Trying Out Orange Theory Fitness

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I got cabin fever…and the only prescription is getting the eff out of the house!

2016 has gotten off to a pretty dull start for me. With the exception of running the Dopey Challenge the first weekend of the year, I spent the rest of January indoors coping with a two-week long bout with the flu (which hurt far worse than any marathon I have ever run) and then Washington, DC got hit with a massive snowstorm that buried us under 2+ feet of snow. Both of these events lined up in sequence, which meant that I literally only left my house twice in eight days: once to go get my flu diagnosis and a strict order to sleep from the doctor (I wasn’t even allowed to crochet) and the other time to stock up on storm supplies. Hauling a case of water up to your apartment when you are sick and achy is a real bitch, by the way. 

Honestly, though, I was sort of okay with my mini-house arrest. The past few months have taken a lot of energy from me in dealing with personal and work life and not having my usual outlet of exercise to relieve stress. I sort of took the double whammy of the flu and blizzard as God’s way of forcing me to slow down. 

Fast forward three weeks to President’s Day weekend when I am not sick anymore; however, right now, we are all forced to stay indoors as the air outside is literally colder than my freezer and the winds are nearing 50+ mph gusts. I don’t even want to leave my apartment to get groceries, which is more of my personal affront to dealing with the annoyance of polar winds in your face than the cold itself. I will never understand God’s creation of wind.

Another three days indoors. Suffice it to say that I have some very serious cabin fever. I needed to try something new.

So, I signed up a class at Orange Theory Fitness. There is a studio literally right below my apartment. As I am still recovering from a hip labral tear and needed to focus on building strength, I decided now was a great time to try something new. Plus, I needed something to re-motivate me to get back into fighting for my running goals. Running and building strength sort of feels random as I am somewhere in the middle of off-season, yet trying to stay in tune to run the New York City Half-Marathon in 5 weeks. And there is a major mental block from dealing with the limitations of this injury. It was an obvious choice to get through a long weekend.

What is Orange Theory Fitness?

I am in no way an expert on what this is, so here is my newbie-take on it: the goal of the hour-long workout is to keep your heart rate performing in “the orange zone” where you are burning more fat and building more muscle. The theory of it is that the more time you spend in the orange, the more calories you will burn post-workout. This isn’t totally an unheard-of concept. Muscle burns more calories than fat does, which is why the conventional wisdom of losing weight is to build muscle along with cardio and your body will be more efficient at rest. If you want to learn more about what it is, definitely check out their website. You can also watch this Today Show clip of the Bush twins trying a class, which should give you a sense of things. After watching this, I knew I had to try it.

Bonus: Lolo Jones is one of their spokeswomen, and she has been recovering from a torn hip labram as well. I already felt in good company.

First Impressions

As of this posting, Orange Theory Fitness hasn’t completely taken off yet, so keep in mind that studios might be scarce for right now. When I walked through the door of this tiny fitness studio, a class was just getting out and there were so many people in the lobby trying to grab their gym bags from lockers and cubbies and it felt kind of too crowded as I sat on the bench trying not to look obvious with my first-timer forms. First piece of advice: get there early to do your forms!

As of this posting, there are only two studios in the entire Arlington County municipality. Hopefully there will be more soon so it isn’t as crowded in the future.

Also, when I walked up to the front desk and said this was my first time, the guy behind the counter said, “I can tell.” Not totally sure I appreciated whatever that meant. The worst thing about trying a new gym is to feelnout of place. I was wearing a Marine Corps Marathon finisher’s jacket and long pants because even the 45-second jog from my apartment building to the studio was painful in the cold winter air. I may be still a tad sensitive about a bad experience with Cross Fit…

In general (and I’m not trying to draw a strict comparison here),  I didn’t get a weird cult-ish vibe that I got from trying Cross Fit for the first time. The studio had motivational posters and glass walls marked up with mantras in fluorescent writing, and I could see some team progress charts hanging up here and there. But the atmosphere was sort of the kind you get at a gym where everyone is just there to do their thing and leave. For me, this was a bonus because I felt like a sinner in church at Cross Fit, especially when my instructor for the day learned that I was a runner and called me a “long back” and then presumed that I was running with incorrect form just because I wasn’t doing Cross Fit. Personally, I don’t like to be told what to do and I certainly don’t like to be written off like self-training for 8 marathons is wrong. I like to be given some general guidance and instruction with the freedom to call the shots, but I also appreciate a little coaching along the way so I do it right. Also, the desk clerk’s dismissive ‘I can tell’ comment aside, the instructor at Orange Theory assumed that I had a base level of fitness and was not condescending at all, even when I told her I had a labral tear and might not be able to do something if my hip was irritated by it. She definitely pushed me and coached me along the way, but there was definitely a “come as you are” feeling to this place. 

If all of this is who you are, Orange Theory might be a great fit for you.

My Experience

First things first, what did I wear? A tank top and shorts with running shoes. This is what I usually wear to the gym. In retrospect, I would not advise wearing that  as a portion of the class is spent doing floor exercises with no mat. You do the math: that’s a lot of gross. Wear a T-shirt with a fully-covered back and maybe capris or tights. Guys, your long gym shorts would be fine.

I also brought a 16-ounce Nuun bottle of water and a hand towel. The clerk at the front desk advised me to bring a towel for sweat, but I didn’t need it for sweat: I needed it to put under my knees on the floor exercises. Again, there were no exercise mats. If you have problems with your knees being on the floor, a hand towel will be your savior. Bring it. As for the water bottle, 16 ounces was not enough water. They have filtered water fountains in this studio, but I sweat my ass off and was chugging water for my life. Either bring a bigger bottle or plan to refill at least once.

