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Functional Trainer Vs. Tonal: Which Is Actually Better?

Functional Trainer Vs. Tonal Featured Image

When it comes to choosing the right gym equipment for your home, the debate between a functional trainer cable machine and a Tonal system is a new and exciting question.

These functional exercise machines offer various advantages and cater to different preferences regarding workout routines and overall fitness goals.

Functional trainers are cable-based systems that utilize weight stacks and gravity to create resistance, offering a versatile workout experience.

On the other hand, Tonal is a compact, wall-mounted, smart home gym system that uses digital weights and a patented system to create resistance. 

We will give you all the information you need to know by the end of this article so you can decide if you'll go traditional or modern with your functional training purchase.

Functional Trainer Overview

Functional Trainer with transparent background

A functional trainer is a versatile piece of exercise equipment that utilizes weight stacks, cables, and pulleys to provide a wide range of strength training exercises.

These machines usually have a single or dual-weight stack system.

The core feature of a functional trainer is the adjustable pulleys, which can be moved up, down, and swivel side to side, offering a nearly unlimited number of exercise variations to help users target specific muscle groups and movements.

Compared to the Tonal exercise machine, traditional functional trainers have some advantages, such as their robust build quality and the ability to handle heavier weights.

These machines are designed to withstand rigorous use in commercial gyms, making them an attractive option for home gyms as well.

Additionally, unlike Tonal's membership-based model, functional trainers typically do not require a subscription.

Functional trainers also excel in the workout experience that they provide the user. 

The tonal gym system gets the job similarly to the traditional functional trainer, yet the workout experience on the two is different. 

Overall, the functional trainer brings a classic and versatile approach to weight lifting with a cable machine and is a long-lasting, time-tested favorite type of commercial or home gym equipment. 

Tonal Overview

Tonal At Home Electronic Exercise Machine

The Tonal is a new type of smart home gym system that aims to redefine the fitness industry by utilizing advanced technology and compact design.

One significant advantage of the Tonal system is its use of patented digital resistance technology.

Instead of relying on weight stacks, Tonal provides up to 200 pounds of resistance through its electromagnetic system.

This enables smoother, quieter, and more precise adjustments in weight, allowing users to fine-tune their workouts and reduce the risk of injury.

Moreover, Tonal's compact design makes it an ideal home gym solution.

With a minimalist, sleek appearance and a small footprint, Tonal can easily fit into most living spaces without needing bulky weight stacks or additional storage.

Another key feature of Tonal is the integrated smart workout system.

The machine has an interactive touch screen that offers guided workouts, as described nicely by Garage Gym Reviews.

Users can access a vast library of exercises, customize programs, and follow along with expert-led video instructions.

Additionally, the machine utilizes machine learning to adapt and personalize workouts, providing real-time feedback and motivation to users.

Regarding exercise versatility, Tonal allows users to perform a wide range of movements similar to those found on traditional functional trainer cable machines.

Tonal's adjustable arms and digital weight system cater to various training needs and fitness levels, from upper and lower body exercises to core and flexibility movements.

Overall, the Tonal is a new innovation and by definition one of the best compact functional trainer machines the industry has seen as of late. 

But how do the two stack up against each other head-on??

Functionality Comparison

Exercise Variety

A functional trainer, typically featuring two weight stacks controlled by pulley cables, offers a wide range of exercises, allowing you to adjust the cable height and perform both upper and lower body movements.

These machines enable users to complete various exercises without changing equipment, acting as a complete stand-alone home gym or versatile equipment piece at the very least.

Check out our resource about functional trainer exercises to learn more!

On the other hand, Tonal is a smart home gym system that enhances exercise variety by adapting to your strength levels during specific exercises.

It actually features a very similar version of the adjustability found on a functional trainer machine. 

The arms move up and down into multiple positions, individually from each other. 

With a maximum weight resistance of 200 lbs., Tonal's digital weight system provides several benefits, including smoother adjustments, less physical space required, and a cleaner aesthetic.

Overall, its safe to say that the two machines are very comparable in terms of exercise potential and the sheer number of exercises available. 

Technology Integration

Traditional functional trainers rely on gravity-based weight stacks, offering a more mechanical experience.

While they may integrate some technologies like adjustable pulleys and multi-grip handles, these machines generally lack the higher level of technology available in Tonal.

Tonal significantly raises the bar in technology integration with its patented digital weight system, adaptive algorithms to personalize your workout experience, and additional features such as guided workouts, real-time feedback, and progress tracking through the built-in touchscreen display.

If technology and new innovation is important to you, the Tonal is the clear winner here...

Adjustability and Customization

Functional trainers are known for their versatility and customizable strength training options, as users can adjust cable height and pick suitable attachments for different exercises.

These trainers cater to users at various fitness levels, and the weight stacks can be easily adjusted by simply changing the pin placement.

Similarly, Tonal allows users to adjust and customize their workouts but has the advantage of allowing automatic weight adjustments based on personalized algorithms.

This feature not only makes the overall workout experience more seamless but also helps users push their boundaries safely and effectively (Medical News Today).

Price Comparison

When considering a home gym investment, it's important to understand the differences in upfront costs and ongoing expenses between functional trainers and the Tonal exercise machine.

Upfront Costs

A standard functional trainer's price can range from $1,000 to $5,000 depending on the model, brand, and features, with an average of around $2,000 out the door.

Some dual or single-stack cable machines may come with additional attachments or accessories, while others may require separate purchases, affecting the initial cost.

