The Best All-In-One Weight Lifting Machine

If you’re the type of person who showers before you go to work instead of after, then you most likely pursue some form of exercise in your leisure time so you don’t start looking like the 30% of Americans who are obese. For most people, the main goal of going to the gym is to “not get fat.” For a much smaller group of people who are willing to put in the time, the purpose of going to the gym is to get ripped. People who finally manage to get ripped know the secret. It’s all about commitment. Ex-cons don’t come out of prison jacked because they spent 10 years using great gym equipment. Bodybuilders will tell you that abs are made in the kitchen, but it’s hardly the nutritious food they serve you in the pen that’s helping felons gain more muscle. It’s all about the time commitment. When you have that much time on your hands, it’s easy to weave a lot of exercise into your daily routine like this lad did, even after the guards confiscated his weights.

Kali Muscle after 11 years in San Quentin – Source: Greatest Physiques

The majority of weekend warriors don’t really want to spend the time needed to look like Kali Muscle. Instead, you’ll see plenty of people who want to throw money at the problem so that it makes them feel like they’re actively addressing all that flab they’ve been meaning to get rid of for the past decade. That’s not enough. If you’re a guy who wants to get complimented when you take your shirt off, it’s going to take a whole lot of dedication and commitment. The best weight lifting machine in the world is the one that removes as many impediments as possible so you have no excuses not to work out. We recently came across a piece of gym equipment in the Bay Area that’s solving a lot of pain points associated with the traditional process of weight lifting.

An all-in-one weight lifting machine from Tonal
An all-in-one weight lifting machine from Tonal – Source: Tonal

The World’s Most Intelligent Fitness System

Click for company websiteFounded in 2015, San Francisco startup Tonal has raised $90 million in funding to create “the world’s most intelligent fitness system.” The system uses electromagnetic weights to replicate every leg, arm, shoulder, back, core, and chest machine – without all the bulky equipment – and it fits neatly on your wall. In order to understand the value proposition of Tonal, you need to understand some pain points associated with lifting weights – or what people now refer to as “strength training.” Let’s go through some of the hurdles you’ll face.

  • Knowing what to do – Most people probably don’t have a clue what each machine in the gym does, even the people that regularly go there. This is where a personal trainer comes in handy, but they’re expensive.
  • Knowing how to do it – Form is everything. You don’t want to be that guy doing heavy bicep curls while bending his back and yanking the bar. Again, form comes with practice, and a personal trainer who can tell you what you’re doing wrong.
  • Doing it – Many people are self-conscious when they go to gyms because everyone else they see there looks like they actually belong in a gym. It’s a bit intimidating. Having an attractive personal trainer is always a good motivating factor.
  • Doing it harder – When you start to look like you’ve been going to a gym for a long time, you’re in the more advanced stages of weight lifting. That’s when you want to do more advanced things. Again, an expensive personal trainer can help you learn new exercises.
  • Keeping track of it all – You’ll often see people using a pad of paper or their smartphone to track workouts. It’s a pain.

You can see that a common thread here is the use of a personal trainer to navigate the whole process. What Tonal sells is an answer to all these problems in a manageable space with a personal trainer on demand. Don’t know anything about weight lifting? You’re a perfect candidate for their entry-level training classes which start out with a fitness assessment to see where you stand. Already know your way around? You’ll be happy to see more advanced classes available. Forget about all that personal training stuff though. There are plenty of personal training apps out there. We’re more interested to know how Tonal works for the type of person who has the entire creatine loading process memorized.

Beyond Weight Lifting 101

If you’re even the slightest bit familiar with weight lifting, you know how cable machines work. You’re constantly inserting that little metal pin into the stack of weights, testing the weight, starting your reps, realizing it’s too heavy, moving the pin again – you know, that whole painful process. Tonal uses magnets for up to 200 lbs resistance and can adjust that weight almost instantly in increments of one pound. The fact that you turn on the machine and it already knows where you need to be, and the fact that it can automatically increase weight and decrease reps on the fly, that whole thing sounds simply magical. But that’s not even the best part. Let’s talk about data.

Weight lifting big data
Weight lifting big data – Source: Tonal

If you’ve been a committed weight lifter for any meaningful amount of time, you know the basic rules. Various body parts are divided up into different categories, and each category gets a certain day. It’s back and biceps day, so you might have three exercises for back and three for biceps for a total of six exercises. For each of those six exercises, you might have 3 sets with 10 reps each – or is it 12? See, it’s already hard to keep track of. Professional bodybuilders know this by heart, but that’s their job. Your average weekend warrior will have problems remembering what each machine does, much less remembering all the exercises. Here’s an example of how many exercises ought to be in the average weight lifter’s repertoire.

