One of the reasons why I fall in love with orange theory fitness is because they use heart rate zones to measure the intensity of every class.
I reached out to the Orangetheory fitness head coach to explain everything there is to know about the benefits of each individual zone and help you understand this concept better.
As a whole, you can use the orange theory heart rate zones as a guide to monitor the intensity of the classes. Training at each heart rate zone comes with distinct benefits and helps to understand when to increase or decrease the intensity, based on your personal goals.
What are orange theory heart rate zones?
You can think of the Orangetheory heart rate zones as immediate feedback about your workout intensity. I mostly use it to track and compare my performance from previous sessions.
Each heart rate zone is the percentage of my maximum heart rate calculated in heartbeats per minute.
(Different heart rate zone comes with different health benefits, which I will discuss later in this article.)
Why do I track the heart rate zone in OTF class?
I always ensure my heart rate zone matches my fitness goals.
- If my goal is to increase my orange theory splat points, I should be training in the higher zones for most of the class.
On the other hand.
- If my goal is to join Orangetheory to burn fat and lose weight, I control my intensity to around 60-70% of the maximum heart, equivalent to heart rate zone 2.
How many heart rate zones does the orange theory have?
The orange theory uses 5 heart rate zones, which are in line with the American College of Sports Medicine recommendations.
According to ACSM, “each heart rate zones is calculated by the percentage of maximal heart rate.”
“Maximum heart rate can be either calculated during an aerobic capacity exercise test (for more precise information),” states ACSM.
To be honest, I never did an aerobic capacity exercise test. (This type of test requires hiring experienced personal trainers or other fitness professionals.)
I prefer to make things extremely simple.
How does Orangetheory calculate heart rate?
What I like about the OTF is they don’t use fancy and expensive aerobic tests.
They use simple heart rate monitors that use the tried and tested age-predicted maximal heart rate formula “220 – age” to estimate your maximum heart rate.
Also, instead of using scientific jargon, the orange theory uses splat points to describe how much time you spend in each heart rate zone.
What are the Orangetheory heart rate zones?
You have five orange theory zones.
- Gray zone: 50-60 percent of your maximum heart rate.
- Blue zone: 61-70 percent of your maximum heart rate.
- Green zone: 71-83 percent of your maximum heart rate.
- Orange zone: 84-91 percent of your maximum heart rate.
- Red zone: 92-100 percent of your maximum heart rate.
Here’s a video where you can see coach Noelle McIlvaine, a head coach of Orangetheory fitness from Florida.
She explains each of the OTF zones and their health benefits.
5 Orangetheory heart rate zones
1. Grey Zone
You can think of the “grey zone” as the least strenuous zone. Here, my heart rate is between 50-60% of the maximum heart rate.
For me, this is the most comfortable and the easiest zone, equivalent to walking at a slow pace.
However, don’t think for a moment that being in the grey zone means no benefits or no results.
According to Orangetheory head coach, “Training in the grey zones helps to boost your active recovery, as well as prepare the body for a more strenuous workout.”
2. Blue Zone
The Blue zone refers to the heart rate zone 2. (This is my favorite intensity.)
Here’s a photo of how my face looks after doing OTF class where I spend around 25 minutes in the blue zone.
Here, my average heart rate was around 61-70% of the maximum heart rate.
“Training in the OTF blue zone helps to build endurance and increases the muscle
mitochondrial enzymes,” says Orangetheory’s head coach.
“This type of intensity is also good to build capillary pathways and transporting oxygen to your muscles,” says Noelle.
According to the orange theory terminology, the blue zone is the “main zone” or “base pace”.
She adds that “It also improves the lymphatic system that carries metabolites like lactate away from your muscles.”
3. Green Zone
The orange theory heart rate zone 3 refers to as the “green zone”. I find this intensity challenging, yet doable.
If I join the regular 60 minutes orange theory class, I should be able to stay 20 to 30 minutes in the green zone.
When I’m in the green zone my heart rate spikes to 71-83% of the maximum heart rate, according to my Garmin watch.
