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We Have a Heart: The “Why” Behind Our Heart Rate Monitors

How else can you prove you’re improving? Think of your heart rate monitor as your built-in coach, telling you when you need to push, or when you should scale back and recover.

By Leslie Barker

What is it with fitness and technology that so many products have been so bad? Does anyone remember the belt thing that vibrated your butt, like that was supposed to do anything? Or what about those horrible rubber suits that made you sweat like a waterfall? Who thought that was a good idea?

Certainly there have also been some very clunky heart rate monitors over the years. The first ones emerged in the 1800s, but wearable technology for the masses wasn’t available until much more recently.

In 1977, a Finnish professor from the University of Oulu devised the first wireless tracker for his country’s National Cross-Country Ski Team. He went on to found Polar Electro, which made the first heart rate monitors for everyday people.

Orangetheory embraced this technology early on. Heart rate monitors are — if you’ll pardon the pun — at the heart of our workouts; training based on optimal heart rate zones is the very essence of what sets us apart. Identifying and staying in those optimal zones is also the part of working out that people are really bad at understanding.

As reported in The New York Times, a study of 120 Canadians found that most participants — despite their confidence to the contrary — overestimated their level of intensity while exercising. Thus, their workouts weren’t all they could have been.

Denise Howard is a perfect example of why. She had been taking kickboxing classes for a while, but she no longer felt the effects of her workout.

“My body never felt like I was pushing it,” she says.

These days, she knows exactly when she needs to amp up her effort or bring it down a bit to get the ultimate health benefits. She’s an Orangetheory Fitness member who puts on her OTbeat Burn™ before every class.

With it, she’s able to monitor her progress in real time — every calorie burned, every Splat Point gained, every heartbeat counted, every second spent in every color zone. Plus, all that info is displayed on a tablet set right in front of her, whether she’s on the treadmill, the floor or the rower. And any time she wants to look it up, she can do so on her Orangetheory app.

 “What you do not measure, you cannot achieve,” Ellen Latham, Orangetheory’s founder, says quite often.

Granted, there are oh-so-many fitness trackers on the market. By 2023, according to forbes.com, wearables (including smart watches) will be a $27 billion industry worldwide. But only Orangetheory wearables are designed to work seamlessly with the studio technology, allowing members to focus on their workout and not on logging in.

“You can say, ‘Yeah, I worked up a great sweat,’ but without an Orangetheory wearable, how do you know how long you were in the Orange Zone?” says Aaron Santiso, the Fort Lauderdale physical therapist who has been part of Orangetheory’s Medical Advisory Board for five years. “Can we fairly predict the physiological benefits? You can’t if you don’t have the data.”

The wearables are part of the Orangetheory trifecta of science, coaching and technology. You need each of those to get you in the best physical, mental and emotional health.  

Orangetheory wants you to understand the science and to love your coach, but that third side of the triangle — technology — will let you know what your body needs. You might need to pump up your workout or you might need to ease up. Maybe you’ve hit a plateau. It’s the data from your heart rate monitor that equips the coach to help you over the hurdle.

“Maybe you don’t feel like pushing yourself, but the Burn lets you know you might have more push in you,” Aaron says. “It might be saying, ‘C’mon, row just a little faster, a little harder. C’mon, a little more. Keep it there. Keep it there!’

“Data is the key. The longer we work with someone who has a measurable Burn device, the more specifically we can see the results of what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Kent Chapman, who lives in Calgary, Canada, depends on his wearable for accountability. He bought it after his first class, which he took in January 2016. Right away, he says, he made a commitment. More than three years later, he’s lost weight, gained confidence and stamina, and converted his wife and other loved ones into Orangetheory believers.

“The technology piece is critical to the success,” says Kent, “being able to understand how long you’re in orange, in red, in green zones, and being able to pull back or push yourself harder to get into another zone.”

When you connect your heart to your workout, who knows where the journey to More Life will take you? What you do know is that you’ll be able to see exactly where you’re going.