Tonal Bench Press Review (Everything you need to know)


The Tonal bench press is one of the most basic, yet effective exercise that not only builds saucy looking physique but also translates into better strength for other lifts like squats and deadlifts.

As a whole, you can do a bench press with Tonal because the machine comes with a bench, smart handles, and a smart bar that attaches to the cables. However, the Tonal bench does not allow you to change the angle for the lifts, which means you cannot do incline and decline chest press or cable press.

Today I will explain what can Tonal bench press do for you and what are the alternatives if you have a shoulder or arm injury.

Let’s dig in…

Tonal Bench Press Explained

In general, the Tonal bench press is a powerful exercise that helps to improve strength, neuromuscular performance, and bone mass density. It works by pressing weight on the bar or handles upwards while lying on a weight training bench.

What is the Tonal bench press good for? The Tonal bench press is good to build strength and hypertrophy in the chest, shoulders, arms, and core. However, it also helps to get stronger in other muscle groups due to neural adaptation and the cross-transfer effect.

What is the cross-transfer effect? As a whole, the cross-transfer effect (also called cross-education) is the phenomenon that increases the muscular size and strength after resistance training in other muscle groups that haven’t been used during the training.

It’s like being able to do more biceps curls after getting stronger in squats, and vice versa. This happens due to the short-term elevation of the anabolic hormones after strength training.

Take a look at the graph below.

As you can see in the example above, when you perform resistance training for a given exercise (for example Tonal bench press) this causes acute hormonal alterations (postexercise changes in plasma testosterone and growth hormone) that appear to play a role in stimulating hypertrophic signaling for the whole body (Michels, 2008).

In other words, the Tonal bench press transfer into better strength and muscle size gains in other movements.

Can you do a heavy bench press with Tonal? Tonal allows you to do bench press with a max of 100lbs in each hand (total of 200lbs). However, thanks to the digital resistance, Tonal has several features like chains and smart flex that help to make this exercise extra harder.

Tonal Bench Press Muscles Worked

The Tonal bench press is a multi-joint movement, which means it builds the muscle tissue and strength in your pectorals, deltoids, and triceps, as well as serratus anterior and biceps.

This upper body strength and power exercise also help to combat postural adaptations that occur after prolonged sitting, as long as you use the neutral grip to enhance external rotation of the shoulder (more on that in a moment).

I like using the Tonal bench press because it helps me with my everyday activities like pushing shopping carts and moving heavy objects. It’s also beneficial for sports that I love to do such as swimming, tennis, and martial arts.

Tonal Bench Press Grip Position

Adjusting your grip position in the Tonal bench press will play a role in the muscle activation between your pecs, delts, and triceps. In general, a wider grip will help to engage more pectoralis major and deltoids, whereas a narrow grip will likely engage more triceps.

In contrast, a study published by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research demonstrated greater pectoralis major activity (clavicular part) using a narrow grip compared to a wide grip (source).

TIP: If your goal is strength and you want to lift as much weight as possible during Tonal workouts, bench pressing with a wide or medium grip will have the best results.

Tonal Bench Press Alternative

You can use Tonal without bench press because every exercise comes with several alternatives that help to target the same muscle groups, but with different movements.

The best alternative for the Tonal bench press is the cable chest press because it can be used with a neutral grip, which is good for people who feel shoulder pain or have a shoulder injury. External rotation can significantly reduce unwanted tension, without compromising pec engagement during the exercise.

That is one of the most common things I see in people who spend most of their day in hunched position (e.g. sitting).

Prolonged sitting often creates postural adaptations (the body default to the position where you spend the most time), which leads to internally rotated shoulders.

To combat this issue, you want to use smart handles and externally rotate the shoulders while doing bench press on Tonal.

Tonal Bench Press Pros

A strong bench press can do a lot for your fitness, regardless of your sport or goals. Let’s break down some of the benefits of the Tonal bench and how they apply to you. 

Muscle Hypertrophy

The Tonal bench press is a compound movement that allows you to use higher resistance, therefore, it facilitates mechanical tension, which is one of the primary factors responsible for initiating the hypertrophic response (building muscle).