“The biggest benefit from training at zone 3 is increased muscle glycogen storage,” explains Noelle.
4. Orange Zone
“The Orange zone (also called the “Threshold zone”, or “push” zone) is the intensity where you maximize fat loss and calorie burn,” according to Noelle.
Although I like to get out of breath, I find this zone to be super difficult. Here my heart rate monitor shows that I training at 84-91% of my maximum heart rate.
(Impossible to maintain a conversation.)
According to coach Noelle, “training at the orange zone increases your EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) and leads to better afterburn effect.”
She also adds that “You don’t have to prioritize this heart rate zone.”
If you have been following the OTF concept for a while, you know that the whole idea of their motto is to accumulate 12 minutes (or more) in the orange zone.
“This helps to increase the metabolic rate and burn calories after the workout,” explains coach Noelle.
Orangetheory head coach secretly admits that “the orange zone is her favorite intensity level.”
Apart from afterburn, you get a lot of benefits in exchange for very little time,” says Noelle.
Orangetheory Red Zone
Orange theory red zone is the most intense heart rate zone. It requires me to train at 92% of my maximum heart rate (or higher).
Not a huge fan. I can only reach this level of intensity during all-out intervals where I push the body to the limits.
“You don’t have to be in Orangetheory red zone for too long,” says coach Noelle.
According to the head coach, “Red zone means better anaerobic threshold, better stroke volume, and higher maximal cardiac output, all from just a few seconds of training.”
I don’t usually train so hard to reach the red zone. I often feel sore and unable to train the next day.
For me, it is much better to stay between zones green and orange.
What Orangetheory heart rate zone burns the most fat?
I usually burn the most calories in the blue and green zone. Although higher zones are more intense, I can easily spend 20-30 minutes in the blue zone, and burn lots of calories, without feeling any muscle soreness the next day.
I guess I rather do 4-5 OTF classes per week and stay at the lower intensity spectrum, rather than go all out once a week.
According to the head coach Noelle, “blue zone aims for lower intensity and increases fat oxidation. This means the body uses more fat for energy than glucose.”
Which Orangetheory heart rate zones are good for cardio?
If my goal would be to run faster or longer, I would try to stay as long as possible in the Oranethery zones 3 and 4. (These are green and orange zones.)
“Heart rate zone 3 and 4 increases blood lactate concentration over 4 mmol/l,” explains Noelle.
“This is where your body gets better at eliminating lactate and other metabolites from the blood. As a result, you can become more efficient in burning glycogen, so you can run faster or longer,” explains the OTF head coach.
On the other hand, if my goal would be to be healthier and have a stronger heart, I would stick to the blue zones.
Here is the list of benefits based on which orange theory heart rate zone you train the most.
|OTF heart rate zone||Benefits|
|Grey Zone||Active recovery zone that helps to improve circulation and eliminate waste products from the body.|
|Blue Zone||The blue zone is also called the aerobic zone or “fat-burning” zone. Studies have shown that maximal fat oxidation occurs during the training at the effort level between 60-80% of the maximal heart rate (source).|
|Green Zone||Increased muscle glycogen storage, which is the ability to store more carbohydrates in the muscles in the form of glycogen. These can be used later for energy.|
|Orange Zone||Increased VO2max, which is the ability of your body to use oxygen during a workout.|
Increased lactate tolerance, which means your body gets more efficient at eliminating excess lactate from the blood (you can train for longer).
|Red Zone||Increased stroke volume, which means the heart is getting stronger and more efficient in pumping blood (aka better performance).|
According to the Orangetheory idea, the best heart rate zone to be in is the orange zone.
However, as you can see above, there are many benefits from being in all other zones, too.
How much time do I spend in each heart rate zone?
The amount of time I spent in each orange theory heart rate zone depends on class duration (and class type).
For example, I may get the most splat points and stay in higher heart rate zones during the Orange 3G class because it uses all 3 stations.
On the other hand, when I do Orangetheory Lift 45 my heart rate won’t go super high. (This class requires fewer transitions between stations.)