I was also given a heart-rate monitor that I strapped to my chest. I honestly couldn’t get it to fit over my chest (a first for me) so I situated it just below my sports bra around my rib cage. The monitor should be over your heart, but I just did what I could for the first class. I also learned that you can keep an eye on what zone you are in as your name is displayed on TVs around the room. Since I don’t workout with my glasses or contacts, it was really hard for me to see the screens. This might be a problem for you if you are the same way. It’s something I will have to figure out at some point.

The Workout

The studio itself is lit in orange (kind of awesome!) and there is a line of treadmills, row machines, and then equipment for floor exercises. During the hour-long class, you rotate through each of these stations. I’m not sure if there is a method to how you choose where to start, but my comfort zone is obviously the treadmill, so I jumped on. There’s a chart on each treadmill that gives you options of where you want to start (your base), where you want to push, and where you want to go all-out. There are  three levels: power walker, jogger, and runner. I chose the runner option, which had me running at an easy-pace 10:54 at a 1% incline for a few minutes, but you set the pace yourself, so if you warm-up at around 9:05 pace, then that’s where you start. The instructor walks around the studio giving instructions to each group at each station, so you really have to listen for their cues. There’s not a whole lot of time to zone out, so you have to be focused. I was on the treadmill for, well frankly, I’m not sure how long. And in whatever time I spent on the treadmill, we were instructed to push up for about 30-90 seconds and then go all-out for another 30-90 seconds. Interval running.

Next up for me, the row machine. Before this class, I had never been on a row machine, so I’m not totally sure I understand the concept of it. We were instructed to row 1,000 meters then do 15 jump squats and then go again. That was round two. By this point, I was definitely working and already starting to feel like I was getting a challenge that I had been craving. I was feeling good about this so far.

The third round, for me, was the floor exercises. This was tough– I’m still not great at push-ups and planks and getting through the burn of body weight exercises. The instructor showed us what to do and then moved on to coach the runners and rowers, but there’s a TV screen that shows you video instruction of each floor exercise and how many reps to do. Today’s exercises included 15 “ultimate Burpees,” which started out with a pushup, plank row on each side, jump up, do a bicep curl and an overhead press, hop back to pushup position. I used an 8-pound set of dumb bells, which was the lowest weight available. The second floor exercise used an ab roller, sort of like those things you used to roll around gym class on as a kid. First up: 7 reps in push-up position with your feet on the roller kicking behind you. Honestly, this wasn’t that hard to do. But it was hard to execute because the darn thing did not move in a straight line. So, I did a lot of oblique work and probably drove my next-door neighbor crazy with my legs in her territory. Third exercise used the same ab roller, only you push it out in front of you. I felt like I hung in there pretty well on the floor exercises, but we had another go at each station, so I gave my best effort and just didn’t do all the reps.

Back on the treadmill, I ran a little faster the second round, even pushing my all-out pace to an 8:00 pace. I told myself that this is the pace I would need to maintain to at least qualify for Boston. I was also shocked to learn that it didn’t hurt my hip. Second round on the row machines, still not sure I understand how to use it properly, I substituted the lunge jumps with jump squats. Not about to aggravate my hip with bad form. The third time on the floor involved a lot of resistance work using a resistance band, then ab work with legs in the air at 45-degrees and a dumbbell, then another exercise that I honestly can’t remember. By that point, I was getting tired and genuinely concerned that I would not be able to move the next day. I was definitely feeling like I had worked out hard and knew that this was the challenge I had been needing in my life.

After Class

Following the class, we all stretched out and then checked out the TV monitors for our “performance scores.” I’m not sure of how this works, but you are given an overall average heart rate, percentage, and then shown a bar graph of what zone you were working in during the class. This information also shows up during class with live updates, but again, I could not see it very well. This could be a big disadvantage because (I think) you always want to see where you are performing so you know when to push it up.

I don’t know if my average heart rate of 131 was accurate, given the placement of the monitor, but I was surprised with how I had performed. I was tired, yes, but still energized well enough to have kept going, which said to me that I probably didn’t work out hard enough. I felt like I was doing great and kicking ass, but really, my stats sort of said to me that I could have done better. It was illuminating. It actually confirmed what I had been feeling for awhile: that maybe I am not giving it my all. That maybe I wasn’t challenging myself enough and I was not tapping into my potential. That I had a lot more to give than I was giving.

Signing Up

I don’t want to say I had no intention of signing up for a membership when I signed up for this class, because that’s not true. I took this class because I wanted to see if there was still a new challenge for me and if it could help me become a stronger runner. I definitely think that potential exists with Orange Theory, so I signed up for a basic membership to take the class once a week. Perhaps I will change that later if I feel like I need more than once a week, but for now, there is definite room for me to improve and this could be where I start making that happen. So, along with my $69.99 monthly membership and the $35 heart rate monitor, I am now the newest member of the Orange Theory Fitness studio in Arlington. I’m hoping that I will learn when and how to push myself, what sort of things I can try when strength work is floundering, and that perhaps the social aspect of being involved in a studio setting will help me push my limits.

Finally, as I write this the next day, my abs are sore, but I have definitely felt worse. Probably after a Jillian Michaels DVD. I take this as a sign that I could have done better yesterday.

Yup, I need this. See you in the orange.

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