Programs created by fitness experts help 55 percent of Tonal members work out more consistently.
A fitness goal—whether that’s building muscle or training for a marathon—is a lot like a cross-country road trip: You need a carefully-designed route to get to your final destination.
“Random workouts would be an unguided drive, where you’re just going to random cities until you get to your end destination—if you ever get there,” says Christian Hartford, Senior Performance Manager of Applied Sports Science at Tonal. “With a program, you put that destination into your GPS and trust that it’s going to get you there.”
Read on to learn why targeted programs are your best bet for big results—and how one-off workouts can strategically fit into your plan, too.
What Are Programs?
When you work with a personal trainer at the gym, your trainer will design your workouts based on proven exercise science principles to help you reach your goals. The workouts will build on each other in a calculated method, allowing for the ideal balance between work and recovery to get you the desired results. Programs on Tonal work the same way.
Each Tonal program is crafted with a specific outcome in mind. Depending on the program, this end result may be hypertrophy (muscle growth), increased strength and power, shifts in body composition (more lean muscle and less body fat), improved movement patterns, or better endurance.
When Tonal’s coaches, who are all certified personal trainers, create these workouts in collaboration with a team of renowned fitness programming experts, they draw on tried and tested training protocols that have been proven to support these goals. By altering rep schemes, rest periods, exercise order, and exercise selection, coaches are able to design different resistance training workouts around specific outcomes.
In addition to fine-tuning each set within a workout, Tonal’s coaches and programming experts make sure the workouts in a program link together like rungs on a ladder to drive toward an end goal. That means you may see more advanced movement patterns in the latter weeks of a program that build on foundational moves you mastered in earlier weeks, or see higher- and lower-intensity days following each other to balance work and recovery.
You can trust that each program is informed by the scientific principles of exercise and backed by the latest research. Here are the top benefits of programs according to experts, Tonal members, and scientific studies.
Programs Get You There Faster
Since buying his Tonal in 2020, Joseph Mapa of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, has lost weight, built muscle, and even lowered his once-high triglycerides to a more manageable level. “After a few months on Tonal, my doctor was so impressed with the results,” says Mapa. “Objectively speaking, I’m so much healthier.”
To reach his goals, Mapa specifically chose to follow Tonal’s expert-designed, science-based programs—he’s completed 18 in two years—instead of bouncing between one-off workouts. “The coaches are world-class and know what they’re doing,” he says. “I really don’t know what I’m doing in the gym, and having coaches I trust [lead] challenging programs is a game changer.”
Hartford explains that, on Tonal, the workouts within a program are tied together by a common thread to help you reach your goal. In most cases, this thread is the principle of progressive overload, or the gradual increase in stress on your body during resistance training that’s necessary to gain strength.
“Intensity drives adaptation,” Hartford explains, so once you become more comfortable and confident with an exercise, you need to up the intensity to drive change–such as increased muscular size, strength, or power.
“A lot of our programs follow a simple, linear progression scheme, which means that week-to-week, you’re either increasing your volume [in terms of reps] or the weight is increasing,” says Hartford. “Incrementally, as you go through a program, you’re exposing your body to a slightly increased amount of stress, but still within the threshold to accomplish it.”
While a program might get more challenging as you’re lifting heavier or completing more reps, the linear progression scheme ensures that you’re ready for that challenge. There won’t be a sudden spike that your body isn’t prepared for—instead, you’ll be exposed to just the right amount of intensity to drive change.
Programs Keep You Consistent
No matter what your goal is, being consistent in your workouts is the fastest way to get there. On Tonal, members who follow programs are 55 percent more consistent week-over-week than those who only do one-off workouts. There are a few reasons, both psychological and physical, that may explain why.
If you’ve ever designated a half-hour to exercise and spent the first 10 minutes deciding what workout to do, you know that decision fatigue is real. Besides cutting into your workout time, one study has shown that decision fatigue actually increases ratings of perceived exertion during exercise—making your workout less enjoyable. When you sign up for a program on Tonal, you know exactly what’s next on any given day.
Completing a program also taps into your sense of self-efficacy or your confidence in your ability to complete each step in achieving your goals. As one recent study suggests, process- (or learning-) based goals are more likely to set you up for success than specific outcome-based goals. Ticking off each workout in a four-week program helps you celebrate each step in your journey.
Even though you’re working out on your own, knowing that hundreds or thousands of Tonal members are doing the same program can be highly motivating.
Mapa says the support he’s found in the Official Tonal Community on Facebook keeps him consistent. “Tonal is the vehicle that gets me to get in shape,” he says, “but I’m not alone in this journey, and that helps tremendously.”
From a physiological standpoint, programs are designed to be balanced so you won’t sabotage your progress along the way.
For example, programs are often divided up between upper- and lower-body days or by push-pull splits. “That’s ensuring you’re not overloading any one muscle group to the point where it’s going to be excessively fatigued or where you can’t perform what you need to perform,” says Hartford. “It’s structured in a way that puts you in a position to succeed.”
With standalone workouts, you run the risk of overtraining one muscle group which can lead to excessive soreness and fatigue, making it less likely you’ll start your next workout.
Programs Are Varied, Not Random
Programs may be methodical, but that doesn’t mean they are monotonous or dull. Small changes week-to-week keep the workouts engaging so you don’t get bored.
As you work through a program on Tonal, you’ll notice that even if exercises stay consistent in a program, the prescribed number of reps may vary to stimulate a different adaptation. This could mean increasing the number of reps in the second week of a program to boost endurance, or lowering the rep count but raising the weight to build strength.
Even if the exercises and rep range remain the same week-to-week, you’ll get stronger over the course of a program and Tonal will increase your recommended weights for certain exercises. This means you’ll be lifting more volume in the last week of your program compared to your first, a sign you’re making progress through progressive overload.
When to Do One-Off Workouts
While programs are key to smashing your goals, that doesn’t mean there’s no room for one-off workouts in your routine. It’s all about planning them strategically to contribute to—not distract from—your main focus.
When doing a strength training program, adding gentle mobility, yoga, or Pilates on your off days will support your lifting without overtaxing your tired muscles. If you want to add a day of cardio conditioning to your week, that’s a good option as well; just make sure you won’t be doing a workout with lots of jumping the day before a lower-body lifting session.
You know that your GPS might alter your route if there’s any unexpected traffic or roadblocks. In fitness, these unplanned detours could show up as injuries, illnesses, or even a stressful few weeks of work that throw you off course in your program. In those cases, squeeze in a meditation or a short Quick Fit workout to stay consistent before you can get back on track.
There’s also nothing wrong with taking a break from programs for a couple of weeks and trying new one-off workouts during that time for a change of pace. You’ll maintain your level of fitness and have fun trying new modalities or working with new coaches before you jump back into programs to push forward.
Ready to try programs but not sure where to start? Check out the Ultimate Tonal Program Guide to find the perfect program for your goal and experience level.