Is Tonal Cardio Effective?

One of the cool things about working out at home with Tonal gym is you can do strength training on your own time, without having to get to the gym. However, Today I will be covering the importance of cardio fitness and try to answer if tonal offers cardio workouts, and if so, which ones are the most effective.

As a whole, Tonal gym is good for cardio because it does offer several cardio and HIIT workouts. However, people who have performance-oriented goals, and need to train around specific intensity (e.g. heart rate zone 2 training) cannot rely on Tonal because you cannot control the pace and power output of the bodyweight exercises.

Let’s dig in…

Tonal Cardio Workout

In general, you can do cardio on Tonal because it has several workouts that challenge your cardiorespiratory fitness like high-intensity interval training, kickboxing, bootcamp, and dance cardio. Most of the cardio workouts and on-the-go classes can be done from your mobile device, without the Tonal machine.

Also, keep in mind that resistance training is also a viable way to improve your fitness and cardio at the same time (more on that later). This means you can get lean and improve your aerobic fitness at the same time.

However, if you’re looking for more advanced cardio sessions that allow you to be in control of your intensity (like on the spin bike or treadmill, the Tonal is not the best option.

Does Tonal have HIIT cardio workouts? Overall, the tonal does have HIIT cardio workouts that use circuit style training with mainly bodyweight exercises done back to back, with minimum rest in between. These workouts are good for improving your fitness and VO2max.

You can learn more about “Tonal HIIT workouts” and why I recommend them in my article here.

What Is VO2max?

In short, the VO2max is the rate of how quickly you can take oxygen from the air into your lungs, blood, muscles, and then use it in the cascade of metabolic processes that provide energy while training at maximum intensity.

Here’s how it works.

Let’s say you go for a brisk walk with moderate intensity where your body consumes approximately 2 liters of oxygen per minute (green line on the graph below).

After you speed up and ramp up the intensity, your breathing rate and oxygen consumption will increase to 3 liters per minute (blue line). Then if you increase the intensity again (running at a fast pace) your oxygen consumption will go up (4 liters of oxygen per minute).

However, if you continue to increase the pace (sprinting), your oxygen rate will reach the plateau, which is a point where you’re not using any more oxygen, even you’re working harder.

NOTE: A Norwegian cross-country skier, Espen Harald Bjerke, achieved a VO2max of 7.3 liters per minute in 2005 (which is beyond impressive).

Tonal Cardio For VO2max

In general, the Tonal high-intensity cardio workouts and bootcamp classes are good for improving your VO2max because they include exercises like burpees, jump squats, and pushups that challenge your maximal aerobic capacity.

Of course, even regular strength training on Tonal can improve your cardiovascular performance (in some demographics), without having to do a lot of jumping and plyometrics.

For example, Dr. Dale I Lovell from the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia has documented a group of twenty-four men between the ages 70 to 80 years and the effect of strength training on their cardiorespiratory fitness.

The whole experiment took 20 weeks (16 weeks of training and 4 weeks of detraining).

The results after the first 8 weeks showed no improvements in VO2max. However, after weeks 12 and 16 of training, the VO2 max significantly improved (compared to pretraining values).

See table below.

WeekControl groupStrength group
Source: Lovell et al. 2009

As you can see, “strength training not only increases muscular strength and hypertrophy but also provides significant cardiovascular benefits for older individuals” (Lovell et al. 2009).

However, one thing I want you to pay attention to is the last 4 weeks (detraining period) of the experiment where the VO2max had returned to pretraining values.

This indicates that changes in VO2max after resistance training not only occur with a certain delay in time but also decrease if the training volume is not maintained.

If you don’t use it, you lose it.

Tonal Cardio For Endurance

As a whole, Tonal strength training and cardio workouts are both effective for endurance because they simultaneously produce adaptations in both aerobic and anaerobic exercise capacity. However, studies have shown that HIIT workouts and resistance training are not superior to conventional steady-state training in sedentary young adults.

In other words, if you’re training is endurance-oriented like running for 5K or 10K, you should definitively focus most of your workout program around doing heart rate zone 2 training.

What is heart rate zone 2 training? The heart rate zone 2 training refers to exercise intensity where the body uses mainly fatty acids as an energy source and blood lactate concentration remains below 2.2 mmol/L. This is where the slow-twitch muscle fibers are stimulated to their fullest expression before recruiting type 1Ia muscle fibers.

Zone 2 is measured at 60-70% of your max heart rate (the intensity feels like a power walk or an easy job where you can maintain a conversation).

