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Do You “Fit” The Heart Rate Equation?

If you feel like you’re on the verge of physical exhaustion, but not getting any Splat Points, or if you’re barely breathing heavy yet accumulating 30+ Splat Points each class, it may be time to adjust your heart rate zones.

By Leslie Barker

Orangetheory Fitness has a new way of making sure your heart rate is working even better than ever for you. 

“Whoa!” you may say, “I thought it was already working well for me!”

It is. But your heart rate can do even more. Whether you’ve participated in one class or 100 classes, you know that Orangetheory is always striving to find ways to make you healthier and fitter in the simplest and fastest of ways. And, as an Orangetheory member, you also know that heart rate zones provide the best way to gauge cardiac intensity and thus improve fitness — OTF’s core mission from Day One.

Orangetheory’s new way of calculating heart rate, which rolled out in May 2019, is even more effective than what you’re doing now. It’s even more personalised, too, scanning data from 20 of your past workouts to estimate new zones for you — not your best friend, not your toughest competitor, not the person next to you in class. The zones being set are yours and yours alone.

This new calculation based on your past workout data will up your game. Plus, it’ll ramp up those calories you burn even after you leave the studio and step into your day.

A little background: Heart rate zones were first established by Finnish scientist Dr. M.J. Karvonen in 1957. The traditional formula for calculating maximum HR — 220 minus your age — was established in 1970. These age-based equations have evolved over time to be more accurate, but in reality they aren’t a one-size-fits-all formula. How could they possibly be? Each of us is different, and each of our hearts beats at its own speed and efficiency.

Here at Orangetheory, each minute in the Red or Orange heart rate zones, where the heart is working at its highest levels, equals one Splat Point. The goal for each workout is at least a dozen such points. But if you feel like you’re working as hard as possible and even the 12 seems elusive — or if you easily pile up 30 with breath to spare — the tried-and-true heart rate formula may not be tried-and-true for you.

Recognising this makes our hearts beat faster with glee at the mere thought of being able to use this insight to make our members’ workouts even more effective. And while our updated method of calculation itself is new, the seeds for reconfiguring the numbers were sown by a very small number of skeptics decades ago. For Joel French, who worked as OTF’s Senior Director of Research, Fitness and Wellness, at the time that the new way of calculating your heart rate rolled out, they were first planted while he was taking aerobics classes at age 19.

“We’d work hard, then the instructors would stop and we’d put our fingers on our wrist or neck for 15 seconds and look at a chart on the wall to see where our heart rates were,” Joel says.

“I spent my early years getting beat up because my heart rate was so low naturally. The instructor would berate me and hand me a heavier weight. After a year, I thought, ‘I am done with group fitness!’”

Thankfully, he wasn’t completely done. Not by a long shot. And lo and behold these many years later, a million-plus OTF members are benefiting from this self-described “stubborn learner.” Because while Joel may have quit aerobics classes, he didn’t let go of the belief that there must be a better way.

“This has been a crusade of mine for 25 years,” he says. “If we give people the wrong heart rates, they get discouraged and don’t want to exercise.”

For better or for worse, we have become a nation that judges results by the numbers. Which means that no matter how much more energetic an exercise routine makes us feel or how much better our clothes fit or how much lower our blood pressure and cholesterol levels are, if certain numbers say otherwise, we give up.

“Rather than question the technology,” Joel says, “people figure this is just another thing that doesn’t work for their body, and they quit.”

But now, with the new calculations, there’s especially no reason to question the technology.

“This equation will be right for almost everybody,” Joel says. “We’re measuring people’s real heart rate. We’re collecting data when they work out, looking at it over the last 20 workouts and saying, ‘Here’s what we think your maximum heart rate is.’”

You could find out that information on your own by being tested at a hospital or university, but it’ll cost you $300 or more. At OTF, it won’t cost you a cent. And the benefits of knowing your own heart rate zones can’t be measured.

“Zones matter,” Joel stresses. “Training at the right intensity equals better results, faster. Heart rate is the best measure of intensity during a workout.”

As far as Splat Points go, he says, a person currently achieving 50 in a workout might feel content with that number. “But if you had the right zones, you would have been prompted to push yourself a little harder,” Joel says. “You might see 30 points, but the calorie count would be better than it was with 50.”

Intrigued? Here’s how to give it a try:

First, make sure you’ve completed 20 workouts.

Then, ask a coach or sales associate to adjust your zones.

Next, give the new zones a whirl. See what you think, how you feel. Try them several times.

Not working for you? No worries. Ask to be switched back.

“The longer you train with us and the harder you push yourself, the more accurate your zones will be, so stick with it!” Joel says. “If we get members’ training zones right, they’ll be pushing as hard as they should and recovering as they should and getting more benefits: more health, more life, more calorie burn — and they’ll get where they want to be much faster.”