How To Use Orange Theory Heart Rate Zones? (Explained)


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.

Today I explain how to use the orange theory heart rate zones and unpack everything there is to know about the benefits of each individual zone.

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?

As a whole, the Orangetheory heart rate zones give you immediate feedback on your workout intensity and allow you to track and compare your performance from previous sessions. Each heart rate zone is the percentage of your maximum heart rate calculated in heartbeats per minute.

Different heart rate zone comes with different health benefits like enhanced recovery, fat loss, or improved anaerobic capacity (more on that later).

Your heart rate zone during your orange theory workouts should match your personal goals. For example, if your goal is to increase your splat points, you should be in the higher zones for most of the class.

How Many Heart Rate Zones Does Orange Theory Have?

In general, the orange theory uses 5 heart rate zones, which are in line with the American College of Sports Medicine recommendations. 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). This way you get the most accurate number, however, this type of test requires experienced personal trainers or other fitness professionals.

To make things simple, the orange theory heart rate monitors (as well as other similar brands) use the age-predicted maximal heart rate formula “220 – age” to estimate your maximum heart rate.

Instead of using scientific jargon, the orange theory uses splat points to describe how much time you spend in each heart rate zone.

I won’t cover here all the details about the splat points. I’ve already covered that in my article “orange theory splat points“, which I recommend you read.

In short, the company recommends that you should spend at least 12 minutes in the highest zones to reap the afterburn benefits of their workouts.

What Are The Orangetheory Heart Rate Zones?

The five orange theory zones are gray, blue, green, orange, and red. Each of these zones comes with a different percentage of maximum heart rate and health benefits.

  • 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

Orangetheory Grey Zone

The orange theory heart rate zone 1 refers to as the “grey zone”. This is the least strenuous zone where your heart rate is between 50-60% of the maximum heart rate. This is the most comfortable zone, consisting of very light activity.

This is the easiest heart rate zone in orange theory.

However, don’t think that being in the grey zone means no benefits or no results. Training in the grey zones helps to boost your active recovery, as well as prepare the body for a more strenuous workout.

Orangetheory Blue Zone

The orange theory blue zone refers to heart rate zone 1. Here your intensity is around 61-70% of the maximum heart rate. Training in the OTF blue zone helps to build endurance and increases the muscle
mitochondrial enzymes.

This type of intensity is also good to build capillary pathways and transporting oxygen to your muscles. It also improves the lymphatic system that carries metabolites like lactate away from your muscles.

Orangetheory Green Zone

The orange theory heart rate zone 3 refers to as the “green zone”. This intensity is challenging yet doable. If you pick the regular 60 minutes orange theory class, you should be able to stay 20 to 30 minutes in the green zone.

The intensity of the green zone is around 71-83% of the maximum heart rate. According to the orange theory terminology, the blue zone is the “main zone” or “base pace”.

The biggest benefit from training at zone 3 is increased muscle glycogen storage (the ability to store more carbohydrates in the muscles that then can be used for energy).

Orangetheory Orange Zone

Orange theory orange zone (which is also called the Threshold zone or “push” zone) is the fat burn zone because it refers to the intensity where you maximize fat loss and calorie burn. The intensity of the orange zone is 84-91% of your maximum heart rate.

According to the orange theory, training at this intensity increases your EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) also called the afterburn.

However, you don’t have to prioritize this heart rate zone. The goal of each 60-minute class is to accumulate 12 minutes or more in this zone. This will increase the metabolic rate and burn calories after the workout.

The Orange zone is my favorite heart rate zone because you get a lot of benefits (apart from afterburn) from little time spend. You also know that you’re in this zone because your breathing is high, impossible to maintain a conversation.

Orangetheory Red Zone

Orange theory red zone is the most intense heart rate zone. It requires you to train at 92% of your maximum heart rate or higher. This level of intensity happens only during all-out intervals where you push the body to maintain the maximum effort for no more than 10 seconds.

The good news is that you don’t have to be in Orangetheory red zone for too long. Some of the health benefits like increased anaerobic threshold, increased stroke volume, and improved maximal cardiac output happen from just seconds of training at this level.

I don’t usually train so hard to reach the orange theory red zone because I find that it’s hard to recover. For me, it is much better to stay between zones green and orange.

What Orange Theory Heart Rate Zone Burns Most Fat?

In general, you will burn calories in all orange theory heart rate zones. However, the heart rate zones that burn the most fat are blue, orange, and red. Heart rate zone 2 (blue zone) aims for lower intensity and increases fat oxidation.

This means the body uses more fat for energy than glucose.

On the other hand, zones orange and red do burn a lot of calories, however, most of them are coming from glucose. However, these heart rate zones increase post-oxygen consumption, which helps to burn more fat after a workout.

