Tonal and beyond: the best smart strength training equipment for 2022

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If you want to increase your strength, build muscle and lose fat, a smart weight machine can help you achieve your goals right at home.

This category is relatively new, but it really started to gain momentum when Tonal hit the market in 2018, effectively offering complete gym strength equipment – ​​and a virtual personal trainer – in a sleek, streamlined package. . Tonal is still the most recognizable name in connected strength training, but it’s not the only one anymore. A steady stream of competitors has emerged, offering variety and choice at varying price points.

Tonal (Photo: Angela Moscaritolo)

After getting millions hooked on indoor cycling and running, for example, Peloton has now jumped on the smart bodybuilding bandwagon. The company offers a very different (and more affordable) approach to connected weightlifting with the Peloton Guide, a camera that uses computer vision to track your weightlifting moves.

If you’re looking to kick-start or improve your home strength training routine, you don’t need to spend a fortune on a large, heavy and expensive workout mirror (although that’s certainly an option). We’ve tested and reviewed all the major smart bodybuilding products on the market and detail our favorite options here. Read on for some important factors to consider before investing.


A smarter way to train with weights

At the most basic level, smart weight equipment offers more convenience, interactivity, and guidance than, say, a basic set of dumbbells. These machines connect to the internet, and most have a screen you can stream workouts to (though more affordable options rely on your TV or phone for this functionality).

Many offer large on-demand libraries of guided classes with knowledgeable instructors, as well as personalized workouts and programs based on your goals and fitness level. If you want to get into a weightlifting routine but don’t know where to start, the Tonal, or its main competitor, the Tempo Studio, can guide you.

Tempo Studio

Tempo Studio (Photo: Angela Moscaritolo)

The Tonal uses artificial intelligence to set the weights for you in each mode, track your reps and progress in real time, and adapt its recommendations as you get stronger so you’re always challenged. The Tempo Studio works similarly, using a combination of 3D sensors and AI to suggest the appropriate weight to load onto your barbell or dumbbells for each move, count your reps, and offer real-time feedback on your form to keep you honest and safe.

Some smart weight machines even offer live classes with fun social features, like the ability to virtually cheer on other users, that makes you feel like you’re not working out alone. Tempo, for example, adds a bit of friendly competition to its workouts with class leaderboards that rank participants based on the total volume you lift and reps you complete.


How much do smart weight machines cost?

The most feature-rich smart gym machines cost north of $3,000 for hardware alone, plus between $39 and $49 per month for a one-class membership. This puts them out of reach for many people, but more affordable options are available.

Starting on the premium side, the Tonal costs $2,995, plus $495 for accessories and $49 per month for a class subscription. The Tempo Studio is slightly cheaper at $2,495, with $39 per month for lessons. These prices do not include any delivery or installation costs.

On the more affordable side, smart training mirrors like the aptly named Mirror and Echelon Reflect Touch typically cost around $1,500 (without accessories), plus monthly class membership fees. They lack the advanced AI-powered virtual personal training features of Tonal and Tempo, but they still offer a wide range of classes like strength training and yoga. All you need to keep up with strength workouts are a few sets of dumbbells.

NordicTrack Vault

NordicTrack Vault (Photo: Angela Moscaritolo)

Starting at $1,500, the NordicTrack Vault is the most attractive training mirror we’ve seen, with one of the most sensible designs. It sports a hidden weight cabinet, so you can get the unit freestanding and store your weights inside. If you don’t own weights, you can get a package with all the gear you need for a few hundred dollars more.

More recently, several smart strength training products in the sub-$500 range have hit the market, including the aforementioned Peloton guide, Tempo Move, and Alexa-controlled NordicTrack iSelect adjustable dumbbells. The Peloton Guide is a camera that connects to your TV, letting you see yourself onscreen as you take the company’s fitness classes. It tracks your strength training moves, gives you credit for staying active throughout each set, and gamifies the experience by awarding achievement badges based on your performance.

Platoon guide

Peloton guide (Photo: Angela Moscaritolo)

The Tempo Move offers a similar experience to Studio’s flagship machine, but uses your iPhone and TV.