There are several benefits from zone 2 training that goes beyond performance for endurance:

  • Improved aerobic base – This means your body gets more efficient using oxygen while staying in the same intensity. Its kind of like driving a car that can do more milage with the same amount of gas than before.
  • Fat burning – Zone 2 training comes with a high calorie expenditure and most optimal fat utilization, which means your body is using more fatty acids for energy than carbohydrates.
  • Lactate clearance – Heart rate zone 2 training helps to improve lactate clearance, which is reduction of lactate concentrations in the blood, improved recovery and lowered DOMS effect after wokorut.

Other benefits of doing cardio at zone 2 are lower resting heart rate, increased strength of the left ventricle of the heart, and increased mitochondria and capillary density.

Is Tonal good for endurance? As a whole, the Tonal gym is not ideal for cardio endurance because it doesn’t allow you to control the effort level and intensity to remain in one specific heart rate zone for a long time. Indeed, you can monitor your heart rate via an Apple Watch or Fitbit, but you cannot control the exercises.

Of course, Tonal gives you the option for Free Lift, but it’s hard to build the resistance training program that helps you target specifically zone 2 (or any other zone).

Training at Zone 2 also helps to improve your VO2max, however, studies have shown that “High-intensity aerobic interval training resulted in significantly increased VO2max compared with long slow distance and lactate-threshold training intensities” (Helgerud et al. 2007).

Tonal Cardio For Blood Pressure

As a whole, Tonal cardio workouts are a good way to reduce systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

Studies have shown that “resistance training alone reduces systolic and diastolic blood pressure in prehypertensive and hypertensive subjects and it’s a viable tool for the management of systemic hypertension” (de Sousa et al. 2017).

This means that you can use Tonal workouts that primarily focus on strength, as well as HIIT cardio on-the-go classes if your outcome is to work on your blood pressure.

Tonal Cardio Classes

The Tonal gym has many classes, programs, and workouts that work on both strength and cardio. These workouts usually combine cable training with a lower resistance but high training volume and repetitions to help you maintain an elevated heart rate.

Here is the list of all Tonal cardio classes, programs, and workouts.

Tonal cardio classesTonal cardio workouts
High intensity
Dance cardio
5K Strong (Liz)
Watts Up (Liz)
Winter Training (Kelly)
Beginner Boost (Natalie)
Good to Great (Paul)
Triathlon Endurance (Mark)
Triathlon Power (Mark)
Take a Hike (Nicolette)
Stronger for Sport (Allison)
Better Bike and Tread (Nicolette)
Better Bike and Tread 2 (Nicolette)
Performance Savvy (Kelly)
Tonal cardio workouts

As you can see, apart from the on-the-go classes, Tonal has many 2-week and 4-week programs that can improve your cardio fitness, as well as strength and stamina.

NOTE: You can learn more about “tonal for weight loss” and the best exercises you can do apart from cardio.

How Often Should I Use Tonal For Cardio?

How often you should use Tonal for cardio will depend on your overall training volume and the type of workout you do. For example, if you’re using Tonal to improve your VO2max, you should train at Zone 5 maximum once a week.

Let me explain.

Training for VO2max at the maximum intensity is physiologically demanding on the body. This happens because HIIT workouts induce the highest muscle damage and muscle soreness, which takes longer for the body to recover.

What is DOMS? In short, the DOMS refers to delayed onset muscle soreness, which is a muscle discomfort characterized by symptoms of pain, stiffness, and tenderness that emerges approximately 24 hours after an exercise session.

On the other hand, steady-state cardio doesn’t lead to metabolite build-up, which means the body can recover from each session faster.

Plus, you also need to understand that regular strength training workouts are done on the Tonal also induce DOMS, which can add to the muscle stiffness. In that case, I recommend using Tonal for cardio only once a week, and the rest of the days focus on strength.

However, if you want to add more cardio on top of your resistance training, I recommend using a bike like Peloton, going for a walk, hike, or a dance class.


As you can see, Tonal gym does offer many cardio classes and workouts, however, apart from monitoring the intensity, you cannot design your program that will fit and specific performance-oriented goal.

Even if you use a heart rate monitor, you can only know the heart rate after the class. That’s why when it comes to cardio I don’t like the Tonal simply because you cannot control your intensity.

Michal Sieroslawski

Michal is an exercise physiologist (MSc) and a veteran endurance athlete. He loves to experiment and share his successes and failures to help busy men and women who want to lose weight.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts