Tonal Digital Weight (How it works, benefits and safety)

One of the reasons why I got my hands on Tonal gym is the cutting-edge technology that uses digital weight. Today I will explain everything there is to know about digital weight technology and help you understand why it’s better than regular weights.

As a whole, Tonal digital weight is a patented system that allows you to change the weight in the Tonal machine using magnetic resistance. It creates a magnetic field between the magnets that generate opposing force, which results in silent, frictionless resistance. The benefit of using this technology is it requires little-to-no maintenance.

I will also look at some advantages and disadvantages of using Tonal digital weight versus other exercise options like bands, body weight, and regular machines.

photo of my tonal

What Is Tonal Digital Weight?

Overall, Tonal digital weight is a proprietary system that uses electromagnetic resistance to control the weight, without direct contact with the cable.

This technology allows for quiet and smooth operation using a Tonal touchscreen, without any dials or pins like in regular cable machines.

Tonal is the first company that utilizes digital weights in the strength training space.

I’m a huge fan of the Tonal digital weight system not only because it creates constant resistance at any angle of the lift (which leads to greater time under tension), but also because it automatically adjusts the weight for me.

(It’s like having a personal trainer that adjusts your weights with every repetition.)

It not only saves a lot of space to store the weights but also is more reliable and requires almost no maintenance or calibration to work.

However, because Tonal runs on electricity (and not on big metal plates and gravity) it does require a constant power supply and access to WiFi to utilize its technology.

Of course, there are many benefits of using traditional weights like dumbbells and barbells. For example, studies have shown that free weights elicit a greater anabolic hormone response (compared to cable machines) (Schwanbeck et al. 2020).

However, if your goal is to build strength and muscle mass, Tonal digital weight is the future of smart home fitness.

Here’s why.

How Does Tonal Digital Weight Work?

Tonal digital weight creates the magnetic field between the magnets.

When you increase the resistance on your touchscreen, the magnets move closer to each other, creating a braking effect that makes it harder for the cable to pull.

On the other hand, when you lower the resistance, the magnets move away from each other making it easier to pull.

This technology not only makes it easier to control the resistance.

It allows us to assess the strength and performance using the Tonal artificial intelligence algorithm, which translates into workout personalization and recommendation.

The maximum weight limit of Tonal reaches up to 200 lbs and is evenly redistributed between both cables (100 lbs on each side).

On the surface, you may think it’s not a lot, especially for people who are used to lifting heavier weights.

However, you can be surprised because 200 lbs on Tonal is not like 200 lbs on the barbell.

Please remember that the Tonal cable machine creates constant tension in the muscle, which makes it harder than regular weights.

For example, doing a biceps curl with a 40lbs dumbbell feels easier, compared to 40-lb using Tonal.

See below.

photo of tonal vs dumbbell
Figure 1: Strength curve difference between Tonal and weights

What you’re looking at above are two graphs that illustrate the biceps curl.

The graph on the left side illustrates lifting the dumbbell at three different joint angles.

The only resistance to the weight comes from gravity, which will change depending on the position (aka strength curve).

The graph on the right side illustrates the Tonal cable machine at the same three different joint angles.

However, because the resistance comes from the machine (and not from gravity), the strength curve remains the same throughout the full range of motion.

Is it heavier?

Overall, the Tonal digital weight is not heavier than regular free weights.

It creates constant muscle tension.

This allows for greater muscle fatigue with the same amount of weight, or the same muscle fatigue with a less amount of weight, depending on the pace of the lift and the number of repetitions.

In other words, the Tonal digital weight allows for using less amount of weight and getting similar results as with conventional barbells and dumbbells.

Tonal Digital Weight vs Dumbbells

Tonal uses smart AI technology that helps you to adjust the resistance and sends form suggestions, based on your last lift.

(It’s like asking your 30 lb dumbbell to become a 40lb dumbbell at different stages of the lift.)

