Tonal vs Bowflex Revolution (Which one is better?)


I love smart home gym equipment and today I will compare Tonal gym with Bowflex Revolution in terms of functionality, results, and value for money.

As a whole, the Tonal gym is better than Bowflex because it runs on electricity and uses digital resistance driven by AI technology that allows personalizing every workout. It automatically adjusts resistance, and power output based on your historical workout sessions, as well as provides guidance on the correct form and range of motion.

However, they both have advantages and disadvantages compared to other smart home gym machines, and both are aimed at different audiences.

What Is Bowflex?

In general, Bowflex is a company from Washington that’s been delivering home-based fitness equipment since 1986 with its first Bowflex 2000X. It was the first company that offered an alternative to free weights and pulley machines for home use that used polymer rods technology to create constant resistance on both eccentric and concentric phases of the exercise.

How do Bowflex works? In the nutshell, the Boxflex revolution works by allowing you to do almost all of the exercises that you can do in a regular gym. It uses cable resistance with SpiraFlex technology to help reduce the gravity and provide constant resistance.

This was also the very first fitness product that allowed you to do multiple exercises like chest press, rowing, pull down, and leg extensions with just one piece of equipment. Back in the day, you would need to buy a separate machine to cover all of the moves, whereas with Bowflex you could do everything from one platform.

This means you could save a lot of time and money.

Today the company is producing a number of other fitness machines like steppers, ellipticals, bikes, treadmills, and other fitness accessories.

Is Bowflex effective? As a whole, what makes the Bowflex so effective is not only the ability to do both compound and isolation exercises from one machine but also the ability to stack up a lot of weight (more on that in a second).

What Is Tonal?

In short, the Tonal gym is the smart home-gym equipment that uses digital resistance, and it’s packed with ready-to-go workouts, custom programs, and live classes. It uses cutting-edge technology that allows you to train, track your performance, adjust weights, and monitor your progress.

How does Tonal gym work? A Tonal gym is the most tech-savvy fitness equipment that is currently available in the market that is completely driven by digital technology. It works by providing you with a selection of workouts that improves your strength, cardio, and flexibility.

One thing that I love about Tonal gym is it not only allows you to do custom freestyle workouts, but it also includes comprehensive programs that are written by professional coaches and then further personalized by AI technology based on your current fitness level and progress.

This means you can either do your own workout based on your fitness goals, or you can join any of the classes or programs that range from 4 to 8 weeks long.

Is Tonal gym effective? In general, the Tonal gym is effective for both beginners and experienced lifters because you can do your resistance training session with the help of a virtual personal trainer, as well as join the live yoga, bootcamp, or kickboxing class. It’s like an all-in-one workout station.

Tonal Equipment vs Bowflex

In general, the difference between the Tonal gym and Bowflex is that the Tonal has to be mounted on the wall, which helps to save more space. It also uses adjustable arms, which can support upper body movements (e.g pull down, chest press, overhead press) and lower body movements (e.g squats and lunges).

On the other hand, the Bowflex is a multi-functional piece of equipment that needs to have a variety of attachments to be fully functional like leg press station, preacher curl attachment, vertical bench press, and leg extension attachment.

One thing that I like about the Bowflex is it can reach up to 300 lbs in total resistance for most of the exercises (and up to 600 lbs of resistance for leg press), which is unheard of in any home-gym machine.

This makes it more suitable for people who want to use heavier weights. However, I tied Bowflex Revolution and when you add more weights, the whole construction was shaking and some of the parts were moving more than I’d expected.

On the other hand, Tonal has only 200 lbs of digital resistance, which is enough for most of the exercises. However, if you like to do heavy squats and deadlifts, the maximum weight on Tonal seems to be light.

Of course, with the additional features like a spotter, chains, or burnout mode you can easily maintain time under tension with minimum weight, which makes it suitable for all levels of fitness.

You can learn more about “tonal digital weight” and its technology in my article here.

Tonal vs Bowflex Revolution

The Tonal gym and Bowflex Revolution are completely different machines but share one thing in common; they both use weight training as their core modality. The Tonal gym is packed with smart AI technology that helps to maximize workout results, whereas the Boxflex Revolution hasn’t changed much since its first launch 15 years ago.

