I did Orangetheory for a Year and This is What Happened

I recently wrote about my year doing CrossFit A and since that year was followed up with a year of Orangetheory I thought you may be interested in that experience as well. You see, I live in a gym-desert. There are no options near my house – a residential area of south Seattle – and there are few options near where I work in Pioneer Square. There’s one old, run-down YMCA but I just need energy in my workouts. So when Orangetheory opened up downtown, though it was over a mile away, I signed up as a founder at their location. I did Orangetheory for a year and this is what happened.

Orangetheory Fitness is a fitness franchise that was started in Florida in 2010 by fitness guru Ellen Latham. The foundation of the workout is a group training setting based on ~25 minutes high intensity interval training (HIIT) on treadmills and row machines blended with ~25 minutes of strength training. There are now locations in most states as well as many countries around the world. It is hugely popular and can fit a lot of people in each class (around 30). Even though there are many classes at each location, I constantly had a hard time getting a spot at a time I wanted. It’s a very trendy workout.

I can see why; what I like about it is that it got me running when normally I wouldn’t. They mix each workout up so much – going up hills, going “all out” (at fastest speed), taking a walking break – every day is different. It can get even a non-runner running. And you can always power walk if needed. In the weight room, the moves are pretty standard: lunges, squats, deadlifts, push-ups, bicep curls, tricep extensions,  plank and other abs, TRX straps, bench presses with free weights that kind of thing. Orangetheory utilizes heart rate monitors that pop up on a screen and the idea is that when you’re training in the “orange” zone, you’re going to maximize the after-burn, dipping into energy stores well after you walk out of the gym door. When I got tired of Crossfit, I needed new fitness motivation so I did Orangetheory for a year and this is what happened.

Nothing much! I ran, I lifted weights, I was friendly with the other OT goers, I got kind of bored and I moved on again. I didn’t lose or gain weight and I didn’t feel better or worse that I did previously when I was doing more of a tabata style- workout or Crossfit. Here’s a list of the pros and cons of OT as I see it:

Pros of Orangetheory

  • It got me running! I worked out way harder than I ever would on my own and because you sign up in advance and there’s fees for no-showing, you go even if you’re not feeling like it.
  • The trainers were generally good – very peppy, played good music, and were professional.
  • It’s relatively affordable and they have unlimited and 8x per month packages. Honestly with my schedule, 8x per month is about right. They allow you to pause a couple times per year and they treated me well when I was doing that and when I was canceling my membership. No hard sell.
  • You don’t have to be in amazing shape to try it. I find it much less intimidating than Crossfit and there is a wide range of fitness levels and ages attending.
  • I found the heart rate monitor on the board very motivating. You can secretly compete with people you don’t know and I know that I worked out harder because of it.
  • The weight routines are well designed. They’re always different and I found them relatively challenging. They work major muscle groups and keep the participants engaged.

Cons of Orangetheory

  • Ew! The heart rate band is hard to keep clean and it also kept cutting my chest where it was rubbing as I worked out. I tried an arm band but they’re more expensive and they didn’t read well on me. I ended up not using a monitor at all for the last few months and it really wasn’t as motivating when you’re not up on the screen.
  • I never got hurt, but you could. I’m a huge stickler for proper form and the trainers did a pretty good job supporting that for people the but the classes are so huge and there are so many beginners that I saw some horrifying lifts – lots of swinging weights and hyper-extension.
  • This might just be Seattle but on the OT site, it talks about the “community” and there was none of that at this gym. “High fives” felt forced and awkward and no one ever talked to each other. It was just in and out, that’s it. I wonder if perhaps, since this gym is so close to Amazon if people are just heads down.
  • Sometimes instructors (and some of the quotes around the class) talk about “earning food” or splurges through working out. I really didn’t care for some of the nutrition advice some trainers would spout…not that they should ever BE giving nutrition advice.
  • They seem to have a lot of turnover, at least at the gym I belonged to. Instructors and front desk folks don’t stick around long which makes it hard to develop a relationship with them.

I enjoyed my time in OT and it kept me engaged for a while. I like that it got me running, too – that was a fun challenge. It’s not something that I chose to stick with long-term but I’d recommend trying it if you’re interested. Definitely take the time to go early and meet with a trainer who can get you oriented. On your first class, just take it slow and don’t ever try to lift weights above your comfort level.  Stay hydrated and fuel yourself properly. Meeting with a Registered Dietitian can really help you understand how best to eat pre- and post-workout when starting a program like OT. Let me know when you try it!

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