The only downside is it requires constant access to electricity and you (obviously) cannot travel with the whole machine.

However, Tonal comes with on-the-go classes that you can do when far away from home.

On the other hand, using only dumbbells or kettlebells for a whole-body workout may require to have multiple pieces with a variety of weights, which can be hard to store.

NOTE: Dumbbells and barrels are always available in any gym, so even when you travel you should be able to get access to some local fitness clubs.

Tonal Digital Weight vs Friction Cable Machine

For me, Tonal provides a better user experience, it’s easier to adjust and helps with creating a more seamless workout. 

The magnets are a distance apart to increase or decrease the resistance.

Also, keep in mind that Tonal digital weight requires less maintenance as the parts and cables do not wear out or get out of alignment. 

However, if for some reason Tonal gym has to be serviced or calibrated, it will most often require extra time and money to be fixed.

On the other hand, friction cable machines are not limited by the amount of weight you can use. They also are more budget-friendly, however, they do require more frequent maintenance.

In the end, the Tonal digital weight is better than a regular cable machine because it creates a smooth workout experience.

I also find it’s much quieter and packed with several safety features that automatically lower the weight in case of power failure.

Tonal Digital Weight vs Resistance Bands

Tonal digital weight and resistance bands are completely different, however, they share one thing in common; they both use constant tension throughout the whole repetition.

Resistance bands provide tension from the resistance that changes with the length of the band. The more you pull, the harder the resistance.

This is an effective method to create metabolic stress in the muscles and develop muscle strength, as well as muscle endurance, with minimum pressure on the joints.

Plus, there are other benefits of using the bands instead of Tonal like logistical accessibility and financial cost.

However, the biggest limitation (for me) is the fixed resistance of the band, as well as quicker wear and tear.

On the other hand, Tonal offers not only more resistance but also (thanks to the eccentric mode) it can change the weight at the different phases of the lift.

Tonal Digital Weight vs Bodyweight

Tonal offers over 200 exercises that cover all of the muscle groups, whereas bodyweight workout is limited (especially when it comes to pulling and isolation exercises).

Plus, trained people who have some years of experience behind their belt in the weight room may not get the most optimal results from bodyweight training alone.

In fact, studies have shown that “A training program using bodyweight can be substantially effective in improving lower limb muscle force and power in elderly individuals; however, the initial training status is important for progressive increases in muscle force” (Yamauchi et al. 2009).

The last line is important.

The initial training status basically means your level of fitness. The way I think about this is bodyweight exercises are a viable way to train, but not for all individuals.

People who get the best results from bodyweight workouts are older adults and/or untrained individuals.

Of course, you can do some advanced moves that require a gigantic level of core and upper body strength like handstands or pistol squats.

However, this also requires tons of skill work beyond strength like ankle mobility, hip and hamstrings flexibility, and enormous core strength.

On the other hand, Tonal digital weight is suitable for all levels of fitness because you can scale the resistance from lowest to highest, back and forth.

It does cover all basic compound moves like squats, deadlifts, bench press, pull down, and all of the isolation exercises, which makes it more effective for strength and hypertrophy gains.


Tonal digital weight has a built-in safety system with emergency breaks that reduces the resistance down to zero at any position of the lift in case of power failure, software glitch, or other types of malfunction.

You can listen to Tonal CEO Aly Orady talking about the Tonal safety system in the Mind Pump podcast below.


As you can see, The Tonal digital weights are better than most conventional machines.

Many things separate Tonal from other machines like the longevity of the product and smart technology that helps to collect the data and then further personalize your workouts based on your current and historical workouts.

Michal Sieroslawski

Michal is a personal trainer and writer at Millennial Hawk. He holds a MSc in Sports and Exercise Science from the University of Central Lancashire. He is an exercise physiologist who enjoys learning about the latest trends in exercise and sports nutrition. Besides his passion for health and fitness, he loves cycling, exploring new hiking trails, and coaching youth soccer teams on weekends.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts