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Balancing Strength and Cardio With Coach Nicolette

Coach Nicolette will show you how to strike the perfect balance between strength training and cardio no matter what your goals are.

The verdict is in on strength and cardio. Whether you should prioritize strength or cardio is one of the most polarizing topics in fitness. In this Tonal Talk, Kate Telge, our Community Manager, sits down with Coach Nicolette to find out how you can strike the perfect balance between them depending on your goals: fat loss, endurance, or performance. 

While most people can agree that both strength and cardio have their benefits, where the conversation gets a little tricky is what you should prioritize, and ultimately, which is better for your goals. As a strength training professional and avid Peloton Power Zone rider, Coach Nicolette is in a great position to explain why you need to build strength for cardio. 

Coach Nicolette explains that prioritizing cardio has trade-offs. “You might maintain endurance, but strength training is how you improve body composition or performance. A lot of people get confused because they think cardio leads to cardiovascular fitness, and it does, but when I’m on a Peloton bike, it’s not my heart rate keeping me from going faster or longer, it’s muscular fatigue.”

Pro Tip: Build power for your runs and rides with Coach Nicolette’s Better Bike and Tread program. 

“The idea that running and cycling are only about cardiovascular fitness is simply not the case. It’s much more about strength, and it’s important we understand how different muscle fibers influence our cardio.” 

Training Muscle Fibers for Different Goals

Strengthening different muscle fibers helps with endurance, body composition and performance, and there are three different types. Type I muscle fibers are characterized by low power and high endurance, Type IIB fibers are characterized by high power and low endurance, while Type IIA muscle fibers fall in between the two.

Pro Tip: Watch the video from the 10-minute mark to the 16.35-minute mark for a crash course in how to train different muscle fibers. 

Improving Body Composition

If you’re working out for fat loss and to improve body composition, prioritize strength training. Coach Nicolette explains that “body composition is about building muscle and losing fat, and without muscular tension, it cannot happen. That’s why strength training is so much more beneficial for fat loss, because you are putting your body under muscular tension.”

On Tonal, programs that get you lean are geared towards creating muscular tension that burns and fatigues. “Body conditioning or high-intensity training under load is your best bet to improve body composition. When cardio is weighted, you are under muscular tension the entire time, so it’s great for body composition.” 

Type IIA muscle fibers are a combination of strength and endurance. If you’re trying to increase muscle mass and lose fat, load the body under tension with things like Tonal High Intensity. 

Along with fat loss, high-intensity and weighted cardio are also beneficial for endurance. “When you’re doing runs and rides, you’re under fatigue, so high intensity helps prepare the body for that.” 

Endurance or Cardio Maintenance

For someone that trains for marathons or triathlons or events where endurance is essential, striking the right balance between strength and cardio from the outset will benefit your performance. You would prioritize either one depending on your event timeline. 

Leading up to events, Coach Nicolette recommends making strength training a priority. “As the event gets closer, pull back a little in favor of cardio to reach your peak performance level. For this, you don’t want your body to be tired and sore from strength training.” 

Type I muscle fibers fuel endurance-based cardio. These are the ones to train for your marathons with a 30-second to two-minute time under tension range and make sure your work-rest ratio is equal. 

Pro Tip: Tonal has a strength training program with American triathlete and six-time Ironman Triathlon World Champion, Mark Allen. Coach Mark guides you through every move to power your performance for exactly where you are in your training.

Peak Performance 

If you’re not a marathon runner but someone that wants to get to the end of a spin class feeling strong or shave some time off your 5K or 10K run, you can also benefit from preconditioning your body for peak performance with strength training. Just take a rest day in between your strength training session and big power ride or run. If it’s just weekly steady-state cardio that you’re doing, there’s no need to pull back from strength training.

To fuel cardio like Peloton Power Zone Rides, train Type IIA and IIB muscle fibers with a work-to-rest ratio of one to six — meaning that if you’re working for 10 seconds, you’ll rest for a minute. 

Pro Tip: Watch the video from the 30-minute mark to find out how you should be planning your weekly training schedule. Coach Nicolette maps out three weekly plans for balancing strength training and cardio with different goals in mind: body composition, peak performance, and cardio maintenance. 

“If you’re not training the right muscle fibers, it doesn’t matter how good your heart is, your muscles aren’t going to last.” 

3 Rules for Balancing Strength and Cardio

1. Strength first, cardio second:  

“A lot of people want to improve their cardio and don’t want to be tired, so they do it first. What you have to remember is strength training fuels your life and your events, sports, and extracurricular activities. It should be done first not just because it’s more important, but also because it’s safer. Strength training is demanding on the nervous system, doing it second puts your body at risk and you won’t perform nearly as well.” 

2. Workouts should not last longer than an hour, strength and cardio combined: 

“If you are doing cardio and strength on the same day, don’t train for more than an hour. If your strength training lasts 40 minutes, a 20-minute ride; if it’s 30 minutes, do a 30-minute ride; if it’s 45 minutes, try a 15-minute Tabata ride. After an hour, your body and nervous system are taxed. If you can work out longer than an hour, check your intensity because it’s probably too low.”

3. On days you’re training your main cardio event, don’t strength train: 

“Whatever day of the week is on hold for your most challenging bit of cardio — indoor or outdoor — don’t strength train that day. Do it one or two days before so you reach that peak performance. If you’re training for a marathon, you wouldn’t do strength training on the same day as your long run. Maybe your event is a Power Zone Ride or something where you want to go hard and perform, it’s better to do it alone.” 

Pro Tip: Before your difficult cardio, try Coach Jared’s mobility workout, and after you’ve completed your exercise do a recovery workout like Coach Frances’ post-run yoga. 

Here’s the most important thing Coach Nicolette wants you to take away today: “Whether we should prioritize strength training or cardio is a loaded question, but the first answer is 100-percent going to be strength training. To get stronger at whatever you’re doing, whether it’s endurance-based or not, strength training is going to get you there.”

Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Tonal Talk is a weekly Facebook Live interview series highlighting stories of real strength from within the Tonal community.

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