Everything You Need to Know About OrangeTheory Before You Join a Class

women running on treadmill during orangetheory class

 @orangetheorysd/Design by Cristina Cianci

Whether you live in North Dakota or New York City, you have probably heard of OrangeTheory. In ten short years this fitness studio has amassed a cult following of one million members with over 1,200 studios in all 50 states and 23 countries. In short, OrangeTheory is a one hour long, HIIT-centric workout that relies on your heart rate to torch calories. But what exactly does the wildly popular workout involve, who is it best for, and why are people so crazy about it? 

Before you invest in a membership, here is everything you need to know about OrangeTheory:

What Is OrangeTheory?

OrangeTheory Fitness is a science-backed, technology-tracked, coach-inspired group workout studio. The Medical Advisory board endorsed workout was started in 2010 by single mother and exercise physiologist Ellen Latham, after losing her job at a high-end spa in Miami at the age of 40. 

Each class is led by a highly skilled coach and consists of one hour, heart-based interval and functional training—half cardio (power walking, jogging, or running) half strength training (which could be on a water rower or doing squats, crunches, or pull ups. While every daily workout differs, each incorporates the same fundamentals—endurance, strength and power elements through a variety of equipment.

Like most HIIT workouts its science is rooted in the “caloric after burn” science of Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC), “which enables you to continue burning calories even after your workout is over,” Jessica Swedberg, Orangetheory Fitness Coach and Senior Manager of Global Fitness, explains to Byrdie. However, OrangeTheory takes it a step further by literally measuring your heart rate during the workout, with each member wearing a heart-rate monitor to track their progress.

Unlike other group fitness classes, you aren’t doing the exact same exercises as the person next to you. And, completing a specific number of reps isn’t the goal. Instead, the focus is based on your individual effort translated into a “splat number,” calculated by your heart rate and measured against your age, and then splashed across a board for everyone to see. The ultimate goal? To get into the “orange” zone, which is basically the highest level of effort. Hence the name, OrangeTheory. 

Best For: Muscle Toning and Weight Loss

Like other high intensity interval training programs, OrangeTheory is designed to blast calories, making it ideal for anyone who wants to lose weight. However, OrangeTheory is great for anyone who wants to build muscle and improve overall health. 

What to Expect From an OrangeTheory Class

Walking into an OrangeTheory class you should expect an active, one-hour group fitness experience. “New members can expect a high-energy, full-body workout, filled with a great community of members, quality coaching and exercises that’ll get your heart pumping,” promises Swedberg. 

While each session follows the same general formula, no two classes will be exactly alike. “Some days workouts will focus more on one element more than the others, and coaches are there to support members by providing thorough demonstrations, verbal cues, and exercise options to meet a variety of fitness levels,” she adds. 

Also, instructors are there with you every step of the way. “Coaches will guide members through the workout, ensuring to answer any and all questions while also keeping a close eye on all members to keep the energy high and members motivated,” she explains. 

Benefits of OrangeTheory

OrangeTheory stands apart from other workouts in that it carely monitors member’s heart rates throughout each workout, while also providing all members with performance data like distance on the treadmills and rowers as well as body composition analyses from the InBody scanners. “At Orangetheory Fitness, we leverage technology to show our members that their exercise plans are working to improve their health over time,” says Swedberg. 

In order to meet the American Heart Association’s physical activity guidelines of 150 min of moderate intensity aerobic activity or 75 min of vigorous aerobic activity + 2 days of strength training, Swedberg recommends that members take at least two classes per week. “If members cannot engage in taking classes up to 2-4 days per week, they should be encouraged to take class as often as they can while prioritizing safety and physician recommendations,” she explains, pointing to evidence showing that adding any exercise to your lifestyle -- even if less than the recommended dose -- results in remarkable improvements in both mental and physical health

According to the CDC, the health benefits of regular exercise include decreased risk of most chronic diseases and several cancers, improved mental health, improved sleep quality and latency, and favorable changes in body composition, among others.

Safety Considerations 

As with any new workout, if you have any injuries or pre-existing conditions, you should always speak with your medical doctor prior to starting. However, OrangeTheory also recommends speaking to the coaches directly to discuss specific injuries. “Coaches have received education from our Medical Advisory Board on how to provide appropriate options,” says Swedberg. For example, for orthopedic issues, coaches may suggest the bike or the strider as an alternative for the rower and/or treadmill portion, as it is “still working to get the heart-rate up with less of an impact.”

OrangeTheory studios have also taken strides to ensure safety. In addition to complying with all CDC recommendations -- ranging from required masks and temperature checks to a strict sanitation protocol and social distancing -- they also offer Orangetheory At Home™ workouts available each day on the Orangetheory Fitness YouTube channel and over 400 studios are conducting workouts outdoors. 

OrangeTheory vs Traditional HIIT Classes

OrangeTheory is a type of high intensity interval training, but shys away from traditional methods in a few key ways. 

Swedberg explains that Orangetheory’s workouts include interval training with different stations (treadmills, rowers, and weight floor) that keep members challenged throughout the class. It relies more heavily on cardio than other forms of HIIT. 

“Orangetheory is a mix of cardiovascular and strength training, with cardio taking up about half of the hour-long workout,” explains Dan Bowen, NPTI, NASM Personal Trainer and owner of Philadelphia’s Hit Fitness, who specializes in the HIIT method. 

Additionally, the “strength training you do on the floor on the floor isn't really HIIT,” he explains, which involves completing a specific amount of reps and sets. “Instead, you move in sets focusing on reps and form. For the strength-training/floor portion, each block of exercises finishes in a certain amount of time, and everyone is encouraged to go at their own pace so you don't over do it.”

Another big difference between HIIT and OrangeTheory is the length of the workouts. Most HIIT routines last 20 to 30 minutes, Bowen explains, while an OrangeTheory class is an hour long. “Research has shown that people can burn comparable amounts of calories in HIIT routines lasting 20 to 30 minutes, compared to longer continuous exercise routines lasting  50 minutes long,” he points out. 

While there are many high intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts, Swedberg points out what separates OrangeTheory from the rest. “The majority of them don’t utilize health monitoring tools,” she explains. “In other words, they fail to leverage intervals to reach key heart-rate zones that promote afterburn.”

What to Wear to an OrangeTheory Class

Swedberg suggests wearing “a comfortable workout outfit with supportive sneakers” to class. Once you arrive, you will slip on an OTbeat Heart Rate Monitor that tracks your workout, providing real-time physiological feedback.

How to Get Started With OrangeTheory 

Getting started with OrangeTheory is easy: just show up! “If it is your first class, you should arrive a few minutes early to get set up with an OTbeat Heart Rate Monitor, meet the coach, and become acclimated with the workout,” Swedberg suggests. “In certain instances, you can meet the coach virtually prior to your first session. That way, you can learn what to expect when you come to the studio, get any questions answered, and talk about your fitness goals with your coach before even stepping into the studio.” 

If you have any questions during the workout or after—including any surrounding your workout performance report—the coaches are there to answer them.

The Takeaway

OrangeTheory is a highly regimented group fitness HIIT workout rooted in research and has the support of one million members around the world. Like other HIIT workouts, OrangeTheory is a great option for anyone whose focus is torching calories, burning fat, building muscle, and maintaining overall health. “There’s no doubt that interval training can be a time-efficient way to burn calories,” states Bowen. It is also a great option for anyone who thrives in a community fitness setting, is motivated by competition, and appreciates the science of exercise.

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