Is Tonal bench press good for building muscle? As a whole, the Tonal bench press is good for building muscle because it leads to mechanical overload and muscle protein synthesis that increases muscle mass. Plus, the Tonal eccentric mode helps to extend time under tension to further enhance hypertrophy.

Tonal eccentric mode mimics the popular training method called “negatives”, which increases muscle fatigue during the eccentric phase of the lift.

A systematic review and meta-analysis from Dr. Brad J Schoenfeld have shown that “eccentric muscle actions resulted in a greater effect size (ES) compared with concentric actions” (Schoenfeld, Brad J et al. 2017).

Muscle Strength

Tonal bench press in combination with the eccentric mode is also a viable way to improve muscle strength.

In fact, a study from New Zealand has shown that “Bilateral training, eccentric training and accentuated eccentric loading, and variable resistance training may produce the greatest comprehensive strength adaptations” (Suchomel et al. 2018).

On the other hand, isolation exercises, plyometrics, unilateral exercises, and bodyweight exercises can be limited in improving maximal strength.

Is a Tonal bench press good for strength? In short, the Tonal bench press is good for strength because it allows using of more resistance, therefore, engaging more motor units in the muscle.

Also, using heavier weights helps to stimulate the release of anabolic hormones such as testosterone or growth hormone.

When I train for strength, I always like to combine a Tonal bench press with the spotter mode to reduce the resistance for the last couple of reps and push set beyond muscle fatigue. This, of course, helps to increase localized damage to muscle tissue and facilitate more strength adaptations.

Muscle Endurance

As a whole, a Tonal bench press is good for muscle endurance, as long as you keep the number of reps around 15-25 or more.

A higher number of reps does not elicit the most optimal strength gains, however, it comes with other health benefits like improved maximal oxygen uptake or better cardiorespiratory capacity.

Muscle endurance is also important for improved glucose tolerance, better posture, and overall quality of life satisfaction.

The best way to use the Tonal bench press for muscle endurance is to combine it with a Tonal burnout mode, which is the equivalent of a drop set. Drop sets help to increase metabolic stress and metabolite buildup in the muscle, which helps with endurance and fitness gains.

I’m not gonna be covering here all the details about the drop sets. I’ve already covered that in “tonal burnout mode“, which I recommend you read.

User Experience

Apart from obvious benefits like hypertrophy, strength, and endurance, the Tonal bench press comes with smart AI technology that uses digital weights, as well as dynamic modes to enhance user experience.

(It’s kind of like moving from petrol to electric car).

Tonal dynamic modes are the smart features that change the resistance for you during the movement, based on your current power output.

Digital weights use magnetic resistance that provides a better lifting experience with no friction and little-to-no maintenance.

NOTE: To learn more about the “tonal digital weight” and why it’s better than conventional weights, check out my article.

Tonal Bench Press Cons

As a whole, one of the biggest cons of the Tonal bench press is the poor bench that comes with smart accessories. The original Tonal bench that comes with the product is flat and does not allow for angle adjustments.

Can you do an incline bench press on Tonal? In general, you can do an incline bench press on Tonal, as long as you have your own bench that allows for the incline/decline setup. The Tonal bench is fixed and has no option for position changes.

Of course, if your goal is to build strength you still get plenty of benefits just from the flat bench press. However, adjusting the bench to a 30° angle helps to target different muscle fibers, which can make your pecs pop out.

Another restriction of Tonal is the 200lbs weight limit. People who like to use heavier weights for 1-5 rep max can find the machine limited.

How To Improve Bench Press On Tonal

Here you can find the video from Jeff Nippard about how to improve your Tonal bench press. This video is based on the barbell bench press, however, the principles also apply to Tonal workouts.

Tonal Bench Press Programs

Tonal has many programs that help to improve not only the bench press but the whole upper body. Most of the workouts that target the chest and shoulders are called “Quick Fit” which is a series of Tonal quick workouts that are under 15 minutes long.

You can use these workouts on their own, or together with your regular full-body classes.

