When I started going to Orangetheory Fitness two months ago, I’d been away from the gym since October 2015. That’s 18 months. A long damn time.
And I’d gained back all the weight I worked so hard to lose last time — and then some.
I was active both winters because we skied a lot, but we also après-skied a lot. And my wine intake was, well, on the regular.
In part, I blame it on lululemon. When you work at home 80 per cent of the week, you don’t get too deep into parts of the closet that hold work clothes. And they don’t lie like lulus. There’s a lot of forgiveness in my yoga pants, which is probably why I own 8s, 10s and 12s. All the sizes I’ve been in my adult life.
I could also blame it on too much eating out, a nightly hankering for dark chocolate and an insatiable desire to try every cocktail on the menu in the name of “research” when I travel.
But, really, I can only blame myself.
And that’s how I landed at Orangetheory.
Psssst! You can also check out my newest post: Does Orangetheory Fitness Work?
Because I knew I needed more than just my regular gym membership to motivate change and stay accountable. Let me tell you a bit about what OTF is, how it works and what it costs, and then I’ll dive into the powerful results I’m seeing so far.
What is Orangetheory Fitness (OTF)?
If you’ve done HIIT (high-intensity interval training) classes before, Orangetheory will feel similar. But for those who are new to HIIT, OTF is what I’d call modified — or amplified! — HIIT classes. What would have been called circuit training in the ’90s, perhaps, but suped-up and backed with a heap of cool science.
Every Orangetheory class is somewhere between 53 and 56 minutes long, including a warm-up, in my experience. Plus a two- or three-minute stretch at the end. Every day is different and is based on a template that’s used in every OTF location around the world on the same day. There were, the last time I heard, something like 1,400 different templates — so you’re never going to feel like you’re doing the same workout twice. (That’s nearly four years’ worth of different daily routines.)
Like any group class, there’s an instructor (at OTF, they’re called coaches) who leads the class and keeps everyone on track. They also act like personal trainers, but in a group setting. I’ve had coaches correct my form and help modify exercises that I can’t do right now because I’m nursing a shoulder injury.
What sets OTF apart from any kind of workout I’ve ever done is the heart-rate monitor. Every member wears one, and your name appears on a TV screen in the studio and tracks your heart rate throughout the entire workout. There are four zones — grey (resting/inactive), blue (marginally active), green (fat-burning zone) and orange/red (which provides the after-burn). Not only can you see which zone you’re training in at all times, but the monitor also registers your heart-rate percentage.
Speaking of the monitors, I’ve tried two of the three available:
- The ECG band goes around your chest and monitors your heartbeat — I find this one can lose contact slightly more often than the Flex (see next bullet), but the upside is that it doesn’t need to be charged. You just replace the battery when it wears out. I really never felt the elastic band around my rib cage, but I frequently forgot to take it off as a result and would be grocery shopping after a class and remember it was still on
- The Flex goes around your forearm and monitors your pulse — this band has a great look and a really comfortable feel. The upside is that I don’t have to go into the washroom to put it on when I arrive at a class; the downside is that if I forget to turn it off after class is over, my battery is shot and I likely will have also forgotten to charge it
At OTF, the one-hour workout is designed to keep you in the optimum ranges for both weight loss and the after-burn effect, which can help burn calories for up to 36 hours after you’re done working out.
There are two schools of thought about the target heart-rate goals at OTF right now. The original target, designed by the woman who founded OTF, is to be in the orange and red zones combined for 12 to 20 minutes during the workout. A new target is emerging at some locations, though, and that’s reaching a minimum of 12 minutes in the orange and red zones and then…just keep going. My location (shout out to OTF Whitby!) subscribes to the original target (12-20) and that’s because there’s some strong science that says going beyond that produces too much cortisol in the body, which can actually prevent fat loss around the belly.
Um, who wants that?
Eighty per cent of the reason I need to work out is because of my mid-section. So, I’ma stick with my 12 to 20 splat points.
Oh, splat points. I have no idea why, but you collect a splat point for every minute you’re in the orange or red zone. I don’t track these nor find them helpful or motivating but maybe a point system works really well for others. I do, however, like to see my post-workout results that are sent via email or can be found in the free app.
The bottom line is that Orangetheory is cardio, strength and power training in about an hour.
What’s an Orangetheory Fitness class like?
The first class or two can be confusing. There’s a lot happening. There’s loud music. A coach who’s giving instructions to two (sometimes three) totally different groups of people. And so much sweat.
You start on either a treadmill or rower and warm up for about three minutes, where you’ll get into your green zone. If you’re on the treadmill, you’ll stay there for about the next 25 minutes. Those on the rower head to the floor first. Then the two groups switch.
