A recap of my first Orange Theory Fitness class yesterday…
(I felt like too much of a dork to take photos of the studio, but this photo is from southtampamagazine.com — I will replace it when I get a better one).
Yesterday I posted I was going to check out a new kind of group fitness class/fitness studio with a friend called Orange Theory… I was very pleasantly surprised at the intensity and no-nonsense nature of the class, and too tired to post about it afterwards! I was also wrong about the locations — though it started in Florida, apparently it’s spread out to quite a few states and even Canada by now; the map of locations is here. Anyways, here’s my experience:
The concept: As I posted yesterday, the gimmick or selling point here is that the class is based on a series of sprints/intervals, meant to get you into the anaerobic zone, which they’ve dubbed “the orange zone.” Each location is a studio rather than a full-service gym, meaning you go only for classes, which are scheduled from early morning to the evening.
Each class works as a sort of small- to medium-size group training session, with a coach leading you through the workout. The coach leads you through circuits using a Water Rower (like the Concept Two, but much smoother since it works off water resistance rather than a chain), a treadmill, free weights, and the TRX system. The workout lasts an hour, including a very brief warm-up and cool-down, and not a second is wasted. Because of the effect of sprinting in the anaerobic zone, you’re supposed to keep burning calories at a higher rate throughout the rest of the day.
The gym: The classes were first developed in another area fitness studio by exercise physiologist Ellen Latham, but she did a smart thing and hired honchos from Massage Envy to franchise out the concept. I visited the very first official Orange Theory location in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and the place was very, very slick, from the logo and in-location branding. Even the lighting is a dim orange. If I had the money to buy a franchise, this seems like it would be a great business system to operate. It’s aimed at time-crunched, upscale consumers so the crowd is what you’d expect.
The actual workout area was relatively small and rectangular, with a row of rowing machines, a row of treadmills, and a fairly large area in the back for free weights. Again, it’s not a full-service gym, though there are showers on site too. There were maybe 20 people in the class I took, with each starting at a different point in the first circuit — either the treadmill, the rower, or on the free weights. Because of this, no one area ever got too crowded, so though the square footage was relatively small, it didn’t feel too cramped.
The class itself: This was TOUGH from the beginning. From what the friend who invited me told me, the intensity of the class varies somewhat by instructor, and apparently I showed up for one who is notoriously tough.
This particular session was very heavy on high-exertion cardio. I started out with a quick three-minute warm-up on the Water Rower, then the first 21-minute circuit started.
Unlike most group fitness classes, not everyone is doing the same move at the same time. Instead — shades of Crossfit — there is a white board with the prescribed moves, and you do rounds of sprints or sets of strength moves for time, so everyone’s running around at their own pace.
The first circuit was a 200-meter row, then a strength portion: 10 thrusters, 20 weighted tricep dips, then 10 reverse lunges with a bicep curl on each side. You had to go a minimum of 10 pounds for this, which sounds dinky but was actually kind of exhausting the longer the circuit wore on. After the weights, then it was time for a half-mile sprint on the treadmill. For the second sprint, you were to increase the incline each tenth of a mile, and for the third sprint, you were to increase the speed each tenth of a mile. I think there were extras you were supposed to do at the end if you finished three circuits with time left over, but I only made it to about half way through the last running sprint.
After that came another round, this time with five sets of the following circuit: five reverse burpees, then 20 reverse crunches. After this was a round of 10 push-ups for which I don’t know the actual name — you’d lower yourself to the floor, lift your hands, then put your hands back down to raise yourself up in a negative push-up. Then 10 sit-ups, then rinse, repeat.
The last circuit was all sprints — 0.15 miles on the treadmill, then 0.2, then 0.25, all sandwiched between 100-meter rows. Then there was a rowing/sprinting ladder of 100 m row, 30 second treadmill sprint, then 200 meter row, then 300 meter row.
That was it! By the end I was totally winded. Usually in class they give you a heart rate monitor and you can see your output on a screen to adjust your effort according to the instructor’s cues, but it was out of order. I maybe should have paced myself a little bit more in the first sprint round because by the end, my treadmill “sprints” were basic runs at about 6.0 mph. Whatever, at least I made it through!
We didn’t get on the TRX during this particular class, which was a little disappointing, but clearly if you go regularly the programming changes from class to class.
Value/the rundown:I have a really hard time pushing myself thoroughly through HIIT and circuit-type workouts — apparently I have been *thinking* I have been doing HIIT but I guess I’m capable of a lot more, haha. So this was great motivation to actually go all out during that kind of workout.
Clearly, with all the cardio and high rep work, this isn’t the kind of workout you’d do all the time to build muscle. Most of the participants were women — lots of blonde ponytails swinging around! — but most of them looked very lean and cut, so that was encouraging. This would be a great thing to put in rotation during a cutting phase, or if you have a special event coming up.
It’s definitely a bit intense on the old heart rate to do more than three or four times a week, and I wouldn’t recommend this for a beginning exerciser. The coach was super friendly and helpful but if you have no experience with how to do a lunge or a thruster or other basic strength moves, you’d probably waste a lot of time getting through the circuit.
The down side is the price. First-timers get their first workout free, and the staff was super-friendly, and nobody gave me a hard sell on joining — or even a soft sell, really. I found out about the pricing structure through my friend who is a member. It appears most people get a membership which allows access to eight classes a month for $100.
At $12.50 a class, that’s not too bad, but it’s also a lot more than an actual gym membership you can use at any time. There are higher-priced memberships that give you unlimited access, and as a member you can add on more classes. You can also go a la carte at this particular location for $25 a class, which is about average for upscale fitness studios in the area. There are also class cards you can buy in bulk. Because each location is a franchise, I’m not sure if you can take your membership or class card from location to location like you can with Massage Envy itself; I should have asked, oops.
Still, it ain’t cheap — but it was definitely a great change of pace, and if I was worried about getting ready for a beach vacation or wedding and had a few hundred bucks to spare, I’d definitely consider hitting this up a few times a week. I’ll probably go again occasionally just to hang out with my friend and get an extra push when I need it.