The biggest difference between Tonal and Bowflex is the technology. Tonal has built-in multiple algorithms that use user data and performance metrics to customize each workout.

Plus, Tonal gym uses magnetic resistance and dynamic weight modes that automatically can adjust the weight based on your latest performance. It also has 17 movement sensors that provide real-time guidance and monitor your form.

Tonal Dynamic Weight Modes vs Bowflex

Another big difference between Tonal and Bowflex is that Bowflex requires you to change the weight manually, whereas with the Tonal you can adjust the weight directly from the touchscreen or change automatically by using the dynamic weight modes.

What are dynamic weight modes? Dynamic weight modes are the patented digital weight technology that AI machine learning to help you get the most out of every rep. It includes features like burnout, smart flex, chains, and eccentric.

You can learn more about all of the features and benefits that come with a “tonal subscription” in my article here.

Here you can see the list of all dynamic modes on tonal and its description.

  • Eccentric mode – Tonal eccentric mode allows you to add more resistance during the lowering phase. It’s like asking your 10 lbs dumbbell to become a 20 lbs dumbbell in the middle of the repetition only during the lowering phase.

For me, that’s a game-changer because eccentric training elicits greater improvements in muscle strength, training adaptations, and higher muscle protein synthesis.

Meta-analyses showed that when eccentric exercise was performed at higher intensities compared with concentric training, total strength and eccentric strength increased more significantly” (Roig et al. 2009).

Normally, you cannot do this type of workout without a training partner or without the help of an experienced trainer. The only way to add more “resistance” during the eccentric phase was by slowing the pace of the lift and increasing time under tension.

However, Tonal gym allows you to adjust the resistance with every rep and every exercise you do.

  • Smart Flex – Tonal smart flex is a function that recognizes your current form and lowers or increases the weight based on how hard it feels for you, automatically. It uses the built-in accelerometers in the handles to calculate how easy or how hard was that last rep and adjusts the resistance accordingly.

It’s like having a personal trainer right next to you that looks upon your form and knows if you’re ready to step up and add more weight, or not. This way you’re constantly implementing progressive overload, whenever you remember to change the weight or not.

  • Chains – Tonal is one of the first fitness machines that allow you to mimic chain resistance training, which is like having suspended chains attached to your barbell during the bench press or deadlift. This technique helps to increase the explosiveness of the movement because it utilizes faster lifting velocities in the initial concentric portion of the lift.

In other words, it works by reducing the stability of the barbell and allows to create explosive movements to engage more fast-twitch muscle fibers in the lifts that normally do not allow for that.

Studies have shown that “People who trained with attached chains improved their bench press more than the traditional group” (Burnham et al. 2010).

At the moment, I don’t use chains and bands in my current program, however, in the previous gym that I used to go this was a regular part of training and it was done by both men and women.

  • Burnout – Tonal burnout mode is one of my favorite features of this machine. It is similar to an advanced resistance training technique called “drop set”, “descending sets” or “strip sets”, which allows you to lower the weight and continue to lift once you reach muscle failure.

An example of a burnout set is when you perform the set until muscle failed (e.g biceps curl) and instead of getting rest, you lower the weight and continue the movement until you reach muscle failure again. The number of sets without the rest depends on your fitness level.

Dr. Brad J Schoenfeld, the hypertrophy expert, and Tonal advisory board member has documented that “drop sets increase mechanical stress, which initiates anabolic signaling, muscle growth, and may enhance the post-exercise hypertrophic response” (Schoenfeld, 2013).

I like this method because I can feel the burn after every set. However, the problem is when there is no people around I have to strip the weight by myself, or I need to have access to multiple dumbbells or barbells at the same time.

With Tonal, I just need to choose the weight I’m going down and the machine will automatically reduce the weight after each set. This helps me to maintain time under tension, without having to pause the exercise.

Below you can read the newest article from Brad on the Tonal gym website where he shares 5 cool tips on hypertrophy and muscle strength.

Dr. Brad J Schoenfeld has published hundreds of scientific research papers on resistance training, hypertrophy, muscle protein synthesis, and biomechanics.

Tonal vs Bowflex For Building Muscle

In general, both Tonal and Bowflex can build muscle because both machines allow you to perform over 100 different exercises that include both compound and isolation movement via cable resistance.

