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- Tonal, a digital fitness company that uses electromagnetic technology to create resistance training, has become one of the most popular at-home exercise systems.
- The fitness brand increased sales eight fold in 2020 and to-date it has raised more than $200 million from investors including several high-profile athletes.
- “Intelligent fitness is the next evolution of the connected fitness sector,” Aly Orady, Tonal CEO and founder, told Insider. “What we did was reinvent this equipment, but we did it with a purpose to create an intelligent and personalized fitness experience.”
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Aly Orady, CEO of Tonal — the self-proclaimed “most intelligent home gym and personal trainer” on the market — believes the future of exercise is not just connected fitness, but artificial intelligence.
Founded in 2015, Tonal is Orady’s brainchild. He himself worked as a computer and telecommunications engineer for 15 years prior to launching the fitness company. But after developing Type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea, Orady had an epiphany while working out one day.
“I was literally sitting on a bench of the gym, staring this giant piece of equipment,” he said. “I thought ‘I wish I could make this compact enough to fit into my home, and intelligent enough to guide me through a workout, just like a personal trainer would, but using all the latest science.'”
Three and a half years of product development and 40 patents later, Tonal was born and today it is one of the most popular digital fitness platforms available to consumers. According to Orady, sales increased eight fold year-over-year in 2020 and to date the company has raised more than $200 million from investors while expanding its team to 200 employees.
“When you look at the connected fitness sector as a whole, what you see is a lot of people trying to replicate group fitness experiences,” he said. “Whereas we’re trying to replicate a personal trainer. It’s a lot more personalized and requires a lot more artificial intelligence to achieve that level of personalization.”
We talked to Orady about how he developed Tonal, how the company is revolutionizing at-home exercise, and the future of digital fitness.
Reinventing strength training ‘from the ground up’
While the pandemic has played a role in Tonal’s recent growth, Orady said the company’s data-driven technology — paired with its focus on personal training and a proprietary machine made from scratch — is ultimately what sets it apart from competitors like Peloton.
“The rowers on the market, the bikes, the treadmills, they’re not technologically all that dissimilar from their predecessors, except now they have these really powerful screens on them,” Orady said. “We didn’t just add an Android tablet to an existing strength training machine, we actually reinvented it from the ground up and started with the way resistance is generated.”
During his gym-going days, Orady said he was inspired by the ability for weightlifting to foster significant health changes after the fact, but he was insecure about his technique and intimidated by the weight room. Looking for a way to simplify the process, he used his engineering background to conceptualize a machine that uses electromagnetic technology to emulate resistance without the cumbersome weight rack. To help teach form, he turned to developing artificial intelligence to mirror the coaching of a personal trainer.
“Our knowledge around strength training has evolved tremendously, but the way we strength train has not,” he said. “The amount of research that we’ve amassed in the last hundred years about about ways to strengthen, train, and build muscle more effectively is not accessible and also is not easy to use with traditional equipment.”
When a user starts using Tonal, they are subjected to a strength test and goal-setting, “just like you would with a personal trainer at your first session,” Orady said. After this point, the system’s extensive artificial intelligence programming sets in, automatically selecting resistance for various workouts and adjusting them in real-time depending on performance.
At the same time, the machine shows dynamic instructional videos that are customized for each person with the help of AI personal trainers. Rather than pre-recorded group fitness or live streaming classes, Tonal adjusts to each individual, while also offering different types of fitness options like yoga and pilates in addition to strength training.
“You’re getting real-time feedback on your form and getting encouragement based on the data,” Orady said. “So when you actually hear the coach say something like ‘You have three reps left to go, you can do it,’ it’s because at that very moment in time, you had three reps left to do, and the data, math, and intelligence told us that you could do it and that you needed a little bit of encouragement.”
The future of fitness is artificial intelligence
Tonal’s high-tech features have also managed to catch the eye of professional athletes, especially during the pandemic, as many sought out ways to replicate their intensive training at home. This not only created an influx of new fans, but also a wave of investment funding from the likes Steph Curry and Serena Williams.
“Now we’re actually used extensively in pro sports and dozens of athletes has invested in the company as well,” Orady said.
Tonal’s users tend to skew more athletically advanced and are “generally far more committed to fitness than the typical member of any other connected fitness company,” Orady added. Based on internal company data, Tonal users already worked out between four and seven times a week on average, and now use the system for at least 40 minutes every other day.
Across the entire industry, Orady anticipates a rise in artificial intelligence technology in at-home fitness, and that fitness companies will begin to take a cue from Tonal.
“Intelligent fitness is the next evolution of the connected fitness sector,” he said. “What we did was reinvent this equipment, but we did it with a purpose to create an intelligent and personalized fitness experience. In the industry today, across the board, there isn’t a single other vendor who’s doing what we’re doing.”