On the other hand, the Tonal exercise machine has a higher upfront cost, starting at a minimum of $2,995 with additional accessories and a required membership, making the initial investment around $4,000 to $5,000.

However,  for some people, the benefits of the Tonal machine may be worth that amount of money. 

So while it will be a more expensive unit, the value is there if you are willing to fork over the cash and actually like the machine. 

Ongoing Expenses

With a traditional functional trainer, ongoing expenses would include occasional maintenance or replacement of parts.

The costs for upkeep are very low but may vary depending on usage and wear over time.

In contrast, the Tonal machine has a monthly subscription fee for access to their AI-based training program, which costs approximately $60 per month.

This includes a variety of expert-led workouts and regular software updates that enhance and expand the Tonal's capabilities.

The choice between a functional trainer and a Tonal exercise machine will ultimately depend on your fitness goals, space availability, and budget preferences.

When comparing the two options, weigh the advantages of each in terms of technology, convenience, and overall value.

Space Requirements

When comparing traditional functional trainers with the Tonal system, one aspect to consider is the space requirements for each type of equipment.

A standard functional trainer, such as a dual or single-stack cable machine, typically requires more floor space than the wall-mounted Tonal exercise machine.

These trainers often need adequate room for movement, exercise variations, and weight stack access.

On the other hand, Tonal's compact design allows it to be installed on a wall taking up a much smaller area, and maximizing usability within limited spaces.

The minimum space requirement for a Tonal system is a 7-foot square area with 7-foot, 10-inch ceilings, and the center of the Trainer should be at least 7 feet away from the surrounding walls.

Tonal also requires a grounded, three-pronged outlet within 6 feet and no more than 23 inches from the floor if directly beneath the installation location.

In contrast, traditional functional trainers can vary in size, and their space requirements can fluctuate based on the specific model and features.

While some functional trainers may fit in a similar 7-foot square area, others might need more room, adequate exercise space, and a tall enough ceiling height.

It's essential to consider the dimensions and layout of your workout space when selecting a functional trainer to ensure compatibility and ease of use.

    Both traditional functional trainers and the Tonal system have their unique space requirements that you should carefully assess when considering which option is best suited for your fitness goals and available space.

    Make sure to measure your workout area and research the dimensions of the specific equipment to ensure proper fit and functionality.

    User Experience

    Ease of Use

    The Tonal machine offers an intuitive and user-friendly experience thanks to its touchscreen interface and guided workouts.

    With a simple setup process, users can easily adjust resistance levels and follow along with their workouts seamlessly.

    In contrast, traditional functional trainers also have a simple and easy user experience with adjustable pulleys and pin-selected weight stacks, allowing for easy weight and pulley position adjustments. 

    At a first glance, the traditional functional trainer may be easier to operate and have less of a learning curve than getting the hand of the Tonal electronic interface. 

    Feedback and Progress Tracking

    Tonal's digital platform provides immediate feedback and progress tracking, allowing users to monitor their fitness journey in real time.

    The smart system offers personalized recommendations based on individual performance data, ensuring workouts are tailored to specific fitness levels and goals.

    This level of feedback is not as easily accessible with conventional functional trainers.

    Users must rely on personal observations or third-party apps for progress tracking, which may be less accurate and integrated than Tonal's system.

    Moreover, Tonal's $49 per month membership includes full access to guided workouts and professional coaching, further enhancing the user experience.

    This type of support is typically unavailable with standard cable machines, as users must rely on their knowledge or seek additional resources for proper training guidance.

    Adaptability and Customization

    One of the key advantages of Tonal is its adaptability and customization options.

    The digital resistance and advanced features enable users to fine-tune their workouts with precision, ensuring the most effective and efficient exercise experience.

    Furthermore, Tonal's electromagnet resistance system creates a smoother and more natural feel during workouts than traditional functional trainers.

    In contrast, standard functional trainers offer a more rigid and limited range of options for workout customization.

    While they do provide versatile training options and the opportunity for compound movements, the experience might not be as tailored to individual needs as Tonal's premium electronic approach.


    In the comparison between the Tonal exercise machine and functional trainer cable machines, it becomes clear that both offer a great workout experience with unique advantages and cater to users' specific preferences.

    The Tonal exercise machine's cutting-edge technology provides a seamless, fully digital workout experience.

    Its smart features, such as personalized workout programs, digital resistance using electromagnets, and a compact design, make it an attractive choice for those who prefer modern, data-driven solutions for their home gym.

    Tonal stands out for its potential to be an effective choice for beginners, as it tailors workouts to individual strength and goals Medical News Today.

    On the other hand, traditional functional trainer offers benefits that many people still strongly prefer.

    Users who prefer a solid machine with adjustable weights, pulleys, and resistance find satisfaction in these reliable devices.

    Traditional functional trainers provide extensive exercise options and cater to the user's specific training goals, whether it is strength, flexibility, or rehabilitation.

    Individuals should consider their workout style, preferences, and available space and budget to determine the optimal choice.

    Both options can effectively contribute to a comprehensive home gym setup, and the final decision ultimately depends on personal needs and expectations.

    If you want to check out all of our functional trainers for sale, head over to our broad collection of some of the best models on the market.

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    About The Author

    Matt Gemkow, the author of this content section at Select Fitness USA, boasts more than 15 years of fitness experience. He started out in sports and athletic training for many years and has since 2014 transitioned into heavy-weight training and bodybuilding. As a result, he has become one of the most experienced fitness equipment experts out there, and a valuable source of information.