Orange…what? Orangetheory.

A month ago,  I had never heard of Orangetheory.  But when someone in my office mentioned it, I was completely intrigued and signed up for my first free trial class.  Five classes later, I’m ready to report back to you!  Whether it is here on this blog or somewhere else, I strongly recommend reading a bit about Orangetheory before starting. Also, show up at least 20 minutes early to your first class to get situated.  I know a lot of fitness studios say that and then leave you standing there for 19 minutes.  But for Orangetheory, they really mean it.  It’s a little complicated.

What is Orangetheory? 

Orangetheory Fitness is a heart rate-based workout class, which uses intervals of rowing, running, and floor exercises to burn calories and build strength and endurance.  Its underlying philosophy is that when we engage in high-intensity intervals (reaching at least the “orange zone” of 84% or higher of maximum heart rate), our metabolism keeps running and burning more calories throughout the day (i.e., “afterburn”).

A trainer leads the workout while you receive real-time feedback on your performance; your heart rate and colored heart rate zone are displayed on an easy-to-read screen, so you can see how hard you are working. Because the class is based on heart-rate and not distance run or pounds lifted, everyone’s intensity should be about the same, regardless of varying fitness levels.  This makes it great for the less-than-super-fit as well as the super-fit.  One person might be walking 4 mph and another running 12 mph, but both are doing it “right” at Orangetheory.  It truly is scalable.  And there isn’t the same type of in-class competition as in Flywheel or Crossfit, where you are measured against your neighbors in absolute terms.  But there is a little accountability because the screen is visible to the trainer and all of the class participants.  It’s a nice compromise.

Now that we’ve gone over the basics…

What did I bring to class?

It gets WARM in class, so I strongly recommend spandex shorts, a clingy tank top, and high-quality running shoes.  Sometimes I use semi-retired older running shoes for my lifting workouts.  I wouldn’t recommend that for Orangetheory, because running is a key part of class.  Go with your “live” pair of running shoes.  Also bring a water bottle and a towel.  I use a super absorbent little yoga towel.

Finally, and really importantly, I’d recommend a heart rate monitor.  I was able to borrow a heart rate monitor from the studio for my first class, but I’d need to buy one going forward if I wanted to use their system.  I’ve just been using my Apple Watch heart rate monitor instead and it works OK (although it doesn’t show up on the class screen, and I don’t get to see my pyramid afterwards… and let’s just say the Apple Watch’s fitness app is lacking).  If I decided to stick with Orangetheory long term, I would definitely buy their monitor.  (SEE UPDATE BELOW!)  At class today we were informed that OTF is coming out with an app so that you can use the heart rate monitor for all of your workouts and not just classes.  The app will keep your history, etc.  Sounds pretty cool.

What is the class structure?

On any given day, all Orangetheory studios across the country will be offering the same workout.  But each day, the class varies — you will never do the same workout twice, unless you go twice in one day.  To make things even more interesting, the focus of the class rotates every day on a four-day cycle between endurance (longer blocks, lower weights), strength (bigger weights, serious inclines), power (faster speeds, explosive movements), and a mix of all three.

Class begins with a warmup on either the rower or the treadmill.   I usually choose the treadmill because I feel like it gets my heart going a bit better than the rower, but it is totally a personal choice.

After warmup, participants are led through several “blocks,” or sets of intervals.  You start either with the “floor” group or with the treadmill group, and you’ll switch at least once during the class, but sometimes you go back and forth multiple times–one or two blocks on the floor, then one or two blocks on the treadmill.  (Some classes have three groups: floor, treadmill, and rower.)

Floor exercises can include rowing, TRX suspension exercises, ab exercises, all varieties of squats (jump squats, air squats, goblet squats, you name it), lunges, burpees, planks, tricep dips, bicep curls, chest flies.  The list is endless.  Each block has about 3 or 4 floor exercises, which are displayed on a screen for easy reference.  The trainer demonstrates each movement and will give tips on your form, weight choice, etc.

For the treadmill portion, blocks are divided into Base, Push, and All Out segments.  For example, you might do 2 minutes at Base pace (usually 6 or 7 mph for me when I started OTF) at 1% incline, then a 1.5 minute Push (around 8 mph for me when I started OTF) and then a 45 second All Out (I did about 10 mph when I started OTF).  You choose the speed for each of these segments, and you can adjust based on the heart rate feedback on the screen.  So you might think 6 mph is a good “Push,” but the screen might disagree — showing you solidly in the green zone, rather than the orange.  That’s your message that your body can take more speed.  Add accordingly.   The usual incline for runners is 1% but some workouts, especially on Strength Days, involve adding more incline.   (For all workouts, powerwalkers add incline during Push and All Out segments rather than running.)

There is a brief stretch at the end of class.

The goal is to finish class having spent 12 to 20 minutes in the orange or red zones.

Here is my Performance Summary for my first class.  This was automatically emailed to me after class.  It includes my estimated calorie burn based on my heart rate and weight (provided at sign-up), my heart rate info, and my all-important pyramid.  I earned 17 “Splat Points” because I spent 17 minutes in the orange and red zones.  This doesn’t translate into anything scientific, but it is within the goal range, so YAY!

Performance Summary from my first Orangetheory Class

Performance Summary from my first Orangetheory Class

So what does Orangetheory have to do with marathon training?  Is Orangetheory good for runners?