Cable resistance not only allows you to maintain the same muscle activation throughout the whole repetition (beginning and end angles for specific joints) but also can maintain the resistance in exercises where a change in the direction is required (e.g. twists).

Now watch this.

Dr. Joseph F. Signorile from the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida has documented the differences in muscle activity during the biceps curl and chest press between cable resistance and free weights.

In other words, how many different muscles do you engage in doing the same exercise, but with different methods.

Here are the results.

Muscle Cable TrainingFree Weights
Pectoralis major126.157.2
Anterior deltoid221.6144.3
Biceps726.6747.1
Rectus abdominis18.8923.21
External obliques18.4521.30
Triceps92.0694.08
Muscle activity during a biceps curl

As you can see, cable training requires much greater chest and deltoid muscle activity just to maintain body stability and do a cable biceps curl. The rest of the muscles like the core, triceps, and biceps showed no significant difference.

In conclusion, we can see that “cable machines allow a considerably greater number of degrees of freedom and in most cases require considerably greater activation of the core musculature as force is sequentially transferred in a kinetic chain from the lower to the upper body” (Signorile et al. 2017).

In other words, working on a Tonal gym or Bowflex can build muscle because cable training calls for constant muscle engagement which helps to work on the muscles around your lumbar spine.

The Bowflex uses cable resistance with Power Rod technology that gradually increases the resistance throughout the rep, where the Tonal can either increase or decrease the resistance based on the type of workout you do.

What is power rod technology? As a whole, the Bowflex power rod technology is a cable system that doesn’t rely on gravity and helps to progressively increase the resistance and eliminate inertia.

In other words, it allows maintaining constant resistance on both eccentric and concentric phases of the lift, without having to use momentum.

This may sound like something new and innovative, however, please remember that Bowflex introduced that technology back in 2012.

Tonal Classes vs Bowflex JRNY

Another key difference between Tonal gym and Bowflex is the access to live and on-demand classes. Apart from having a free mode workout, the Tonal offers 18 different genres of fitness workouts that range from Pilates to Dance cardio.

All of the classes are recorded in high-quality resolution and are displayed on the massive 24-inch touchscreen.

On the other hand, Bowflex does offer access to their JRNY digital fitness platform where you can stream workouts like indoor cycling and running.

However, please keep in mind that these are mostly separate workouts and do not integrate with the Bowflex Revolution machine. The only Bowflex equipment that can stream the classes is the Bowflex C7 bike and selected treadmills.

Here is the comparison list between classes on Bowflex JRNY and Tonal gym.

Tonal gymBowflex
Barre
Bootcamp
Boxing
Cardio
Dance Cardio
Family Fitness
High Intensity
Kickboxing
Meditation
Mobility
Pilates
Recovery
Theragun
Yoga
Warm-up
Indoor cycling
Running
Tonal vs Bowflex classes

As you can see, apart from the custom workouts, the Tonal does offer more variety. Plus, they also offer live classes and hundreds of different programs that range not only in the duration but also in the frequency of the sessions.

This means you can choose the strength programs that are based on 3, 4, or even 5 sessions per week, which makes it suitable for all people to fit their schedules.

Tonal vs Bowflex Streaming Movies

One thing that I like about the Bowflex that Tonal is lacking is the ability to stream popular entertainment platforms like Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, and Disney+ during your workouts. This is great, especially during the cardio sessions to keep you distracted.

A lot of studies have shown that “TV viewing, regardless of whether the programming is self-selected or standardized, associates with greater enjoyment of exercise” (Rider C et al. 2016).

I do believe that enjoyment and fun are important factors, especially in the adoption and long-term maintenance of exercise. However, please remember that these are only available on cardio workouts, not for strength training.

For the strength training workouts, I don’t find this feature useful.

Conclusion

As a whole, both Tonal gym and Bowflex revolution use cable resistance and can provide an effective workout. However, the only difference is that Tonal gym uses digital resistance where you can adjust the weight even in the middle of the rep.

One thing I like about the Bowflex is it allows you to stack up to 600lb for leg press, as well as up to 300lbs for all other exercises (only with resistance upgrade).

On the other hand, Tonal gym uses AI technology, which collects and interprets data to further personalize your workout and provide an excellent user experience.

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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