Why heart rate-monitored workouts are the way forward.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Why heart rate-monitored workouts are the way forward.

Writer Brittany Panter

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I used to be one of those gym-goers who would hop on a piece of cardiovascular equipment, set the timer and speed, and get on with my workout. But while training for a recent cycling race, I discovered heart rate-monitored training. I dabbled with high intensity interval training (HIIT) a few years ago, so I understood the basic concept but was intrigued to find out more. Ellen Latham, founder of Orangetheory Fitness, which popularised the trend internationally, sheds light on the fitness movement taking the world by storm.

Everything Orange

Launched in 2010, Orangetheory Fitness uses heart rate-monitored training for workouts. This type of training is designed to keep heart rates in a target zone that stimulates metabolism and increases energy.  Latham says, “The result translates to more energy, visible toning and extra calorie burn for up to 36 hours post workout, or what is called the ‘orange effect’.”

Zoned training is no newfangled workout fad, but a tried-andtested method that has been used by athletes for decades. What Latham calls the ‘orange effect’ is based on the science that a workout with a fluctuating heart rate produces an excess of postexercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). So on top of offering more engaging workouts by varying intensity levels, it also helps torch calories post workout.

“Science proves that 12–20 minutes exercising in the specific zone of 84–91per cent of your max heart rate, or what we call the ‘orange zone’, produces a tremendous metabolic increase and calorie burn,” says Latham. “Our heart rate monitoring technology makes it easy for participants to make sure they’re hitting their heart rate goals, and the workout is open to fitness goers of all ages and abilities.”

Each of the five zones are based on the percentage of your personal max heart rate. Zone 1, warm-up or cool down, is about 50 per cent of your max heart rate effort, while Zone 2 kicks it up a notch with a range from 51 to 65 per cent which should translate to a comfortable but challenging effort. Zone 3 goes up to 75 per cent and should result in some pretty heavy breathing, what I like to think of as a sustained level of discomfort, while Zone 4 is a hard effort where you push to your heart rate up to 85 per cent of your maximum heart rate. Finally Zone 5 pushes you to your max heart rate, which exercises like HIIT utilise, meaning only very short bursts are sustainable.

So how do you know your zone? In zoned training classes, like Orange 60, the five-zone interval training sessions at Orangetheory Fitness, participants are provided with a heart rate monitor. During the hour-long session, participants perform multiple intervals designed to produce at least 12 minutes of training at 84 per cent or higher of their individual maximum heart rate, which translates to Zone 4 or 5.

During full-body workouts, participants stimulate metabolism for a feeling of increased energy after each interval. This design produces EPOC, also known as the ‘afterburn’ effect. After sessions, your body continues to need oxygen at a higher rate than before the exercise began, this is known as oxygen debt, resulting in a 200–400 calorie increase to metabolism for 24–36 hours after the workout.

Orangetheory Fitness workouts are also designed to be engaging and fun. Sixty minutes fly by and leave you with that feeling of satisfaction you only get after a great cardio workout. Wildly enthusiastic instructors and heart-pumping music are a win in my book, not to mention the more than 500 calories I burnt during the hour-long training session and continued to burn as I nibbled my vegan wrap.

“The classes incorporate a variety of intervals, including treadmill, rowing machines, TRX training and free weights. As a result, the Orangetheory workout is scientifically designed to help participants achieve max calorie burn,” says Latham. “Additionally, the effectiveness of the Orangetheory workout goes beyond our interval-training format. Our goal was to build a small studio model that would provide a great product for consumers as opposed to typical big box gyms.

“We pay attention to our members – what keeps them coming, what motivates them, what helps them achieve their goals – and [we] cater to those needs,” says Latham, which is why Orangetheory Fitness studios are great for those who need extra drive or like a bit of competition. But for those looking to delve in heart rate monitoring solo, or with a smaller group of friends, there are apps for that.

My Reading Room
My Reading Room
“Our goal was to build a small studio model that would provide a great product for consumers as opposed to typical big box gyms ”
~ Ellen Latham
My Reading Room

App Attack

Popular for groups and individuals, SelfLoops is an app that allows sport lovers to be in control of fitness activities while sharing workouts with peers to enhance motivation – throwing in a little healthy competition for good measure.

Christian Del Rosso, CEO of SelfLoops says, “We believe you can only improve what you measure. For this reason we build tools for athletes, clubs and gyms to track and analyse sports activities. Heart rate monitors provide feedback on a person’s effort and form. With this data, we can measure improvement.”

Much like Orangetheory Fitness, the SelfLoops app can be used by anyone from personal trainers to large groups, covering an entire gym or fitness studio. In a gym or studio setting each participant has a designated square on the screen which is coloured during the session according to the participants’ specific heart rate zones. The personal max heart rate can be set for each user or automatically calculated based on age. At the start of the session, the app gathers data from sensors in proximity which then displays the heart rates of participants either on smartphones or tablets or projected on a larger external screen. Diary and advanced data analysis is available on the SelfLoops website.

“The SelfLoops Group Fitness application is for real-time group monitoring with heart rate monitors, bike power sensors and rowers. The scope of the Group Fitness service is to make people aware of their fitness performance and to train more effectively when real-time intensity feedback is given. With the application, coaches and instructors can monitor their class and train people according to their fitness intensity zones,” said Del Rosso.

“Athletes can use our products for indoor and outdoor activities – they can track their activities with their sport watch or our smartphone applications. In the clubs they can use our Group Fitness application and our website provides an advanced analysis of past workout sessions,” said Del Rosso.

SelfLoops also has a team dashboard that is commonly used by clubs and teams that want to manage and monitor their athletes. This makes it possible to see how the team is performing and identify the most active athletes at a glance.

Latham urges everyone to give it a try. He says, “Ultimately anyone can do Orangetheory Fitness because it’s based on your individual heart rate. We have members in their 50s, 60s and 70s. In fact, I’ve even seen first-hand an 82-year-old participating in our workout. Our 60-minute, five zone heart-rate monitored interval training concept has helped tens of thousands of members lose weight, get toned and meet their overall fitness goals in a short amount of time. That said, each member’s journey is personalised and unique, so we stay away from identifying a specific timeline for results.”

While fitness trends come and go, if numbers are anything to go by, heart rate-monitored fitness classes seem to have staying power, as Orangetheory Fitness alone has over 700 studios in 16 different countries.