Well, and lot, and yes.

First and foremost, I strongly encourage runners to incorporate strength training into their workout plans.  Strength training helps build up all the muscles that support your body while you run, and it prevents injuries.  Especially strength training that works core and stabilizing muscles. In Orangetheory, there is a healthy dose of ab workouts, lateral movements, and one-legged squats and lunges, all of which are fabulous for runners.  I haven’t found any of the lifting in Orangetheory to be so intense that it is likely to lead to injury or disrupt my training schedule with a ton of soreness.  Strength training is also great because it helps improve fitness on days when you aren’t heading on a run.  Some of us just aren’t built to run long every day, and yikes, that sounds sort of boring.

Which leads me to my second reason why Orangetheory is good for runners.  It’s fun!  It adds a little variety to things!  Yes, there is running.  But also music!  And power walking!  And lifting!  And rowing!  Oh and now a sprint!  Plus an entertaining trainer leading it all!  My Orangetheory studio also does a lot of events (including group runs), challenges, and theme days, which all add a little zest.

Third, intervals.  Huge.  Intervals and speed workouts are absolutely the #1 best way to lower your race times.  But a lot of us don’t do them because they require timing and measurement and thought, and because we are just so damn focused on going the distance.  Orangetheory provides great structure, forcing runners to do hill intervals and speed intervals, but most importantly, forcing runners out of their comfort zones.  (A trainer (not in Orangetheory) once started making me run shorter distances on the treadmill.  I knew I was getting faster as a result of the training and my own running but didn’t think too much about it on these shorter runs.  Then there was a challenge at the gym to see who could run the fastest mile.  I hadn’t run a solid, single mile in YEARS (seriously, probably since high school).  I ended up getting second place in the challenge, with a 6:30 mile.  Never in a million years did I think I could run a 6:30 mile.  It helped me realize that there was no reason for me to “settle in” at 10 minute miles.  And I soonafter PR’d a 10 miler, knowing that I could push the pace quite a bit more than I had been.  In short, training fast is hugely beneficial–mentally and physically.)

OK, but what kind of exerciser is Orangetheory best for? 

In my view, these are the people who would most benefit from Orangetheory:

  • Folks who are just starting their workout journey, or who are just starting to integrate weights, or who do other fitness classes but not much running, or who are coming back from a hiatus.
  • *Folks who are prepping for a big event (Wedding!  This was me!).*
  • Folks who need structure in their workouts but don’t want to pay for a trainer.
  • Runners who need to do intervals but never do.
  • Crossfitters or wannabe Crossfitters who don’t think cardio is evil and don’t need to lift superheavy weights to feel strong.

Brass tax–how much does Orangetheory cost?

Sweat don’t come cheap at Orangetheory, although cost comes down dramatically when you buy in bulk.  Classes are available for drop-in, or through class packs and memberships.  Cost at each studio varies.  I know that the DC Orangetheory (opening soonish) will cost $10 more per class than the studios in nearby Arlington.  At the studio I’ve tried, here are the prices:

1 drop in: $30

10 class packs: $199 ($19.90/class)

20 class pack: $359 ($17.95/class)

30 class pack: $499 ($16.63/class)

Basic membership (4 classes/month): $69 ($17.25/class), additional classes can be purchased for $17 each. (This is what I’m doing at the moment.)

They also offer an Elite membership (I think it was around $120 for 8 classes/month?) or Premier membership (unlimited sessions).

I think the heart rate monitor costs around $60.

So, will I stick with Orangetheory long term?

I’m enjoying my time at Orangetheory, and I think it helped me look and feel great for my wedding a few weeks ago (yay toned-ness!), and I wholeheartedly recommend it for folks looking for something new, or for those fitting into any of the categories outlined above.  I could definitely see myself getting some class packs at other points in the future.  However, I will most likely not keep paying for a membership long term.

A few reasons:

First, the studio I’ve been going to is reasonably priced but it is not the most convenient for me, requiring a several-mile run to get to class.  And WINTER IS COMING.  The studio opening in DC is going to be much more expensive, so I don’t see that as a good solution.

Second, the best deals are to be had when buying classes in bulk, which means less time for other things (yoga, pilates, all the million workout classes I want to try) and especially less time at my already-paid-for gym.  Already being a member at a general gym is a huge factor for me.

I hope to take what I’ve been learning and Orangetheory and apply it to some of my gym workouts, especially treadmill runs, which I haven’t been doing at all at the gym.

I’d love to hear what others think of this workout!  Anyone inspired to give it a go? 

UPDATE 11/16/2015: OK, so remember when I said I wasn’t going to keep doing Orangetheory regularly?  That was a mistake.  Orangetheory, I am sorry I said that and I take it back.  Instead of doing a monthly membership, I opted for a 30 pack of classes.  A few advantages: (1) classes are actually less expensive this way (under $17!) and (2) I get more flexibility–maybe I can do 6 classes in one month and only 2 in another, and that’s totally OK!  I feel like even though I am no longer training for my wedding, the structure of the Orangetheory class is really good for me, and my dreams of doing my own Orangetheory-inspired workout at the gym just weren’t coming to fruition.  In fact, I’m thinking about ending my regular gym membership, but that’s a topic for another post…  (UPDATE 2/22/2016: I did, in fact, quit my regular gym and am still loving Orangetheory!)

53 thoughts on “Orange…what? Orangetheory.

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