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 – just like everything else in life they aren’t a one-size-fits-all formula. Each of us is different, and each of our hearts beats at its own speed and efficiency.

Orangetheory Fitness has a new way of making sure your heart rate is working even better than ever for you.  For Joel French, OTF’s Senior Director of Research, Fitness and Wellness, the limitations of standard heart rate training were first frustrating 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 ~ 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.” “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, heart rate & heart rate zones provide a great way to gauge cardiac intensity and thus improve fitness . So, Orangetheory has recently rolled out a new way to calculate your heart rate, one based on your past workout data.

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 OTF workout is at least a dozen splat 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. Orangetheory’s new personalized zone is tailored to your own heart rate tracking.

OTF is now 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 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.’”


For a larger view of the infographic above, click here.

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.”

“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.”

For more information, check in with the Orangetheory Fitness Studio near you.

  • Rock Hill: (803) 667-3388
  • Ballantyne: (704) 412-4369
  • Quail Corners: (704) 247-6137
  • Arboretum: (704) 612-2102
  • South End: (704) 626-7322
  • Railyard: (704) 885-1300
  • Midtown: (704) 412-9612
  • University: (704) 705-2377​
  • Harrisburg, NC:  704.464.4242

More information on Orangetheory Fitness is available on their website