My First Try: Orangetheory Fitness

This is a deviation from all the product reviews I’ve been doing lately, but this blog is also about lifestyle, health, and fitness so I think it fits. And it’s still technically a review!

Backstory: I’ve been toying with the idea of changing up my workout game for a couple of months now and I decided to take the plunge and try a few new places out. I heard about Orangetheory from several friends who go there and say lovely, glowy things about it. If you’re interested in trying it out too, the first visit is free. I love free!

WTF is Orangetheory?

First things first. Orangetheory is a fitness studio/gym with a bit of a twist. Their standard high intensity interval (HIIT) workout takes about an hour to complete, changes every day, is all planned out by Orangetheory HQ (so every OTF location in existence is doing the same workout), and is led by a coach.

During the hour, you:

  • Warm up
  • Do some intervals involving cardio (on a treadmill and a water rower, or there’s a stationary bike option if you need it) and strength (using a few pieces of typical strength-y equipment: weighted medicine balls, bosu balls, TRX straps, tension bands, hand weights, weight benches, the floor, your own body weight, etc.)
  • Cool down and stretch

The classes/workouts themselves fall into three general categories: endurance, strength, and power, with occasional benchmarking or challenge classes.

Sounds… hard, right?

The Orangetheory workout: an overview

This is where it gets nerdy and cool. OTF’s workouts are all driven by science, technology, and a touch of gamification. All participants wear a special OTF heart rate monitor (a device attached to a strap that goes around your chest, under your shirt) that links up to their system and actively monitors/displays everyone’s stats for all to see. They’ve defined 5 heart rate zones, which I loosely translate to:

  1. Grey: Um, are you awake?
  2. Blue: Oh hello there, nice of you to show up.
  3. Green: Now we’re talking!
  4. Orange: You’re working hard, keep it up!
  5. Red: You are a heart-pumping, fitness maniac! Please don’t pass out.

The idea is that you’re supposed to spend a certain amount of time (12+ minutes) in zones 4 and 5 to maximize your workout and – just as importantly – how many calories you will continue to burn after the workout is over. That said, the speed/intensity/impact required to stay in the target zone will vary for each participant. The sweet spot is the orange zone (hence: Orangetheory) and you don’t need to be the fastest runner or the most powerful rower to get there. Simply keep a passive eye on the TV screen showing your colour/stats to make sure whatever it is you want to do that day (incline walking, jogging, running, rowing, etc. at whatever intensity gets your heart pumping) lands you in the right ‘zone’.

As for the gamification, you get one ‘splat point’ for every minute you spend in zones 4/5. The splat points don’t translate into prizes or anything cool from what I could tell at my visit, but maybe you collect them for in-studio challenges or something. The rest of the workout is mainly spent in zone 3.

So, yes – it’s hard, but only as hard as it needs to be.

What the first class experience is like:

As a newbie to the studio, I was asked to arrive about half an hour before the class to fill out paperwork, go over any injuries or health concerns, chat about whatever it is I’ve been doing for fitness, etc. There were free lockers with built-in locks to keep all my stuff in, and I wore workout gear and clean indoor running shoes (required). I also brought water and a sweat towel.

After I finished the paperwork, the class coach took me on a tour of the studio to show how the equipment works and give me a general rundown of what’s going to happen during the class. There’s a whole lot of orange going on (even the lighting is orange!) and there are mirrors everywhere. I found all the information to be a lot to take in and I somewhat know my way around a gym, so I can see it being overwhelming for a beginner. Ask questions, there’s plenty of time!

Once the tour was done, I returned to the lobby to wait with the other participants. Everyone entered the studio together and we were all directed to the first piece of equipment being used for the workout. My workout started on a treadmill. The studio played fairly loud pop/top-40 music in the background which drowned out some of the equipment noise.

During the class, I was guided through different stations where I needed to do various things. The coach demonstrated all the weighted exercises and there were visuals on another pair of TV screens in case anyone needed a reminder, which I did. He also kept an eye on everyone during the class and made helpful suggestions and adjustments when needed. Good form is critical for reducing the chance of injury and making sure everyone is getting the most out of their workout, so I was very happy to see active coaching on deck.

At the end of the class, the screen showed a report of how everyone did. The report was also emailed to me so I could review it later. Here are my results from the free trial class I completed, which are apparently pretty good!

Final thoughts

Overall, I really enjoyed my workout and am still nerding out about the science behind it. You tailor the workout to your own fitness level and there are lots of different impact options, which makes it suitable for a variety of people. The only catch is that you actually need to WORK (and everyone else watching the screen will see if you’re not). Oh, and you won’t like it at all if you intensely dislike treadmills and rowers.

There are a few membership options – I won’t share prices here because they probably vary, but I can tell you it’s not the cheapest workout around. You also need to purchase your very own OTF heart rate monitor if you decide to sign up (but it’s worth it because you can download an app that connects to the monitor, making it suitable to use for non-OTF activities too).

Tips for newbies:

  • You will use one of the studio’s shared heart rate monitors for the trial class. The chest strap on mine was damp and I tried not to think too much about why. Be ready for it.
  • The treadmills and rowers all have numbers on them. I didn’t notice this until my trial class was over, but knowing those numbers would have made it a lot easier to find my way back to my station/equipment for each interval.
  • It’s okay if you don’t get 12+ splat points at your first class. It’s a goal, not a requirement.
  • Don’t bother comparing what you’re doing to anyone else in the class. What you need to do to get into the orange zone might be completely different than your neighbour. The coach will guide you if they have concerns about your form or effort.