Staying in 'the Zone' at Orangetheory Fitness

It was me vs. the color by my name on the giant TV monitor looming above my treadmill. And I was going to win.

Over my blog break, I had a chance to try out Orangetheory Fitness, a national group training studio that has sprouted locations across Atlanta since fall 2013. (Points North, one of the regional magazines that I write for, recently assigned me an article about the fit spot.)

The idea behind the colors on the TV monitor is that classes are designed around the concept of heart rate monitor training, so every participant wears a monitor during class. The heart rate maximum percents are displayed on the screens, so you know if you’re working too hard (you’re in the red) — or not hard enough (green, blue, or white). Where you want to be is in the orange zone.

According to Orangetheory’s website, the goal is for you to spend 12-20 minutes of training at 84 percent or higher of your maximum heart rate. The program is designed to produce an “after-burn” effect, meaning that the interval training design produces a 200-400 calorie increase to your metabolism 24-36 hours after your workout.

On a recent Saturday, I headed over to the Howell Mill location for the noon class. The great news is that the first class is free to anyone willing to take it. When I arrived, I was provided with a strap-on heart rate monitor that I was told to put on underneath my sports bra.

I was also introduced to the trainer (I’m pretty sure his name was Chris) who explained what we’d be doing throughout the workout and how to use the rowing machines. I appreciated that he took the time to chat with myself and the other woman who was new to the class before things got going.

I started on a rowing machine (half the class starts here and the other starts on the treadmills, where they do interval training for the first half of the class) to warm up for a few minutes. Next, the rowers headed to the strength training area where we went through about 3-4 circuits of 3-4 exercises like bicep curls using the TRX, lunges with free weights, and crunches using the ab rollers.

You are encouraged to repeat each circuit as many times as possible in an under-10-minute (the time varied) period. At this point, I was competing less with my heart rate and more with the clock. (In the strength training area, your heart rate doesn’t get as high as when you’re in the cardio portion of the class.) Chris walked around and checked on form a bit, which I thought was good. But sometimes I felt like I could have used a more challenging version of the exercises. (For example, adding free weights to lunges, instead of doing them sans weights.)

Halfway through the one-hour class the folks on the treadmills moved to the weights and vice versa. Once on my treadmill, I began interval training — which means you increase your incline and/or speed for a period of time and then return to a recovery incline/speed, which depends on whether you’re running, jogging, or walking. (During the cardio portion of class, you also use the rower briefly.)

As I jogged and ran, my eyes kept returning to the screen with my heart rate listed on it. I kept inching toward the orange but couldn’t quite get there. (Apparently, although I was sweating like a pig and my legs were worn out, I still wasn’t working hard enough.) But finally, after increasing my speed and incline a bit, it happened. I got in the zone. (See the photo for my final stats.) I finished the hour feeling like I'd gotten an excellent workout in.

I'd say that my Orangetheory experience was a partial “fit” for me, but in this case, it’s just personal preference (the workout is similar to what I would do for free in my apartment gym). Regardless, I do think that it is a program that would be excellent for people trying to get back into exercise or advanced exercisers who like to compete (self included — that screen with your heart rate on it is a motivator!) or are looking for a may to mix things up.

Until next Tuesday — stay FWABulous! And keep up with my FWABulous adventures on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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