imagine that when someone lifts a lot of weights, this machine would not be able to accommodate. Something about being away from the home is appealing when exercising, and people may not be entirely motivated at home (myself included). However, I’m definitely interested in seeing where this goes!
Hi Li! I had never heard about Tonal before, but I definitely think it part of the in-home fitness trend we have been seeing with companies like ClassPass live, Peloton, Aaptive and Kayla Itsines. My biggest concern with this trend is whether these programs can truly capture a big market. Aside from the price tag, I feel Millennials have a tendency of enjoying social activities more than private ones. This has made boutique studios like soul cycle thrive. I wonder If these in-home option can really take down the social barrier by integrating more sharing features.
Hi Li, really interesting article! I have actually seen a few ads about Tonal over the past few months and thought it was just a gym that could fit on your wall. I didn’t know about the tech aspects that also go along with the system, seems like a great idea to bring intelligent and personalized training into the home equipment market. I also really liked how the system could adjust on the fly with the ability to increase and decrease your weight depending on your performance, definitely a game changer!
As mentioned in earlier comments, one thing that I do worry about is the price tag of $3k and a $49 monthly subscription fee, in charging such a high price, Tonal might be limiting the market to a small subset of customers. I would hypothesize that one of the main reasons individuals invest in home gyms is to eliminate the need for a monthly gym membership, so I worry that potential customers would be turned off by the need to pay a monthly subscription fee, which is similar to what a monthly gym membership would cost. It would be interesting to find out why the subscription fee is mandated. Either way if Tonal is able to find the right price point, this product could potential revolutionize the way we work-out.