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Can You Lift ‘Heavy’ With Tonal?

Advanced lifters Stipe Miocic, Paul Sklar, and Michelle Tee weigh in on whether 200 pounds of digital resistance is enough to feel challenged .

Stope Miocic, Michelle Tee, Paul Sklar lifting on Tonal.

Paul Sklar is a 25-year fitness veteran with muscles carved like an action figure. Take just a few seconds to scroll through his Instagram , and you’ll know right away that the former pro duathlete can move big weight.

Is he an advanced lifter? Yes. Is 200 pounds of resistance enough for a guy as jacked as Sklar? Yes.

“Anybody who thinks they’re too strong for this …” he said in a review of Tonal on YouTube , “you probably are not.”

The question is valid: Is digital weight the same as traditional weight? The answer: not exactly. It does feel different . In fact, it feels around 22 percent heavier than dumbbells or traditional cable machines according to an independent study conducted out of High Point University. But Tonal’s member data also reveals only 4 percent of Tonal members have maxed out the weight for one rep and even fewer max out regularly.

Two hundred pounds of resistance is plenty for most athletes for most movements. Here, advanced lifters like Sklar, Stipe Miocic, a former MMA world champion, and Michelle Tee, a Tonal community member, share their experiences with compound exercises like deadlifts and squats using digital weight.

Paul Sklar: I felt challenged by digital weight from the very first rep.

In Sklar’s review, he tested six strength training moves on Tonal: barbell bench press, barbell deadlift, barbell overhead press, barbell front squat, lat pull-down, and a decline chest fly to see how the 200 pounds of digital weight measured up to traditional free weights or cable machines.

Sklar explained that he had never used digital weight before, but as soon as he got in position, he felt challenged by digital weight from the very first rep. “Anybody who thinks they’re too strong for this,” he added, “you might be, but you probably are not.”

While testing out squats and lat pull-downs, Sklar maxed out for both exercises below 100 pounds at 75 and 69 pounds respectively. “Two hundred pounds is the max on this, and I [wasn’t] even close to it and out of breath,” he said while doing squats.

Sklar also pointed out that Tonal pushes him to keep his core tight to stay in position. “One of the things that wowed me about this machine [is] how much tension it provides,” he added. “It’s very tough.”

In the video, Sklar also highlighted how Tonal’s digital weight allows for dynamic weight modes like Spotter (a feature that automatically reduces the weight and offers an assist when you’re tapped). “I usually like to use Spotter because when it gets extremely challenging—and it does—I can use that mode to help me get through whatever exercise it is that I’m doing.”

a quote from Paul Sklar reading: Anybody who thinks they are too strong for this ... you probably are not."

Stipe Miocic: Two hundred pounds of digital weight is heavier than you think it is.

As a mixed martial artist and father of two small children, Miocic realized the potential of having a total-body strength training system at home for his workouts. The heavyweight champion said he “wasn’t skeptical about Tonal, and definitely wanted to try it.”

Like many athletes , Miocic was completely taken aback by the resistance the first time he trained on Tonal. “It’s an amazing machine. The 200 pounds of resistance is a lot heavier than you think it is,” said Miocic. “The first time I [used] it, I was nowhere near the top of the resistance and very sore the next day.”

Using free weights and dumbbells allow for utilizing momentum that helps you through your reps. Digital weight, however, is powered by a premium electric motor which provides minimal momentum, resulting in consistent, constant resistance for an entire rep. This additional time under tension (the duration muscles are held under strain during an exercise which leads to increased strength and results) makes for a more effective workout, but it’s also the reason why heavy lifters find that 200 pounds of digital weight is more than enough to feel challenged.

For Miocic, digital weight has another added advantage: His home is now safer for his kids without free weights. “Having two children, one that’s three and one that’s a newborn but eventually is going to start walking [too], I didn’t want to have a lot of free weights laying around.”

Michelle Tee: Consider the other benefits and versatility of lifting with digital weight.

Tee , a Tonal member renowned for lifting heavy and sharing creative Custom Workouts on Tonal to Instagram, admitted that her “main concern in the beginning was the resistance was not enough.” After training on Tonal, however, she came to the conclusion that “in actuality, 200 pounds of digital weight is plenty.”

Tee quickly learned that there’s a big difference between traditional weight and Tonal’s resistance, “20 pounds of digital weight does not equal 20 pounds of free weight…it doesn’t feel the same,” she said. Tee also noted she can no longer rely on inertia or momentum of free weights to aid her lifts, “all of that is eliminated with digital weight,” which makes strength training more challenging at lighter weights.

As someone who has fretted over whether 200 pounds is enough, her advice to heavy lifters is not to focus solely on the resistance, and consider the other benefits and versatility of lifting with Tonal. “It takes up no space; you can move through exercises seamlessly; and [unlike] some machines in the gym, you can use the adjustable arms to tailor every move to your body’s requirements,” she said.

Tee explained that for experienced lifters, the main benefit of Tonal is how you can use digital weight to push yourself by taking advantage of dynamic weight modes like Eccentric and Smart Flex. Tee likes Eccentric because this feature adds additional weight to the rep, optimizing time under tension further, and letting her burn each muscle group out. She also calls Smart Flex, a feature that can automatically detect where you are strongest in a lift and add more weight at that exact moment, a game-changer.

Pro Training Tips For Heavy Lifters on Tonal

The data shows that only 4 percent of Tonal members have ever maxed out the weight for one rep. But, if you still think there’s a chance you will hit the ceiling on resistance, there are several ways to train with digital weight to make the most of the 200 pounds of resistance Tonal offers. Here, Max Artsis , Tonal Sport Performance Specialist, shares a few tools he leverages with pro-athletes and sports teams training on Tonal.

  1. Slow It Down

Training with a slower tempo makes the eccentric portion of a lift more challenging by increasing time under tension. “Even five pounds can feel very heavy if you hold it up for 10 minutes,” Artsis says. “If you’re normally doing a movement in one to two seconds during the eccentric portion, try expanding that to three to four seconds. It’s a very easy way to make the weight feel heavier.”

Remember, digital weight gives you consistent resistance for both the concentric (shortening) and eccentric (lengthening) phases of the rep. Research suggests that spending more time in the eccentric portion (loading the muscle while it’s in a stretched or lengthened position), not only improves hypertrophy, but it also puts the most strain on the muscle fibers when compared with concentric and isometric, and thus equals more strength gains.

  1. Try Unilateral Lower-Body Movements

Heavy lifters concerned about maxing out on lower body exercises should also consider unilateral training like single-leg deadlifts, for example. Artsis said 80 percent of his lower-body training is now unilateral. “When you remove half of your base of support, you quickly notice where you are strong and where you are weakest.”

In addition to exposing imbalances masked by the body’s ability to compensate, training unilaterally allows for greater stimulation, Artsis added. “Most people will get all the physiological response they need out of lifting as heavy as they can on one limb,” he said.

  1. Increase Range of Motion

You can also increase your range of motion to gain extra depth on lower body movements. Artsis suggests doing goblet squats or deadlifts on a block or step so you are elevated and the weight starts on the ground. “Increasing the range of motion makes it tougher because the cable has to travel further before it racks on the arm.”

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