My First Orangetheory Experience

A couple of months ago, I wrote an article on here about how to start an exercise regimen from scratch if you’re someone who does not excel at all things “gym.” Well, if you couldn’t tell, I am not the biggest gym rat in town. However, I am trying to change this. Last week, I conquered one of my greatest fears: I went to my first Orangetheory class. Now, I am not a stranger to group exercise classes. Zumba, spinning and barre classes are pretty familiar to me. However, I have heard that Orangetheory was not just different than everything I have tried before but it also combined those other exercises. I never got a straight answer as to what Orangetheory entailed. People would tell me, “It’s just a little bit of cross fit and some treadmill,” or, “You use the indoor rowing machine.” None of these descriptions matched up. It was as if the class was an enigma that could not possibly be explained.

When a few girls in my sorority were talking about attending an Orangetheory class for the first time, I was persuaded to sign up. It was a week and a half away, so I didn’t think much of it. But, time went by, as it often does, and the days passed by me quickly. Before I knew it, I was in an Uber on the way to Orangetheory in downtown Evanston. Did I mention that I took this class on Friday the 13? I saw it as a sign that this was surely going to be a frightening day.

When I arrived to the studio, floor to ceiling windows into the work out studio were the first things I saw. Through them, I saw three dozen people all doing seemingly different routines. Some were running and sweating on a treadmill, others were pumping iron on an erg and others were performing various incongruous drills off to the side. What is this place? I thought.

Before I could try to decipher what I was looking at, my friends and I were greeted by the people at the front desk, who were wearing tiger orange. They joyfully pulled us aside individually and proceeded to give us packets of dense paperwork. We filled out a form with all of our personal information, exercise habits (I circled that I work out once a week or less) and fitness goals. Then, we received a chart that had all of the times of Orangetheory classes for the whole week and they wanted us to circle the ones that fit into our schedule. Before and after the workout, the team really pushed us to commit to coming back regularly, before we even knew what we were getting ourselves into. 

After the paperwork, we were given a quick and, honestly, confusing run-down of the whole hour and what the workout would consist of. I would finally learn what Orangetheory is all about! Well, almost. We learned that we would be doing a series of exercises on the floor and on the erg in a rotation for half the time, and running in intervals on the treadmill for the other half.

Then, the woman who was explaining this to us told us about the levels of heart rate that we should be aiming for: five levels ranging from the Gray Zone – very light activity – to the Red Zone – all-out effort! Oops, I forgot to mention that we got a heart-rate monitor strapped onto our arm that projected our heart rate onto a television monitor accompanied by our name. Oh, and everyone can see it! For someone who is used to the anonymity and darkness of classes like Soulcycle, where the main objective is to “find your soul pace,” this was a big shock to me.

Finally, at 5:30 (p.m., of course), it was time to start. My friends and I started on the floor: the erg and the floor exercises. It was Friday the 13, so we did everything with 13 reps (we did 130 meters of the erg). The floor exercises consisted of curling weights in different positions, different planks and medicine ball jumps. There was a trainer who was there to help, but honestly, I feel like I spent the same amount of time thinking about what to do next as I spent actually doing the exercises. But maybe that’s just me.

For the first portion of this 30 minute rotation, I couldn’t see my name on the monitor because I was in lieu of glasses. I jumping-jacked my way over to see which one was me, and alas, my heart rate was one of the lowest in the entire class! I later learned that people who are very fit and conditioned to working out experience lower heart rates, so obviously that couldn’t be it. I guess I just wasn’t pushing myself as hard as I could. I did all of the exercises, but could I have done them more thoroughly, with more hustle? It was a time of intense self-reflection that I didn’t even know I needed.

After that existential crisis, it was time for the part of the workout that I had been dreading the most: The Treadmill. Luckily, I was placed next to my two friends. We got a quick explanation of what we would be doing. Base pace for a minute, followed by either a minute- or 30-second-long interval of “all out” running. My friend and I set our base pace at three, and I actually got up to eight for the all-outs. I was very proud of myself because on my own, I never even exceed six. Honestly, it felt pretty cathartic to run at the top of my ability for 30 seconds. One quote I live by is, “You can do anything for ten seconds.” This was just three times that, and I truly felt invigorated – this “runner’s high” type feeling must be one of the reasons why people love to run.

But still – my heart rate lingered in the Green Zone, the middle of five zones! What was I doing wrong? Was my heart malfunctioning? Or maybe my monitor was? Turns out, our base pace was supposed to be around five, not three. Three was our starting pace. Whoops!

When the second half hour was over, we milled around for a bit and felt the weird head rush and post-workout sweat after running (or, in our case, running and walking) for thirty minutes. Then, we returned our monitors. We asked questions to the trainer, and then they tried to get us to sign up for a bundle of classes or a membership. I personally couldn’t think that far into the future. I could just think of my next shower.

All in all, it was an eye-opening workout experience. I tested my limits, and I felt really great after it was all over, which is how I knew it was a good workout. After thinking it over for a few days, I decided to get the smallest package: four times per month. That’s once a week…I can do that! Now I am motivated to get my heart rate into the Red Zone. If you live near an Orangetheory, but are too scared to try it out, I recommend going for it. If I could do it on Friday the 13, you’ve got this.