Follow Your Heart with Orangetheory

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Orangetheory Fitness — another take on the boot camp class — arrived in San Francisco a couple weeks ago. At first I thought it was a new concept, but a quick Google search confirmed that’s definitely not the case. Founded in Florida all the way back in 2009, Orangetheory has 200+ studios in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Mexico and Colombia. And they’re on track to open 600 studios by 2017. So in SF terms, they’re basically ancient. Or, since I really liked the class, I’ll say experienced. 

My main question was how is Orangetheory different from Barry’s or any other boot camp class? It all boils down to heart rate and EPOC. The idea is that training at about 84% of your max heart rate will produce Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC) — an “afterburn” effect that causes increased metabolic rate for 24-36 hours after the workout, which should lead to increased calorie burn, even after you’re done working out.

EPOC isn’t a fancy term made up by Orangetheory. It’s a real scientific concept but like many scientific concepts, scientists and experts do debate just how much EPOC effects fitness and weight loss. If you want to dive into this, this article is a good place to start.

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An Orangetheory class isn’t surprising as a boot camp class, although it’s a really good one. There are intense cardio segments (done on a treadmill and/or rower) and strength training segments (weights, plyometrics, TRX, etc.) … all led by an instructor.

But then the heart rate comes in. At Orangetheory, they give you a chest strap to measure your heart rate, and it’s displayed on screens all over the room. There are 5 training zones, and the goal for each class is to spend as much time as possible in the fourth orange zone, hence the “orange” in Orangetheory. Before class, they told me to aim for about 25 out of 60 minutes in the orange zone.

This sounds like no big deal, but it was a game changer for me. Because I’m competitive and like to see a big gold star stamped on my workout, I was determined to stay in that orange zone. I quickly realized, and was surprised to discover that required pushing much harder than I normally would. Like even harder than I do at Barry’s, and I’m usually reduced to a puddle by the end of those classes.

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Happy staff at the FiDi studio

Because you’re working at a rate that’s specific to you, the Orangetheory experience feels custom and tailored. You’re not worried about how fast the guy next to you is running — all you’re focused on are your own stats. I liked this. I felt like I got the best workout for me.

The flow of the class was very well planned and executed, though relatively unremarkable, so I won’t comment on it in detail other than to say that my instructor was terrific. He was a great blend of boot camp drill sergeant and inspirational coach. For example, during some of the toughest sections of the treadmill workout, he encouraged everyone to always move forward past the speed of your previous interval, never backward. He also provided clear direction that was easy to follow, kept the class on a good pace, and gave just the right amount of personal attention.

By the end of class, my whole body had been WORKED. I suspected that I pushed it a bit too hard, because in the last 10 minutes of class I felt sick, which has never happened before. I confirmed my suspicion at the end of class when they show you your class stats on the screen. I spent 21 minutes in the orange zone and 20 minutes in the red (which is above orange).

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At Orangetheory’s opening party, I asked one of the trainers if 41 minutes at orange and red was too much or unsafe. Her answer: listen to your body, and think about whether you’d be able to (and want to) sustain that level of exertion if you took the class a few times per week. My response: likely not, since feeling like I’m going to puke isn’t how I like to end my workouts.  So lesson learned: take it a little easier next time.

In a bring it on-esque move, Orangetheory moved into a space on King Street directly across the street from Barry’s Boot Camp. They also have a studio in FiDi, on Sansome Street. I’m curious to see whether die-hard Barry’s fans will defect to Orangetheory.

What I Liked

  • Heart rate training makes for a very personal, effective and challenging workout.
  • The addition of rowers to the cardio lineup adds a lot of intensity … I had never rowed before and man is it tough! The trainer I spoke with said they include rowing because it contrasts well with running. Rowing is power-focused and is low impact. Running is endurance-focused and high impact.
  • Trainers are motivating, inspirational and very knowledgable.
  • I can incorporate classes into my half marathon training — cardio segments usually total about 2-3 miles and strength training checks the box for my weekly cross training workout.

What to Know

  • If you’ve never worn a chest strap before, it takes some getting used to. Definitely leave some extra time before your first class to adjust it so that it’s comfortable. It should be tight but not constricting. I didn’t adjust mine properly the first time and it felt uncomfortable during the cardio segment.
  • Each month, Orangetheory comes out with a brand new class lineup. You’ll never take the same class twice, and you won’t know ahead of time what class you’ll get (e.g. endurance, strength or other focus).
  • Orangetheory trainers recommend taking class 3-4 times per week. I loved the class, but like variety too much to make this much of a commitment.

Pricing

  • Orangetheory has a different pricing structure depending upon your studio location. The SF studios are “premium” locations and priced accordingly:
  • Elite – $189/month — 8 classes
  • Premier – $249/month — unlimited classes
  • Drop in — $32 for premium SF studios
  • Free first class
  • Call your local studio for pricing
  • Orangetheory is not on Classpass, and does not plan to be given that they recommend several classes per week

Also published on Medium.

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Chrissy Trampedach
Chrissy Trampedach is a PR & communications pro by day and fitness buff, skiing fanatic, dedicated yogi and wannabe tennis champ by night (and weekend). As a former competitive figure skater, she’s lived a life of training and sports from a young age. Today, she fuels her competitive spirit and drive to challenge her body and mind with USTA tennis, skiing adventures around the world, the SF yoga community and tracking the latest fitness trends. She lives in San Francisco with her husband Tim and their “75-lb lap dog” Enzo.

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