Orangetheory Fitness: A Color-coded Fitness Class

Strap on a heart rate monitor, get your blood pumping and show up ready to work.

When I first walk into the Orangetheory Fitness center, I immediately wonder, how can such a popular gym fit into the tiny space next to Whole Foods in Providence? The venue size is more reminiscent of a small restaurant or maybe a specialty retail store. But I shelve those questions aside and instead proceed to the front desk, where I am greeted by incredibly friendly staff members who are all too eager to bring me up to speed on the theory and science behind Orangetheory.

Before I know it, I am knee deep in a crash course on heart rate and its applications through Orangetheory. To sum it up, there are four main heart rate zones on which Orangetheory bases its color-coded workouts. The first is “warm up,” also called “the blue,” which is a 61 to 70 percent max heart rate; the following is “base pace,” also called “the green,” which is 71 to 83 percent of max heart rate; beyond that is “push pace,” also called, “the orange,” which is 84 to 91 percent of max heart rate; and the last is “all out,” also called, “the red,” which is 92 to 100 percent of max heart rate.

The goal is to spend thirty minutes in the green zone, but “Orange is the money zone,” says head trainer Chris Mercurio. “Every minute in the orange and the red, we call those splat points and the goal is rack up twelve of them. If you do that, you burn fat for up to thirty-six hours after class.” But to make a short story shorter: if you show up ready to work, the results will meet you there.

Once I have my goals set before me, I strap on the heart rate monitor and join the crew of soon-to-be classmates, all of whom seem a bit too anxious for people who have been there before. One woman states, “I’ve been coming here for a while now, and honestly, when I sit here before each class, it’s the same feeling as when you’re waiting in line for a roller coaster. I know it’s going to be fine but something inside me thinks it isn’t.”

“Ok,” I think, “maybe I’m in a bit over my head here.”

I am someone who never does any cardio, if I can help it. But as I look around, it is clear that Orangetheory is meant for people of all fitness levels. There’s an individual there who is also a first-timer and who is a current CrossFit athlete, but the class is mostly filled with people who are looking to improve their fitness. This gives me peace of mind.

Until the workout starts that is.

We all file into the narrow quarters, one wall lined with treadmills, another with rowing machines. Just beyond these, is the workout floor where dumbbell, bench and bodyweight exercises are performed. “Today’s workout is a partner workout” explains the class instructor, Taya. “While one of you is working on the treads or the rower, the other is going to be on the floor completing the circuit on the screen. When you finish on the treadmill, go over and tag your partner and switch places.”

“Simple enough,” I figure. “She will shout out the pace we should work at and I should be able keep up with everyone else by getting my twelve minutes in the orange or red zones.”

I could not have been more wrong.

As I look up at the TV screen that displays everyone’s respective heart rates, I can’t help but feel a disparity between my wheezing lungs and the base pace that is displayed.

This is not to say though, that the workout isn’t fun, that the class members and staff aren’t super friendly, or that I feel embarrassed by my inability. Far from it actually. I am far too concerned with not falling off the treadmill to worry about embarrassment and I struggle to push myself as far as the people standing next me, because in a way, they feel like friends that I don’t want to let down. Thankfully, Taya notices my efforts and gives me shout outs of support, which are surprisingly encouraging (note: I’ve never taken a fitness class before).

I carry on this way for about an hour, transitioning from treadmill to rower to treadmill to floor; constantly struggling to keep my form straight and my heart rate up. Before the workout, head coach Mercurio said to me, “I’ve tried a lot of workouts and programs in my life but they often hurt your joints and have downsides. I truly believe that this is the best class for health. I want you to fall in love – give it a chance. You’ll see.”

When the workout concludes with the cool down stretch, I am thoroughly beat, but I feel great. I agree with Chris ­— I want more.



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