The Beginners Guide to Orangetheory Fitness

by Mackenzie L. Havey
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The Beginners Guide to Orangetheory Fitness

Finding a fitness routine that not only offers a great workout but also keeps you engaged for the long haul can be difficult. It is for these reasons that Orangetheory Fitness has risen in popularity in recent years. Orangetheory workouts rely on heart rate-based interval training that combines cardiovascular and strength work set to motivational music and led by energetic trainers. The result is an engaging 60-minute total-body workout that creates a big afterburn effect, allowing your body to continue torching calories long after you stop sweating.

When you walk into an Orangetheory class, you’ll be handed a heart rate monitor to help guide your workout. Each session includes a mix of high-intensity intervals completed on treadmills, rowing machines, TRX suspension trainers and free weights. While the workouts and the instructors change from one day to the next to keep things interesting, all sessions are structured to accommodate a variety of fitness levels.

If you’re interested in the nitty-gritty scientific details behind what drives the Orangetheory philosophy, keep reading.

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High-intensity interval training underpins every Orangetheory session. This type of workout is all about pushing yourself to the max for short periods of time and then allowing for brief rest before ramping the intensity back up. In an Orangetheory class, this may mean running for a couple of minutes at a relatively easy “base pace,” a couple minutes at a somewhat uncomfortable “push pace” and then maybe a minute of all-out sprinting, followed by walking recovery.

HIIT has become so popular in recent years because it offers real results in terms of weight loss and fitness gains. A growing body of research has demonstrated that HIIT is not only effective in boosting fitness, but it’s also more time-efficient than your run-of-the-mill cardio session.

One study compared two groups over two weeks. One group completed six sessions of all-out 30-second sprints on stationary bikes with brief bouts of rest, and another performed six sessions of 90–120 minutes of moderate-intensity cycling. While both groups completed the same number of workouts, the sprint group did just 2.5 hours of training compared with 10.5 hours of training for the moderate-intensity group over the two-week study. Remarkably, despite the significant difference in the amount of time they trained, the groups showed the same increases in endurance capacity and overall fitness.

In another study, some of the same researchers showed that when it comes to those who are sedentary and overweight, even 10 minutes on a stationary bike with three all-out 20-second intervals can boost endurance capacity when performed three times a week for six weeks. They also saw improvements in things like blood pressure and other fitness markers.

Perhaps just as important, studies have also demonstrated that people tend to enjoy high-intensity interval training more than continuous moderate-intensity workouts. Since progress only comes through remaining committed to an exercise regimen over weeks and months, that counts for a lot.

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One of the barriers to getting the most out of HIIT workouts is knowing whether you’re pushing hard enough during the high-intensity bouts, and whether you’re backing off enough during the recovery periods. Enter heart rate training. At Orangetheory, they use heart rate monitors to break down various paces and effort levels into hard data to help guide your workout.

For instance, during a treadmill workout in an Orangetheory class, “base pace” is 71–83% of your max heart rate, “push pace” is 84–91% of max heart rate and “all-out” sprinting is 84–100% of your max heart rate. Instead of trusting your perceived effort, you have cold, hard data to guide you through the workout. Those numbers are displayed on a big screen to help you keep track of things like calories burned, average heart rate and max heart rate. You are also sent a training report after the fact so you can monitor your progress over time.

All together, during an Orangetheory workout, you work through a five-zone interval training session called the “Orange 60.” During the hourlong session, they estimate that you’ll perform at 84% or higher of your max heart rate (zones 4 and 5), known as the “Orange Zone,” for 12–20 minutes. Remember, those high-intensity 12–20 minutes are dispersed throughout the 60-minute workout and include running, rowing and strength exercises.

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You may be asking what the point of all of these fancy zones and numbers may be. Put simply, the idea behind Orangetheory is that if you can push into that “Orange Zone” for brief bouts during a 60-minute workout, you’ll enjoy a greater “afterburn” effect. They suggest that when done properly, their workouts can increase your metabolic rate for 24–36 hours after you stop sweating — totaling anywhere from 500–1,000 calories burned when all is said and done. Combined with good nutrition, they suggest that if you attend 3–5 classes per week, you have the potential of losing 3–5 pounds each week.