Also, keep in mind that each class is different. Every workout I do is a combination of many different exercises like rowing, strength, and treadmill, so the time I spend in each heart rate zone can also vary.
Below you can find the table with how much time I spend in each orange theory heart rate zone.
|Peloton Heart Rate Zones||Duration|
|Grey Zone||5 to 10 minutes|
|Blue Zone||10 to 15 minutes|
|Green Zone||20 to 30 minutes|
|Orange Zone||8 to 12 minutes|
|Red Zone||10 to 60 seconds|
A good Orangetheory workout should cover all of the heart rate zones.
Are Orangetheory heart rate zones the same for everyone?
No. OTF heart rate zones are different for each person.
I can be doing the same session as my buddy, Steve.
However, if I have a different fitness level, body weight, or age as Steve, we both gonna have different heart rates, different splat points, as well as different heart rate zones.
Things that affect heart rate zones
According to a study published in the International Journal of Exercise Science, there are a few things that can affect your heart rate zones.
People who spend more time in the gym lifting weights may be strong in their strength exercises but can have a hard time running on the treadmill or rowing on the ergometer.
This means they will have a completely different heart rate zone throughout the class.
Heavier people need to generate more power output to move. The extra amount of weight requires more energy to move around, therefore, the heart rate will be different.
One study has shown that the average male heart rate is between 70 and 72 beats per minute, while the average for adult women is between 78 and 82 beats.
That is due to the size difference in the heart. Females have smaller hearts than males.
It’s not a secret that younger people are (in general) fitter. For example, if you’re doing a strenuous class with your dad, your heart rate zone may likely be lower compared to your father’s.
Orangetheory heart rate zones by age
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), people should exercise between 50% and 85% of their maximum heart rate during exercise.
Here is the table with recommended Orangetheory heart rate zone by age, according to the AHA.
|Age||Orangetheory Heart Rate Zones|
NOTE: Keep in mind that these figures above are averages, and should be used as a guide.
Also, please remember that my Orangetheory heart rate zones are often slightly different from the numbers I see above for reasons other than the workout intensity.
According to Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases Journal, “Your heart rate can stay elevated due to things like stress, anxiety, poor sleep, hormones, medication, hydration status, and more, despite having low-to-moderate intensity workout.”
How does Orangetheory calculate heart rate zones?
To calculate your heart rate zones, Orangetheory fitness uses heart rate monitors that are strapped under your chest or around your arm.
Now, the Orangetheory has armband heart rate monitors that use optical technology, also called photoplethysmography (PPG).
However, I still remember the times when OTF used the ECG heart rate monitors (chest strap), which were measuring electrical signals directly from my heart.
These chest strap HRM had the electrodes mounted on a strap sensor. These sensors were receiving signals which indicate exercise intensity in beats per minute (also called BPM).
I personally find that chest straps were more accurate because they measure the signal directly from the heart. However, the armbands are much more convenient and easy to wear.
How do I use Orangetheory heart rate zones?
I use heart rate zones to collect data about my workouts. Here are some examples.
I use OTF zones to ensure I’m in the right intensity. This way I know I’m not under-training or over-training. If I want to burn as much fat as possible, I aim for the blue and green zones.
Track previous workouts
I can see how much progress I did so far. For me, seeing progress from my workout history and average heart rate zones is very motivating.
I noticed that when I’m able to spend more time in higher heart rate zones is a good indicator of a better fitness level.
It’s like a guide that shows me how my body responds to my wokrouts (or lack of workout, in case I skipped some sessions).
Please remember that orange theory heart rate zones are not the only way to assess your workout intensity. You can learn more about how to use the orange theory without a heart rate monitor in my article here.
Using the orange theory heart rate zones is an effective, accurate, and convenient way to track your fitness and monitor progress.
However, this method has also some limitations because heart rate can change throughout the class, regardless of the intensity.
It’s not perfect, but good enough. I like to think of heart rate zones as a way to make the harder work easier.