I Started Doing Orangethery (Without heart rate monitor)

Orangetherapy heart rate monitor is an effective tool to track your workout intensity and progress. However, it’s not the only way. Today I will explain if you can do Orangetheory without a heart rate monitor, and if so, what you can use instead.

As a whole, you can do Orangetheory without a heart rate monitor. Wearables and fitness trackers help to track your workout intensity, but they are not essential to stay active. You can track your workout intensity using the rate of perceived exertion (RPE), which is equally effective in controlling the workout intensity.

I will also touch on what are the benefits and limitations of heart rate monitoring.

Orangetheory Without Heart Rate Monitor

Recently, I was unable to find my heart rate monitor, so the last few workouts I did without wearing one.

Of course, using a heart rate monitor helps to get a lot of information about your workout intensity, prevent overtraining, and help monitor progress.

However, there are few cheaper and equally effective alternatives.

One of the most studied and reliable methods that are commonly used among sports coaches and trainers (even medical personnel) to assess and monitor exercise intensity levels is the rating of the perceived exertion scale (RPE) scale.

What is the RPE scale?

Overall, RPE is a subjective, self-performed rating of the intensity of a single exercise or entire workout session based on the person’s perception of physical exertion. 

Perceived exertion means how hard you feel during and after exercise.

One of the most popular (and my favorite) is the simple 1-10 scale. One represents an effort level close to nothing, whereas ten is the absolute upper limit a person can sustain.

How does it work?

  • Orangetheory is high-intensity interval training where you put your body under physical stress (you run, row, and lift weights).
  • This physical effort creates several physical sensations that you experience. For example, increased breathing rate and increased muscle fatigue.
  • Instead of using a heart rate monitor, you can measure intensity level by asking yourself “how am I feeling right now?” and describe it on a scale of 1 to 10.

Monitoring intensity without heart rate monitor

Below you can see the relationship between the RPE scale, breathing rate, and perception of physical exertion (how it feels).

RPE ScaleHow it should feel?
1Nothing at all
2Very light
3Feels like you can maintain this pace for hours
4Able to maintain a conversation without getting out of breath
5Breathing heavy but still able to hold a conversation
6Labored breathing, challenging and uncomfortable
7Very hard but manageable to speak a sentence
8Very difficult to maintain exercise intensity
9Extremely hard, feels almost impossible to keep going
10The maximal effort, cannot maintain for longer than a few seconds
Measuring intensity in orangetheory without a heart rate monitor

As you can notice, your breathing rate and muscle fatigue go hand in hand with workout intensity.

High-intensity workouts force your muscles to work harder, use more oxygen, and produce more carbon dioxide, therefore, your breathing rate goes up.

In fact, your breathing rate increases to about 40–60 times a minute (100 liters of air) during exercise, compared to 15 times a minute (12 liters of air) when you are resting (source).

That’s why the RPE scale and breathing rate is a viable indicators of workout intensity and can be used as an alternative to a heart rate monitor.

Studies have shown that “both heart rate and rating of perceived exertion are effective in controlling the intensity of training, however, the use of rating of perceived exertion is easier to use and does not require special instrumentation” (Canário-Lemos, Rui et al. 2020).

Benefits Of Doing Orangetheory Without Heart Rate Monitor

As a whole, the OTF recommends using their heart rate monitor to ensure you stay within a “zone” for optimal afterburn effect.

However, there are several benefits of using the RPE scale, without a heart rate monitor.

Here is the list of pros and cons of doing OTF with the RPE scale, without a heart rate monitor.

Orangetheory without heart rate monitor
ProsIt’s simple and inexpensive.
It improves the person’s interception, which is the perception of sensations from inside the body.
It doesn’t fluctuate with hydration status or changes in the temperature.
It’s not affected by caffeine, nicotine, or medications.
ConsIt takes time to understand.
It is subjective because everyone perceives their exercise efforts differently. 
Doesn’t provide detailed information about heart rate zones and Splat Points.
Doesn’t estimate energy expenditure.

I like to use the RPE scale with myself and all my clients because it’s fast, accurate, and personal. This means it can be used by both trained and untrained people.

Plus, it can be used in both cardio and strength training workouts.

NOTE: Please remember that I’ve also been using heart rate monitors extensively for several years and I do recognize their benefits (I’m not a hypocrite).

Here are the advantages and disadvantages of wearing a heart rate monitor during the Orangetheory workouts.

Orangetheory with heart rate monitor
ProsTrack your current heart rate zones.
Provides detailed metrics of time spent in each heart rate zone.
Calculates Splat Points.
Gives evidence of progress/regress.
Provides detailed metrics of historical workouts.
Estimates your calorie burned.
Can be used during, as well as outside of the Orangetheory workouts.
ConsHave to remember to carry the strap or armband with you and wear it.
It can be uncomfortable to wear.
Requires regular washing (buildup of sweat and salt on the strap can reduce heart rate monitor to report accuracy).
Washing leads to wear and tear, which means you’ll need to replace it with a new one.
Dark or tattooed skin limited the accuracy of the heart rate monitor.
Armband heart rate monitors have shown to be less accurate in sports where you move your hands vigorously.

As you can see, there are many benefits of using heart rate monitors (especially if you train for the performance).

However, the problem is that several factors can influence heart rate levels, even without being physically active.

Things that can affect heart rate

  • Heat – Studies have shown that exercise in a hot environment can increase resting heart rate.
  • Hydration – Heart rate can increase up to 7.5% (that’s 10 to 20 beats per minute) when training in a dehydrated state (Achten, 2003).
  • Lack of sleep – Poor sleep and abrupt awakenings can lead to an increase in heart rate, heart rate variability, and blood pressure (Sajjadieh, Amirreza et al. 2020).
  • Stress – Stress releases adrenaline, which temporarily causes the heart rate to increase and blood pressure to rise.
  • Caffeine – Caffeine increases adrenaline and mildly increases the heart rate.
  • Nicotine – Research has shown that nicotine induces a beta-adrenoceptor-mediated increase in heart rate and contractility.

You can learn more about how to use orange theory heart rate zones in my article here.

Do You Have To Have a Heart Rate Monitor For Orangetheory?

In general, you don’t have to wear a heart rate monitor for orange theory. HRM is not a necessity if you just want to join the class, challenge yourself, and have a great time. Alternatively, you can use other fitness trackers like Fitbit or Apple Watch.

Of course, an Orangetheory heart rate monitor gives you fancy data and metrics. It also allows you to monitor progress from one month to another.

TIP: If you want to save money, yet still measure your results, you can track other metrics that will indicate your progress.

  • Sleep quality
  • Mood quality
  • Pain perception
  • Energy levels
  • Hunger level
  • Appetite level
  • Stress perception
  • Outlook
  • Willingness to exercise

You can use the RPE scale (from 1 to 10) for all of them and on a daily or weekly basis to monitor your results.

Learn more: Click here to learn more about the benefits of doing orange theory every day.


As you can see, it’s not a big deal if you lost or forgot your orangetheory heart rate monitor. You can do Orangetheory without a heart rate monitor, track your progress, and still enjoy your workouts.

A good alternative to measure your intensity is the RPE scale, which helps to improve your body awareness, is inexpensive, and is not affected by substances like nicotine, caffeine, taurine, or pre-workouts.

Michal Sieroslawski

Michal is a personal trainer and writer at Millennial Hawk. He holds a MSc in Sports and Exercise Science from the University of Central Lancashire. He is an exercise physiologist who enjoys learning about the latest trends in exercise and sports nutrition. Besides his passion for health and fitness, he loves cycling, exploring new hiking trails, and coaching youth soccer teams on weekends.

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