This is all based on some serious research on the subject of calorie afterburn, or “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption” as it’s known by experts. EPOC occurs when your rate of oxygen intake increases after a hard workout. In general, exercise physiologists estimate that about five calories are burned for every liter of oxygen consumed. To enjoy the greatest afterburn effect, research shows you have to push past 85% of max heart rate during workouts, aka the “Orange Zone.” Even when the energy cost of a high-intensity and low-intensity workout is identical, the former has been shown to offer a significantly higher EPOC than the latter.

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While you may not have fancy flat-screen televisions, studio-quality speakers and a motivational instructor at your beck and call, there are ways to mimic Orangetheory workouts in the comfort of your own home. Owning a treadmill makes these types of workouts easier, but even if you don’t have the equipment, you could run laps around your neighborhood with a heart rate monitor before ducking into your house for the strength portion of the workout.

You will need a heart rate monitor and resistance bands or a couple free weights. Keep in mind that this isn’t an Orangetheory workout, but it employs many of the same principles related to HIIT, heart rate training and EPOC.

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  • Jennie Toering

    I love orange theory. They have helped me lose 18 lbs in less than 4 months. I never would have been able to do that on my own

    • karen

      Jennie… Did you change your eating habits as well?

      • Jennie Toering

        Yes i did some. Eating is always the hard part for me. Why does everything I love to eat have so many calories? Update now I have lost 32 lbs total. The weight isn’t really coming off as easy now but its not coming back on either where before I would always gain it back right away. Orangetheory has also helped me start to become a runner. Before I started going there I couldn’t really run at all. On thanksgiving this year I did a 5k and ran for three quarters of the race and have improved my 5k time by 7 mins. Some day I hope to run the Boston Marathon and I know if i keep plugging away and going to OTF that I will get there. Consistency is key.

        • Miz T

          Good for you! I’m going to try Orange Theory for the first time this week. I hope I enjoy the success that you have!

          • nomer206

            Good luck! I’ve been a member of orange theory for a year and a half and have never been stronger!!! You’re gonna love it!

  • Penny

    I love OrangeTheory, but I may have to move soon to a city that doesn’t have one. Is there any other gym out there that has a similar approach, with the high-intensity training and heart rate monitoring? Thanks

  • Jenna

    I love orange theory when I can’t get there I copy that same exercises we do there at my other gym or at home I have never sweat so much in my life

  • Colin

    What’s the cost on this? It seems interesting, but I couldn’t find any pricing info on their website. (It may be there, and I just missed it.) I did notice that there’s a “free visit” opportunity, but I’d rather understand the pricing before walking into what could be a high pressure sales pitch. Thanks!

    • Bonnie

      Approx $25 a session or there’s different levels of membership. The top tier unlimited classes is 150 I think, then there’s 2 classes a week, then 1 class a week for 50. It may vary per location. That’s a rough estimate for the one I go to. I do love it though.

    • Emily Misiunas Williams

      The prices are not on their websites and did just go up on 3/1/16. The membership prices BEFORE 3/1/16 were $59 for 4 sessions/month, $99 for 8 sessions/month, or $159 for unlimited sessions in a month. They also have 10, 20 and 30 session packages you can buy. Call the facility for their current prices. You do get the first session free. The heart rate monitor is extra and an important component in this process, but you can go without it as well. I use my heart rate monitor from MyZone instead.

      • Redmond Marquita

        The cost is worth it if you consider that you are working with a personal trainer. They usually start at $50 and up for a 1:1 hour session. I have the unlimited $159/mth and I go an average of 20-25 times which is about $6.?? A class it’s worth it

      • Victoria Carter Jackson

        I already have a polar heart monitor that I use . Will that work at Orange theory?

    • Danielle Williams

      It’s not cheap, that’s why it’s missing! 80 bucks for four classes a month and then the prices increase but the per class price reduces with the larger packages. I loved it, but the price tag was outside my budget!

