Orangetheory Fitness Review: Part 1

I nervously enter a nondescript building in Brooklyn Heights and take the stairs to the second floor. Today I am taking my first Orangetheory class. I am doing it for two main reasons; 1 because my friend Katie suggested it, and 2 because the first class is free. The woman at the front desk greets me cheerfully despite the fact that it’s 6:30 am and freezing out. I relax a little as I think to myself, Oh good, the people here aren’t of the mirror-pic taking, douchey fitness freak variety. You know the type. She takes me through the studio and I am immediately hit with orange.
Orange towels. Orange bathroom signs. Orange pens. Orange lights.
They really love their branding.

Once I put my stuff away and strap on the heart rate monitor provided to me, the front desk woman– I didn’t get her name, so let’s call her Sarah– proceeds to explain the class format/design. Basically, it’s an hour long class with a mix of running, rowing, and strength training. Your heart rate and corresponding zone color (which I’ll get into more detail later) are on display on an overhead screen at all times. This is to help gauge your intensity level at any point during the class.

Wait, so my heart rate is on blast for everyone to see??! That sounds like a horrifying experience. I have a mini inner-panic attack.

However, I would later realize that unless you know every single person’s name, there’s no way to know whose heart rate is who’s since they are displayed in alphabetical order by name. Crisis averted.

The zones are:

  • Gray (resting; 0-60% of your max heart rate)
  • Blue (light; 61-70% of your max heart rate)
  • Green (moderate/comfortably hard; 71-83% of max heart rate)
  • Orange (hard; 84-91% of your max heart rate)
  • Red (max; 92-100% of your max heart rate)

The goal is to be in the orange zone for 12-20 minutes of the class, as this is the zone that maximizes the ‘afterburn’ effect– when the body continues to burn calories 24-36 hours after the workout. Hence the name Orangetheory.

Sarah goes on to brief me on base pace, push pace, and all-out pace, and how these differ between walkers, joggers, and runners. Basically, base pace is the green zone, push pace is the orange zone, and all-out pace is the red zone.

The coach arrives and shows me and another first-timer how to use the equipment (rower/treadmill/weights). She (seems to be) super helpful and (seems to) encourage us to ask questions during the workout, which I always appreciate. I will get to those parentheses later…

The workout begins promptly at 7 am, and me and the other new girl– let’s call her Natasha– start on the rowers. I can’t figure out how to get my heart rate up, so I just row faster, which doesn’t seem right… (it’s not; you should row with a large range of motion, not quick and small. To see a more thorough explanation of proper rowing technique, click here).

After the warm up we head into the weight room to do some reverse lunges and overhead presses. Natasha is next to me and has clearly never done a lunge before– she has no idea how to position her legs. She nevertheless is a good sport about it and tries her best. The coach comes over and tries to show her how, but when Natasha doesn’t immediately understand the coach throws her head back in exasperation and marches back over to the ‘treads’ (that’s what they call treadmills in Orangetheory land).


We get to the main segment of the class, which is a partner workout. We are told to get into groups of 3– partner A would start on the rower; Once done on the rower, partner A would then tap partner B on the floor doing the strength portion; Partner B would then tap partner C on the treads; Partner C would then head to the rower, and so on. The flow of the rotation would depend on partner A (the rower) since each round can only begin once they are done rowing the prescribed amount of each round.

The full workout is:

Rowing machine

  • Round 1: 800 meters
  • Round 2: 600 meters
  • Round 3: 400 meters
  • Round 4: 200 meters

Floor (all rounds)

  • 8 lateral raises
  • 8 pushup burpees
  • 32 jumping mountain climbers
  • 16 ab bicycles
  • 16 back extensions

Treads (all rounds)

  • Base pace w/ 1% incline (for me, this is 6-6.5 mph)

We end the workout with 1 minute of jump squats and a short cool down/stretch session.

The coach reviews my and Natasha’s performance together after class. I ended up spending 17 minutes in the critical orange zone, which is right on target with their recommended 12-20 minutes. I gotta work on getting into that red zone, but overall I feel pretty good about how I did.

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My performance summary

I quickly shower, get dressed, and do my hair. I say goodbye to the staff and head to the subway for work with mixed feelings about the workout.

I didn’t love the partner format because your workout essentially depended on the abilities of the other members of your group… and I had Natasha, who moved a little slow, so I only got through two rotations.

Another aspect I wasn’t a big fan of was the coach’s attitude. Whenever I asked her a question, like what incline I should be at on the treadmill, she looked annoyed– like I was inconveniencing her in some way. It made me afraid to ask her questions, which is not exactly how you want your patrons to feel when coaching.

Some other things I didn’t particularly enjoy about the workout:

  • It was a little hard to hear the coach’s instructions as she ran around from weight room to cardio area
  • I could see how it could be intimidating if you’re not used to group workouts (I could clearly tell how uncomfortable Natasha was, and it didn’t help that the coach looked annoyed every time she had to come over)
  • The strength portion wasn’t quite long enough to be effective

There are, however, plenty of things I enjoyed:

  • The HUGE community feel. For example:
    • There are ongoing challenges for members– they are currently doing a weight loss challenge
    • The front desk people knew the members by name
  • The scientific aspect of the workout
  • It was unlike any class I’ve ever done before
  • I learned how to use the rower for the first time
  • It incorporates strength and cardio
  • The sense of competition among the other members of the class (mainly due to the heart rate board)
  • The shower/changing area is very clean and comes with LOTS of amenities (fresh towels, hair dryer, hair clips, hair spray, lotion, shampoo/conditioner/body wash, etc.)
  • Your performance summary is sent to you after the class so that you know exactly how you did.

Since the main negatives of the experience (the coach and format) were circumstantial, I decide to sign up for a second class in order to get a more complete experience of Orangetheory.

That experience will be in part 2, so stay tuned– it’ll be up next week.

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