Here is the list of the best Tonal workouts for stronger chest and shoulders.

Tonal bench press workoutsDuration
Chest Superset12 minutes
Total Chest Pump11 minutes
Chest And Bis15 minutes
Chest In 1010 minutes
Chest Attack12 minutes
Dynamic Chest + Back41 minutes
Tonal bench press workouts

TIP: If your goal is to improve bench press or build chest muscles, I recommend you start from Quick Fit workouts first, followed by your main workout.

Tonal Bench Press Safety

One thing that I like about the Tonal bench press is the safety feature.

Is the Tonal bench press safe? As a whole, The Tonal bench press is safe because it has a separate built-in safety computer that has energy breaks systems which immediately reduces the resistance to zero in case of power failure or a software glitch.

This means if anything happens and you’re in the middle of the set, the safety system will kick start and your weight will drop down to zero.

Easy.

On the other hand, if you’re pushing the 100lbs barbell in the gym and your muscles fatigue, you need to have a training partner or personal trainer to make sure you won’t get injured.

Tonal Bench Press vs Dumbbell Press

Tonal bench press and dumbbell press are similar movements that elicit comparable results in strength and hypertrophy gains.

A study done on college football players compared the effects between barbell bench press and dumbbell press.

The results have shown that “barbell and dumbbell repetitions with equivalent weights place a similar demand on the upper-body musculature for training and testing purposes” (Heinecke et al. 2021).

The only difference is that Tonal has smart technology and dynamic modes that allow you to incorporate advanced training methods like negatives or drop sets to your bench press, without having to use a training partner.

It also takes up less space (which is a big deal for me).

On the other hand, dumbbells are significantly less expensive than Tonal, even when you choose to buy the whole rack.

Is the Tonal bench press better than the dumbbell press? Overall, the Tonal bench press is better than the dumbbell press because apart from digital resistance it also uses techniques like a spotter, chains, or eccentric modes, which increases the time under tension and leads to greater muscle fatigue.

Tonal Bench Press vs Push-Ups

The difference between the Tonal bench press and push-up is that Tonal allows you to increase the training volume by either adding extra resistance or increasing the number of reps, which helps with further workout progression.

(The only restriction on Tonal is the 200lbs weight limit, which can be not enough for more savvy lifters).

On the other hand, with pushups, you can only increase the training volume by adding more repetitions (or if you have access to chains, a weighted vest, or elevation where you position your legs on the couch or a chair).

However, please do not disregard the pushups because they are also powerful in developing strength and muscle size.

Studies have shown that “push-up exercise with similar load to 40% 1RM bench press is comparably effective for muscle hypertrophy and strength gain over an 8-week training period” (Kikuchi, 2017).

This means if you reduce Tonal bench press resistance that matches with your 40% of one repetition max, push-ups can elicit the same results. Of course, the results will be in favor of the bench press if you start slowly increasing the load.

Is Tonal bench press and push-up the same? As a whole, the Tonal bench press and pushup are not the same because even if they work on the same muscle groups, the Tonal bench press elicits higher muscle contraction measured on the EMG (Electromyography).

However, keep in mind that EMG activity also varies between males and females.

Dr. Shahab Alizadeh from the Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada documented that “push-ups may provide a greater training stress to women than men and provide an excellent starting point when initiating a resistance training program” (Alizadeh et al. 2020).

On the other hand, the EMG mean amplitude was significantly lower during the push-ups for men.

Conclusion

As you can see, the Tonal bench press is one of the most effective compound upper body movements that specifically targets chest and shoulder muscles.

Not only does it help you to improve your upper body strength, but it also transfers the gains into other lifts.

One thing that I don’t like about the Tonal bench press is it creates a significant amount of internal rotation on the shoulders, which can be problematic for people who spend a lot of time in the hunched position.

Michal Sieroslawski

Michal is an exercise physiologist (MSc), nutrition coach, Ashtanga teacher, and fitness blogger. He shares his successes and failures to help busy men and women squash down 20, 50, or even 100 pounds of fat without leaving their home.

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