The treadmill workout options include power walking, jogging or running. You choose, and your heart-rate will tell you pretty quickly if you chose right. From there, the coach takes members through various intervals that are designed to raise and lower your heart rate effectively to trigger all kinds of good things in the body. HIIT training is proven to burn more fat in less time, and I know from personal experience that it’s what works best for me.
The floor often includes spurts on the rower, but is more commonly composed of free weights, TRX and a lot of core work. There are also burpees, mountain climbers and squats thrown in for good measure.
I always try to start on the rower and get the floor out of the way so I can end on the treadmill. I’m kinda shocked that I like the treadmill more than the floor because I’m not a runner or anything. I can’t even explain why I like it more, but I do. Obviously others have the opposite feeling because there are many who’d rather start on the treadmill. Sometimes you don’t have a choice and you’re assigned one or the other on the way in. It depends on the coach and the number of members in the class.
Class sizes are usually around 25 people, and I’ve been to classes at 5:30 a.m. all the way to 7:00 p.m. The only real difference is that people in the 5:30 class are typically racing off at the end to the showers because they have to get ready for work.
What does Orangetheory Fitness cost?
This is going to vary from location to location. Big city locations will be priced at a premium, while you will likely find suburban OTF gyms a bit less expensive.
There are three kinds of memberships:
- Four classes per month = approx. $69
- Eight classes per month = approx. $119
- Unlimited classes per month = approx. $159
I’m on the unlimited pass because I’m writing about my experience as an OTF partner, and I wanted to fit in as many classes that fit with my lifestyle. Turns out, I’m able to get to three to five per week. So, unlimited is absolutely the right choice for me. However, I know one woman who does two OTF classes a week and then adds a third day of yoga and that’s what works for her and her body.
You can’t roll over missed classes from one month to the next if you’re on membership No. 1 or 2 above, though, so don’t think of them as cumulative if you go on vacation or something.
What should I take to an Orangetheory class?
First of all, wear really comfortable clothes that are sweat-ready, and solid running shoes that have been properly fitted for your feet.
I am in LOVE with lululemon’s new “naked” fabric and try to wear those pants as much as possible. (No, they’re not sponsoring this statement in any way.) Just make sure your pants/shorts of choice don’t show crotch sweat. I mean, I can’t be the only person who’s had this happen, so I thought I’d mention it. Because you’re going to sweat from places you may have never known had sweat glands before.
I’ve also made the mistake of wearing shirts that are loose around the middle or have side vents. Between froggers and pop-squats, that kind of shirt is going to fly up and show off your midsection. Unless you’re into that (which is great if you are — I’m not), stick to tighter fitting tops that are about hip-length.
OTF sells its own line of tops and pants, but I haven’t used any of them so I can’t comment.
If you have light merino wool workout socks, these are my favourite for OTF (SmartWool makes a great pair and Lolë stores also carry a nice pair). My feet don’t slip or sweat inside my shoes if I’m wearing merino vs. cotton socks.
If you have bigger boobs, I suggest an insanely supportive bra, like those from Shock Absorber. You will be bouncing a fair bit and need all the support you can get.
Bring a big water bottle and a small towel to wipe off the sweat while you’re on the treadmill.
Finally, don’t forget your Bluetooth-enabled heart-rate monitor, which will be provided and set up for you during your first official class.
I’ve been doing OTF for two months now. As part of my journey, I’ve been tracking inches lost as well as weight-loss (the latter which I haven’t done in years), and trying on the same set of clothes every week. Full disclosure — I have been eating healthy about 80 per cent of the time, too.
But I’ve been on a four-day vacation where I did NOT watch what I was eating or drinking at all, and we’ve been to or hosted several dinner parties, pool parties and BBQs during this two-month stretch, so I haven’t been totally strict or deprived either. There have been nights where I’ve polished off a bottle of wine and a slice of lemon chiffon cake, followed by a week of no booze/corn/gluten/dairy/soy/sugar/fun.
In just two months, I’ve lost a total of seven inches and 10.5 pounds! Here’s my before, during and after pics so you can see the differences for yourself.
But, as you can see from the notes on the pic, my success isn’t just in weight loss or the fact that I’m back into clothes I haven’t worn in a year and a half. A big part of my success is heart-health. My endurance has improved. My recovery has improved. And it takes more work to achieve the kind of heart-rate levels I need for more fat loss and that glorious after-burn effect. It’s that heart-health that’s been a huge eye-opener for me, and it’s not something I would have ever noticed without using a heart-rate monitor with every workout.
I knew I needed to lose weight. I just didn’t think I’d enjoy it quite this much or see benefits beyond inches and pounds.
Stay tuned…I’ll be writing about my journey again and posting more results in the coming months.
Have questions about OTF? Just ask. You can also check out my Orangetheory Fitness 6-week challenge before and after photos any time! Enjoy.
DISCLAIMER: I’m partnering with OTF for the year; they have provided me with a membership in exchange for my honest account about my membership experience.