We haven’t tested them yet, but you can adjust the weight of NordicTrack iSelect dumbbells between 5 and 50 pounds in 5-pound increments, with just the sound of your voice through an Alexa-enabled smart speaker (sold separately). Just say, “Alexa, set weight for deadlift,” and the motorized weight selector adjusts the dumbbells to your preset deadlift weight in seconds. You can also optionally pair them with an iFit class membership, which unlocks many trainer-led strength training workouts. Adjustable dumbbells are especially appealing because they allow you to easily level up as your strength increases.

Displacement tempo

Tempo Move (Photo: Angela Moscaritolo)

Smart weight machines have their benefits, but you don’t have to spend a bundle to get caught. If you want to start incorporating weightlifting into your routine without making a big investment, an inexpensive workout app might suit your needs. Most of these apps, including Apple Fitness+ and Openfit, offer strength training workouts that you can track while you’re at the gym or just at home. Openfit even lets you turn on your camera during live workouts, so the trainer can see you and offer form corrections in real time.


Electromagnetic resistance compared to traditional weights

From a training perspective, there is one major difference between the Tonal and Tempo machines: the Tonal uses electromagnetic technology to simulate weights with resistance, while the Tempo machines use free weights. Both systems have their advantages and disadvantages. I’m a big fan of old-school free weights, but there’s no denying the appeal of Tonal’s convenient, space-saving design.

Each of the Tonal’s arms offers up to 100 pounds of resistance, for a total of 200 pounds. The system supports over 170 upper and lower body movements, such as the barbell glute bridge, goblet squat, in-line chop, and standing incline press. Some of the movement on the Tonal is a little awkward though, and the strings can rub your arms at times.

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From left to right: Tempo Studio, Tonal

From left to right: Tempo Studio, Tonal (Photo: Angela Moscaritolo)

With the base Tempo Studio package, you get 90 pounds of weights, including two 7.5-pound dumbbells and 75 pounds of weight plates (four 1.25-pound red plates, four 2.5-pound yellow plates, four gray 5-pound plates and four blue 10-pound plates), plus clips to attach the plates to your dumbbells. Tempo also sells 25-pound weight plates that work with the system if you want to lift heavy weights, but they cost more. You must use Tempo’s color-coded weights for the system to track your movements. The more affordable Tempo Move comes with 50 pounds of weight.

Most other smart weight systems, including the NordicTrack Vault and Peloton Guide, work with any weight brand. If you already have a weight rack at home, or even just a few dumbbells gathering dust, these products may inspire you to use your existing equipment.

The Vitruvian V-Form Trainer offers an electromagnetic resistance system similar to Tonal, but generates up to 440 pounds. We haven’t tested the latest version yet, called the Vitruvian Trainer+, but the first-gen model didn’t make this list because its resistance adjustments were often choppy and jerky, an issue I’ve never had. met with the Tonal.


The importance of form

Whether you train with smart gym equipment or not, form matters. Poor form when handling heavy weights or high resistance can lead to injury. That’s where AI-powered form feedback comes in.

Products with form feedback, including Tonal and Tempo, can help reduce your risk of injury when training alone. The Tempo Studio, for example, uses a 3D sensor to track 25 of your joints to compare where they are relative to each other to determine what exercise you’re doing and whether you’re doing it correctly. When you do a bicep curl, for example, the tip of your wrist moves as you lift the weight toward your shoulders, but the tip of your elbow should stay in place. If the system notices your elbow point moving, it provides on-screen feedback.

Comments on the Tempo form

Comments on the Tempo form (Photo: Angela Moscaritolo)

I do squats all the time, so I know my knees aren’t supposed to go past my toes at any time. But I always find myself making this mistake when I start to tire myself out in a tough workout, and Tempo calls me out for it. If you do something wrong, a message flashes on the screen telling you how to correct your form. It also notifies you when you fix the error.

In the future, I hope form feedback will become a standard feature on connected strength products. Either way, when training alone, you must exercise the utmost caution to avoid injury. Be sure to warm up well beforehand, don’t take too much pride in making the suggested changes, and focus on good form over speed. Remember that you are training without the supervision of a trainer, so listen to your body and if something is wrong, back off.

With that in mind, you can’t go wrong with any of the smart bodybuilding options we’ve picked out here. And for connected workouts beyond strength training, check out the best smart fitness equipment we’ve tested overall, including everything from treadmills and bikes to rowing machines.

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