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What Your Heart Rate Is Telling You

Walk into an Orangetheory class, and you’ll see multiple flashing colors on a large screen. This is our heart rate monitoring technology at work, capturing the unique heart rates of nearly one million members worldwide. But what do these pretty colors actually mean to you?

By Meredith Parks

Heart rate monitoring is undoubtedly the latest fitness craze. Often you can spot joggers on the street so consumed in the state-of-the-art equipment plastered on their wrist that they risk running into the middle of oncoming traffic. Or you visit a tech-savvy fitness facility with heart rate metrics displayed on a screen, and the users are too busy watching the pretty colors fluctuate that they lose sight of what that data truly means.

Put aside the fact that strapping a nifty, high-tech device on your body makes you look the part. At the end of the day, looks only go so far. It’s how you interpret the information the device gives you that will facilitate internal body changes at the cellular level. Only then will you experience external changes.

At Orangetheory Fitness, we capitalize on heart rate-based high-intensity interval training as a tool for our members to glean insights from their performance and embark on a path of continuous improvement.

But first things first. Let’s take a moment to analyze what these pretty colors on the screen mean to you.

Gray Zone (50-60% Maximum Heart Rate) – This is the least strenuous, most comfortable zone, consisting of very light activity.

Blue Zone (61-70% Maximum Heart Rate) – This zone is specifically geared for warm-up and cool-down exercises. You are preparing your body and mind for high-intensity interval training, but you haven’t unleashed the burn just yet.

Green Zone (71-83% Maximum Heart Rate) – In this zone, you have reached a challenging but doable pace. This is what Orangetheory categorizes as “Base Pace,” a pace you can maintain for 20-30 total minutes. Your body starts to burn fat and carbohydrates evenly.

Orange Zone (84-91% Maximum Heart Rate) – This is where the magic happens and where you achieve “EPOC” (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption) – what we call the “Orange Effect / Afterburn.” The goal is to accumulate 12 minutes or more in this zone within a 60-minute period to achieve the maximum caloric burn for up to 36 hours AFTER your workout is completed.

Red Zone (92-100% Maximum Heart Rate) – This zone happens organically and may be achieved during ‘All Out’ efforts when you’re emptying the tank and using every ounce of energy left in your body. You don’t need to set an All Out pace for more than 1 minute at a time to experience maximum results.

A term you’ll see used often when it comes to Orangetheory HIIT workouts and heart rate zones is “Splat.” But what does it mean, exactly? Just imagine the sound of a fat cell exploding. We all can agree that we like the sound of that, right? In the world of Orangetheory, Splat Points indicate minutes spent in the Orange and Red zones. Orangetheory co-founder Ellen Latham and the OTF fitness experts challenge us to aim for at least 12 Splat Points per class to achieve optimal caloric burn, even after your one-hour workout is done.

So — does training in the Gray and Blue zones mean you’ve achieved nothing? That you should have instead enjoyed that greasy cheeseburger and french fries? Absolutely not. You still become healthier in the Gray and Blue zones; you’re preparing your body for an increased rate of fat burning, you just haven’t burned any fat quite yet. Put the burger down, and keep pushing. Your fitness journey doesn’t start today and end tomorrow — it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Similarly, does training in the Orange and Red zones to accumulate as many Splat Points as possible mean you are necessarily getting the most out of your workout? Certainly not. Unless you are the Energizer Bunny or a hamster actively spinning its wheel to the point of physical exhaustion, your goal should not be to live in the Orange and Red zones the entire time. When you do that, you are essentially beating your body up to the core, causing an excess level of physical and emotional stress on your muscles and ligaments. Don’t be fooled by the overwhelming urge to push yourself to the extreme and then be disheartened by the fact that your neighbors are progressing at a faster rate than you and aren’t killing themselves in the studio. You must listen to your own body.

Orangetheory is a 5-zone heart rate-based workout, and its basis is interval training, which means fluctuations in heart rate and intensity. These variations are what creates an oxygen deficit within the body, so that you continue to burn calories post-workout. While you want to challenge (push) yourself during a workout, you also want to ensure that you are allowing your body proper time to recover between efforts. This allows you to challenge yourself more during the Push and All Out moments.

Think of your Base Pace, the Green Zone, as your home’s foundational structure. The walls that add a framework to your house will eventually crumble if they aren’t situated on a sturdy base foundation. Only after you have worked to build your Base Pace can you enjoy the benefits of the Orange Zone. In the Green Zone, you reap the benefits of filtering more oxygen through your cells, which will eventually lead to more All Out moments.

So once you’ve uncovered that glossy new heart rate monitor from its pristine packaging, are you going to fall into the trap of being so enamored by the technical features that the data gets overlooked? Or are you going to take the time to understand your body’s performance in the different heart rate zones and enlist in a fitness routine backed by science?

The choice is yours. But we are here to help! Take advantage of our proprietary OTbeat™ technology and take your training to the next level. Remember, if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. We are your accountability partners.

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