How to Hit the Red Zone

“Why can’t I hit the red zone like so many others who I see post their workout data?” We hear it all the time. It’s a fair question. I would want to know if I were you, because it feels like such an accomplishment. Like you’re really killin’ it, right!? So, cool, let’s talk about it.

When you’re tracking your heart rate using an app or a wearable, Red Zone means your heart rate spikes to over 90% its max number of beats in a minute (that’s called your maximum heart rate [MHR]). It means you’re pushing it hard! Most often the reasons you’d take on this tortuous feat is simple: it increases cardio capacity, strengthens your heart (which in turn reduces your resting heart rate, so while at rest your heart doesn’t have to work as hard to carry oxygen around that body of yours), and it really just helps you take your fitness to the next level.

If you are not seeing the red zone and you’re trying to get there, there could be a few things going on:

1) Maybe your body is too tired from other things you’ve been up to (like yesterday’s HIIT workout) to be able to push to the levels you need to increase your HR that high.

2) Maybe you actually are pushing hard enough and you are in the red, but the tool you’re using is not accurately measuring. To check this, I suggest doing a manual resting heart rate check to see if your monitor is using the right RHR and/or MHR. You can also see if the tool you’re using matches up with the 1-10 RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) Scale, where 1 is all day long and 10 is to the point where you can’t go on, you have to stop and stop right then or very soon.

3) You might have bradycardia, a condition that causes a lower than usual heart rate. If you suspect this, you should tell your doctor.

4) And for number 4… maybe you truly are not pushing as hard as it takes to get to the red zone. Sorry, but ya might not be!

The only one of the above I can really talk to when it comes to the next question is #4. How do you know if you truly are in the red zone? Well, you’ll be mouth only breathing, borderline gasping, and you won’t be able to continue at that intensity for more than a minute or two, maybe less. I mean in your workout only about 25% max is probably the most amount of time you’d REALLY be in the red zone. If you’re seeing more than that… you probably need to check your tracking device unless you just had a change, like you usually workout hard, but you went on a trip in the mountains for 2 weeks where you didn’t workout much, then came back and took one of my Spin® Sculpt classes. Then you might see more red than usual. 🙂 Be careful with that though, because if you truly stay in the red too long during your workouts, you might burn muscle, not fat. You do NOT want that. You work too hard for that pretty muscle. And always just stop if you feel light-headed or nauseous – you’ve taken it too far.

But what can you do to hit that red zone on the Spinning® bike in the ways that do make you healthier if you are case 4 above? Play with things to figure it out! For me, I learned it was about heavy resistance on the Spin® bike. Speed alone did not do it for me. I need to crank that dial and dig down deep and grind until I start to feel a tingle as the air crushes in and out of my lungs. It hurts… but hurts so good. Should be like a bee sting though… just a quick sting then I stop and recover (which is so important before you try to spike it again by the way – remember that rest periods are as equally important as the high-intensity pushes), and go again. Maybe for you it’s speed though, or transition in and out of the saddle. If you are case 4, something will work, just keep trying.

Last thing, the more fit you are, the harder it is to hit the red. So, give yourself a high-5 if you are feeling that. You’ve decreased your RHR. Nice job. And at Studio SWEAT onDemand and Studio SWEAT, we’ve got the trainers and we’ve got the classes to help you hit that red zone, you just gotta bring the heat! Git it.


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Here's what people said about “How to Hit the Red Zone”

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Thank you Cat and Bethany for an interesting vlog! The only other addition I would make to your list of possible causes for getting into the “Red Zone” would be if the person is taking a vasodilator or high blood pressure medication. It’s kind of funny in a way, but three years ago when I started my membership with Studio Sweat, I was about 25 pounds overweight and suffering from high blood pressure. My doctor prescribed Lisinopril and then told me to take spinning classes to lose my spare tire. We live in a very rural, isolated community and there were no organized spin classes available, so I started searching the web and, thank goodness, found your website. But I ran into problems after just a few minutes, because my heart rate would climb very quickly toward 80% of my MHR and then drop just as quickly, leaving me exhausted and full of lactic acid in my leg/back muscles. I was about to give up but I went back to my doctor and he told me that it was the Lisinopril which was preventing my heart rate from going above 80%. He suggested that I stop taking the drug for six weeks, and to keep doing Studio Sweat (as long as I progress slowly) and then return to him after that time. Within 3 days I was able to hit the Red Zone for short periods of time, but focused on my fat burning zone of 55-65% of my MHR and managed to lose 20 pounds during that six week time period. After three years of Studio Sweat, I can now do hour long classes, I’ve lost 43 pounds, and I’m in the best shape of my life at 50 years of age. Thanks guys for saving my life!!!

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Hi Brian- Such a great comment to add for others to see. You’re right in that we mostly talked to the general pop versus the special pop out there so I’m so glad you mentioned this. Any people with blood pressure conditions (any of the “ardias” will experience different responses to an elevated heart rate. So, again, thank you for sharing this! And I also want to commend you on not taking the easy route, but rather taking the right route to bettering your health and therefore YOU! Happy to be a part of it man. Congrats. Way to be!

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Such a great vlog!! I was frustrated when I was having trouble hitting red then I realized my resting heart rate had dropped to the high 40’s from the low 60’s!! All thanks to Studio Sweat!!!