Orange Theory Heart Rate Zones For Cardio

The best orange heart rate zones for cardiorespiratory benefits are green and orange with the intensity of 71-91% of maximum heart rate. This is when the blood lactate concentration goes over 4 mmol/l, also referred to as OBLA (onset of blood lactate accumulation).

This is where the body improves the ability to eliminate lactate and other metabolites from the blood, as well as becoming more efficient in burning glycogen.

However, don’t think that to improve cardio you should only stay within these zones. If your goal is to improve aerobic fitness, you should aim to have a balance of all heart rate zones.

Orange Theory Heart Rate Zone Benefits

Here is the list of benefits based on which orange theory heart rate zone you train the most.

OTF heart rate zoneBenefits
Grey ZoneActive recovery zone that helps to improve circulation and eliminate waste products from the body.
Blue ZoneThe 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 ZoneIncreased 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 ZoneIncreased 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 ZoneIncreased stroke volume, which means the heart is getting stronger and more efficient in pumping blood (aka better performance).

According to the orange theory, 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 Should I Spend In Each Heart Rate Zone?

In general, the time spent in each orange theory heart rate zone will depend on the duration of the class and the class type. For example, you 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, orange theory Lift 45 requires the least transitions between stations and uses mainly strength training so your heart rate won’t go super high.

Also, keep in mind that each class is different. Every workout is a combination of many different exercises like rowing, strength, and treadmill, so the time you spend in each heart rate zone will also vary.

Below you can find the table with how much time you should spend in each orange theory heart rate zone.

Peloton Heart Rate ZonesDuration
Grey Zone5 to 10 minutes
Blue Zone10 to 15 minutes
Green Zone20 to 30 minutes
Orange Zone8 to 12 minutes
Red Zone10 to 60 seconds
orange theory heart rate zones and duration

A good Orangetheory workout should cover all of the heart rate zones.

Are Orange Theory Heart Rate Zones The Same For Everyone?

One thing you need to keep in mind is that OTF heart rate zones are different for each person.

For example, you can be doing the same session as your buddy, but if you have a different fitness level, body weight, age, or gender. This will result in different heart rate, different plan points, as well as different heart rate zones.

  • Fitness level – 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.
  • Bodyweight – 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.
  • GenderStudies have 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 a smaller heart than males.
  • Age – It’s not a secret that younger people are (in general) fitter. For example, if you’re doing an OTF class with your dad, your heart rate zone will likely be lower compared to your father.

Orangetheory Heart Rate Zones By Age

According to the American Heart Association, people should exercise between 50% and 85% of their maximum heart rate during exercise (source).

Here is the table with recommended orange theory heart rate zone by age, according to the AHA.

AgeOrangetheory Heart Rate Zones
20100–170 bpm
3095–162 bpm
3593–157 bpm
4090–153 bpm
4588–149 bpm
5085–145 bpm
5583–140 bpm
6080–136 bpm
6578–132 bpm
orange theory heart rate zones by age

NOTE: Keep in mind that these figures above are averages, and should be used as a guide.

Also, please remember that your orange theory heart rate zones may be different from the numbers you see above for reasons other than the workout intensity.

For example, the intensity of the class can be moderate, but your heart rate can stay elevated due to things like stress, anxiety, poor sleep, hormones, medication, hydration status, and more.

How Does Orangetheory Calculate Heart Rate Zones

To calculate your heart rate zones, orange theory fitness uses heart rate monitors that are strapped under your chest or around your arm. The orange theory uses armband heart rate monitors. They use optical technology, also called photoplethysmography (PPG).

However, a few years ago, OTF uses only the ECG heart rate monitors, which were measuring electrical signals directly from your 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 more convenient and easy to wear.

How Do You Use Orange Theory Heart Rate Zones?

  • Ensure you’re in the right intensity – Orange theory heart rate zones help to ensure you’re not under-training or over-training. For example, if you want to burn as much fat as possible, you should aim for being in the zones blue, green, and orange.
  • Track your previous workouts – You can see how much progress you did so far. For example, seeing progress from your workout history and average heart rate zones can be motivating.
  • Track your improvements – Being able to spend more time in higher heart rate zones is a good indicator of a better fitness level. It is also a guide that shows how does your body respond to a lack of workout (in case you skipped some sessions).

Conclusion

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.

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 “orange theory without heart rate monitor” in my article here.

Michal Sieroslawski

Michal is an exercise physiologist (MSc), nutrition coach, Ashtanga teacher, and fitness blogger. He shares his successes and failures to help busy men and women squash down 20, 50, or even 100 pounds of fat without leaving their home.

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