  • Stretching – Largely for pansies
  • Abs – 2 exercises
  • Triceps – 3 exercises
  • Biceps – 3 exercises
  • Legs – 3 exercises
  • Shoulders – 2 exercises
  • Lats, Calves, Forearms – 3 exercises

That’s a pretty basic number of unique exercises for someone who wants to get into weight lifting. While a personal trainer might be able to take you through this a few times, are you really going to remember all those 16 exercises? Personal trainer Evan Shaulson – a man who looks like he eats his own dogfood – put up a copy of his 5-day workout schedule with just one day’s exercises seen below as the table labeled “Upper Body Push.”

The above is an excellent example of the sort of detail you can expect to see with a proper weight lifting program. As you can see, remembering how to do the exercises isn’t even the most difficult part.

Feeling the Burn

The old-school weight lifting philosophy is that if you want to look more defined and less bulky, you go low-weight high-rep. If you want to build strength and bulk muscle, it’s all about high-weight, low-reps. The number of reps for each set varies, and sometimes you may even want to use a “pyramid” – 12 reps, 10 reps, 8 reps, 6 reps – where the weight increases as the reps decrease, and the last set of 6 reps means that you lift until failure. (Lifting to failure means that the last rep is physically impossible to complete.) This is where the concept of a spotter comes in. You’ll see people doing this on the bench press because nobody wants to be stuck under that heavy bar. Someone else stands directly behind the bar and helps you with the last one or two reps. (A proper spotter knows to use only one finger from each hand under the bar since a lot of it is psychological.) When you reach failure, your body pushes for those last few reps and that can make all the difference for long-term strength building. That’s why the Tonal machine has a built-in spotter. How cool is that?

Notice how we haven’t even talked much about the Tonal machine so far because access to equipment is not the problem we’re trying to solve for. Americans are some of the most fortunate people on the planet in that everyone can pretty much have access to gym equipment at an affordable price point. All of that gym equipment is perfectly suitable for you to get ripped or lose some of that flab. You don’t even need the damn equipment, you just need a time commitment. That time commitment becomes a whole lot easier to make when you enjoy the process of exercising. For extroverts, this means being part of an exercise community. For some, it’s the personal coaching that is the biggest motivational factor. Others who are more competitive might find the gamification elements to be gratifying. Data people will appreciate all the reporting features. The entire Tonal platform is built around getting you to work out. By now, you’ve probably drawn a comparison here with another company that did a great job getting people to work out. Ever hear of Peloton?

Update 03/31/2021: Tonal has raised $250 million in Series E funding at a post-money valuation of $1.6 billion to invest further in operations and scaling its business to meet increased demand. This brings the company’s total funding to $450 million to date.  

The Peloton Effect

Click for company websiteLong story short, there’s a company called Peloton that builds $1,995 stationary bikes that are connected to the cloud. Who the heck would shell out $1,995 for a stationary bike? At least 400,000 people, that’s who. Back of the napkin math tells us that those people shelled out nearly $800 million for those bikes. Then there’s the additional $468 million in annual run-rate from the 1 million subscribers who shell out $39 a month to stream the company’s live and on-demand classes. Investors see the potential, and Peloton has taken in almost $1 billion in funding with their last round raised at a valuation of $4.2 billion.

Peloton isn’t about gym equipment, it’s about connected gym equipment. People are connecting with other users and forming “tribes“. Peloton instructors are becoming mini-celebrities. And the machines are churning out loads of big data. (Tonal is said to be ramping up their AI expertise so they can begin adding value to all the data they plan to generate.) As for Peloton, people on Twitter recently started making fun of their commercials because the Peloton users being portrayed look like they turn left when they board an airplane. That’s some great free publicity, and just what Peloton needs as they start prepping for their IPO.


The best all-in-one weight lifting machine is the one you actually use. We already know that getting ripped, or even staying moderately fit, isn’t about the quality of the machine you’re using. The problem is with the machine that you’re not using. Tonal has taken a page from Peloton and built a platform that creates incentives for people to workout. Nobody wants to be at the bottom of the leaderboard in their tribe where other people can see they’ve been slacking. It’s why the November Project – a free workout community – has more than 250,000 members in 49 locations across the globe. People are motivated by being a part of a tribe. Motivation is what you’re buying from Tonal. It’s also surprisingly motivating to come home every day and stare at a permanently installed $2,995 workout machine that’s not getting used.


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