I Survived My First Orangetheory Class and Learned a Valuable Lesson Along the Way

The first thing I noticed when I stepped inside Orangetheory were the bright, Hi-C-colored walls and orange-themed workout machines. Like any first-timer in a fitness class, I was a little apprehensive; my goal was to survive and not embarrass myself in front of the group of really fit-looking people. During the introductory portion of the class, Coach Lena — who reminded me of Michelle Rodriguez in the Fast and Furious franchise — gave a brief overview of how all the machines work and what we would be doing. When she asked who was still confused, my hand immediately shot up.

"Everything you just said went over my head," I said. She gave a smile and reiterated that she would be there to answer any questions I had during the workout. With my nerves slightly assuaged by her words and experience, I got on the row machine to begin the first portion of the workout and immediately forgot about everything else as my focus turned to my breathing.

If you've read about Orangetheory or taken a class, then you know the 60-minute circuit workout is a combination of cardio using both a treadmill and rowing machine plus strength training. This run-row/strength mix is guaranteed to get your heart racing and sweat dripping down your back (trust me). And, according to the website, participants burn an estimated 500 to 1,000 calories per workout.

At the end of the hour-long class, I was sweaty and tired and felt that natural high you get after a great workout. There is something about Orangetheory Fitness that will keep drawing you back. It may be the intensity of the classes or the friendly, competitive atmosphere, but when you leave the studio, you can't help but feel a sense of accomplishment.

That got me thinking. For those who don't have access to an Orangetheory fitness studio, is it possible to re-create the workout and apply the secrets of Orangetheory to their own fitness routines at home or at their own gyms?

One of the most insightful tips I received when I chatted about this with Brendon Ayanbadejo, a former professional athlete, who is now a coach and managing partner of Orangetheory Fitness, is to focus on high-intensity interval workouts.

"You want to take your heart rate on a roller coaster ride. You don't want to maintain just a moderate heart rate in your entire workout," he said over the phone. "You want to take your heart rate up and then do something antagonistic that's going to bring it down."

I'm a Pony, I'm a Pony. #orangetheoryfitness

A photo posted by Brendon Ayanbadejo (@brendon310) on

At Orangetheory Fitness, every person wears a heart rate monitor that tracks their stats on a giant monitor. The goal is to spend 12 to 20 minutes at 84 percent of your max heart rate or higher in the orange zone. This spot is where you burn fat and calories for 24 to 36 hours after you work out, known as EPOC (excess postexercise oxygen consumption), or, quite simply, the afterburn. During my workout, I managed to hit the orange zone a few times and seeing those results written out on the big screen was an incredible feeling.

We love this idea so much that we even came up with a heart-pumping run-row workout, inspired by Orangetheory, which you can do on your own at the gym. It's challenging and will keep you on your toes, which is exactly the method behind the in-studio Orangetheory workout.

The most important lesson I learned, however, and one of the many secrets to succeeding in any fitness goal you set for yourself is to "get comfortable being uncomfortable." There were times in the class where I felt like plopping down on the treadmill, but the extra push I gave myself carried me through until the end. This motto is what defines Orangetheory Fitness, and Brendon admitted that the mantra goes even beyond the walls of the studio.

"I think that applies not only in the fitness studio, but also in life because really that's when you grow," Brendon said. "When you're in the middle of a workout and you're uncomfortable, you're not just going to quit, you're going to find a way through it. . . . You are going to battle that adversity to get yourself through the last minutes."