    • Kristin-Marie

      Do the free class, it really isn’t much pressure and they’ll go over the pricing then.

  • Rob

    I absolutely love OrangeTheory. It’s addicting. It’s the first workout I’ve been able to stick with.

  • nurseriverboat

    This program really works! I’m a 50-something woman and I could never motivate myself in the gym. I’m the sort of person who needs to be PUSHED, and I found OTF in the nick of time. It’s been 10 months and I’ve dropped 32 pounds. No way could I ever have done that on my own, NO WAY!!! So – if you’re in your 40s, 50s or 60s or beyond, you owe it to yourself to GET INTO OTF!!! It’s structures, it’s fun and the people in there are super cool and NICE!!!!
    What have you got to lose, besides that ugly muffin top?
    If you practice self-love, you will find a way to pay and get into the best physical shape of your life. Love yourself – LOVE Orange Theory Fitness. It works!
    X O

  • Angela Kindley

    I’m not familiar. How do I learn more. I need beginners at 57 and over weight.

    • Kristin-Marie

      Go online and find an Orangetheory close to you, you can try a free class!

  • Natalie Román

    I love OTF, but I think the one component missing is the group training aspect. I love training with others, it brings out my competitiveness. Not only with myself, but with others around me. I have always found it hard to push myself at the gym working out by myself, but knowing that others around me are doing the same workout and pushing themselves, makes me want to work harder. When you start to recognize each other in the classes, you tend to gravitate towards people who you know will push you to perform at your best.

  • Kristin-Marie

    I love Orangetheory Fitness. I’ve been going since January and I’m down 55 lbs and I know I can keep it going. The staff and coaches are amazing and it really is a lot of fun. I’d recommend this to everyone and any level of fitness!!

    • Taylor-Mary Smith

      Wow – That’s amazing! I am really looking into starting. Did you alter your diet as well? I am looking to lose about 30 lbs within the next 6 months. I keep reading how wonderful OTF is but I am so intimated by the treadmill.

      • nomer206

        OTF is amazing! I’ve been a member for a year and a half. I’m 48 years old and am stronger than ever. It is great for every fitness level. We have people In class who are power walkers and others who are mad runners!!! Try it—you’ll love it!!!

  • Justin Ruehs

    Has anyone figured out how to log / sync your OTF workouts into your MFP program, I track my food, but I can’t get my OTF workouts in accurately

  • Michelle

    From a person who has done Exercise and eating right all her life and has also been overweight all her life I can tell you this much. Orange Theory proves that hard work is the only way to stay in shape and drop pounds. There’s no magic pill Orange Theory helps people push themselves and give them the confidence they need to achieve the goals in their life

  • Sue

    I have been going to OT for about 6 months now & love it! Although I am struggling to loose weight/fat. I eat healthy go to OT 3x a week. I am only looking to loose about 10lbs & tone up. I have toned a bit and realize muscle weighs more than fat so that may balance out but feel I should have more results after 6 months. I have a hard time with the treadmill and can’t seem to keep myself out of the red zone unless I stay within a 5.5-6 on the treadmill. Resulting in a average of 75-78% at end of work out. Can it be that I am not reaching the recommended 84%? Or is it at 48 years of age my metabolism is working against me. :/

  • Alex Sloan

    I really appreciate the citations though the EPOC research that is linked is wildly misleading in the interpretation you make. It was based on resistance exercise for reps based off an 8 rep max (not 1 rep max, so weight and intensity will be even lighter at percentages) not percentage of heart rate. A test of heart rate as well as many other markers were recorded though the EPOC demonstrated a astronomical drop only 45 minutes in. If this is the research Orangetheory uses to claim “backed by science” then they are spinning evidence based science way off what the research actually says.

  • Lisa Franchot

    Thanks! I loaded this run into my Garmin. Can’t wait to try! I have been looking for something just like this to add to my weekly runs! And the strength stuff looks great!!! So excited to try!