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February 18, 2023 3 min read

 by Michael Wohltmann

Pushing yourself often attains more than not. In what form of exercise do you push?

Is it cardio? Lifting weights? HIIT? Combinations of these? Diet is also a factor but that’s for another post.

First Some Background

I am fascinated by a gym that quietly grabbed a big share of revenue called Orange Theory. It’s crazy as the average retail store footprint generates more revenue than many big box gyms. Their somewhat gimmicky concept is using heart rate measuring to accumulate a certain number of minutes into the “Orange” zone. That number is a modest 14 minutes into their Orange zone.

That Orange Zone is something in physiology known as lactate threshold. That number is usually estimated at 85% of max heart rate and Orange Theory somehow settled on 84%. There is some guesswork on the formula  and that can certainly keep an exact number from being attained. There are of course other variabilities involved that are more individualized.

The standard formula is 220 – Your current age = your current max heart rate.

You then do the math to figure out anaerobic threshold which is current max heart rate x .85.

14 minutes at 85% or higher is the target.

How they workout

Well anyone that has ever been to Orange Theory that I meet tells me they are big on running. I have often heard them say it is about half or more running. I would suppose there are other things that they would substitute but running does raise heart rates and everyone has some basic concept on how to do that. I have heard many stories of how the concept works.

Some Science

An accumulation of minutes into lactate threshold does help to raise growth hormone(GH) levels. GH helps to burn fat, build muscle, heal tissue, speed recovery and is thought to slow aging. This review study shows you need 10 minutes in this zone. There is mixed science as to whether testosterone is stimulated. (1)

Conversely, lifting weights at about 10 reps per set with 3-minute rest intervals has virtually no effect on GH or testosterone. (2) However, this method is thought to grow muscle better. There are other metabolic pathways at work here. (There are other ways to grow muscle but this way is the most common and the one tested in the study.)

Keeping Rest Intervals short to about a minute, increases lactic acid better to stimulate more GH. (3)

Sprinting, in this study it was on bicycles, worked better than quick paced strength training. (4)

Conclusion: What to do

Based on the research and throwing in my own experience, here’s what to do:

-3x/week do sprint training whereby you get your heart rate beating all the way up. Get 10 minutes or more of 85% plus. Most protocols use legs so, tend to stick with that as opposed to full body or upper body. Use the stationary or outdoor bike, pull a sled across a field or sprint(start slower to not get hurt).
    -do 30-90sec sprints… Keep rest intervals short. Coax a buddy to do it with you. Give yourself around half an hour each and be prepared to lean over and gasp.


-2-3x/week lift weights. 45 min to 1 hour each


-You can add cardio but my personal suggestion is to keep it modest if it all. Do it if you like it. One study suggested 1.5hrs of HIIT translated to 4.5hrs of cardio. (3)



  • 1) Godfrey, R. J., Madgwick, Z., & Whyte, G. P. (2003). The exercise-induced growth hormone response in athletes. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.)33(8), 599–613.
  • 2) Mangine GT, Hoffman JR, Gonzalez AM, Townsend JR, Wells AJ, Jajtner AR, Beyer KS, Boone CH, Miramonti AA, Wang R, LaMonica MB, Fukuda DH, Ratamess NA, Stout JR. The effect of training volume and intensity on improvements in muscular strength and size in resistance-trained men. Physiol Rep. 2015 Aug;3(8):e12472. doi: 10.14814/phy2.12472. PMID: 26272733; PMCID: PMC4562558.
  • 3) de Freitas MC, Gerosa-Neto J, Zanchi NE, Lira FS, Rossi FE. Role of metabolic stress for enhancing muscle adaptations: Practical applications. World J Methodol. 2017 Jun 26;7(2):46-54. doi: 10.5662/wjm.v7.i2.46. PMID: 28706859; PMCID: PMC5489423.
  • 4) Kristoffersen M, Sandbakk Ø, Tønnessen E, Svendsen I, Paulsen G, Ersvær E, Nygård I, Rostad K, Ryningen A, Iversen VV, Skovereng K, Rønnestad BR, Gundersen H. Power Production and Biochemical Markers of Metabolic Stress and Muscle Damage Following a Single Bout of Short-Sprint and Heavy Strength Exercise in Well-Trained Cyclists. Front Physiol. 2018 Mar 5;9:155. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2018.00155. PMID: 29556201; PMCID: PMC5845014.