Here’s What Happens to Your Brain Before Your First Orangetheory Class

New to Orangetheory? These Tips Will Help Calm Your Nerves
Here’s What Happens to Your Brain Before Your First Orangetheory Class

Whether you’re signing up for class one or 100, every Orangetheory member has at some point in time walked into the orange-lit studio and not known how to strap on their OTbeat™, fasten their feet into the rower or set their Base Pace on the treadmill.

Trying anything new can feel undoubtedly daunting, and beginner’s nerves can show up as sweaty palms, dry mouth, a rapid heartbeat and flushed skin. When you’re heading into your first class, it might feel like you’re the only one who’s intimidated or overwhelmed — but science says you aren’t alone.

Dr. Shannon Odell, a neuroscientist on the Orangetheory Medical Advisory Board, explains what’s happening to your brain during a stressful new experience: First, the amygdala region (responsible for fear detection) sends signals to the hypothalamus, which alerts your adrenal glands. The adrenal glands release epinephrine, or adrenaline, which Dr. Odell says, “travels through your bloodstream and causes your heart to start pumping faster.” Finally, she says, your adrenal glands release cortisol, a stress hormone. “Cortisol is what keeps you alert after the adrenaline dissipates,” she explains.

According to Dr. Odell, this fight-or-flight response is not only normal, but it can also be helpful. “We experience stressors every single day, and a little bit of stress, we know, can be quite good,” she says. “It can give us that extra burst of adrenaline, that burst of energy and focus, to get through that stressor.”

Dr. Odell also says seeking out novel experiences can trigger dopamine release and promote neuroplasticity, meaning your brain is primed to learn new things.

Whether you feel anxious, excited or both about signing up for your first Orangetheory class, these tips will help to calm your nerves.

1.     Arrive to your first class 30 minutes early.

Dr. Odell remembers reading the entire website before her first Orangetheory class so she wouldn’t be met with any surprises. While studying the workout beforehand isn’t necessary, getting to class 30 minutes early is important so the staff can brief you on how to use the equipment and what to expect. “The person at the front desk went through the entire workout with me, and that helped calm my nerves a lot because, even though I had done that research up top, it was reaffirming to know exactly what was going to happen,” Dr. Odell says.

2.     Go with a friend or family member.

Not only will bringing a friend or family member along for your first class provide some comfort, but it will also hold you accountable for showing up. Orangetheory research scientist Dr. Brittany Masteller remembers attending her first class alongside her mom. “Having social support where people encourage you to exercise, who will do it with you, can be a really positive experience,” she recalls.

3.     Focus on your why.

Dr. Odell says our brains are programmed to perceive what the reward is on the other side of a challenging class, so our reason for doing the workout needs to be great enough to convince ourselves to power through. Internal motivators, like wanting to feel that we’re part of a community or wanting to leave class with a runner’s high, are also more effective than external motivators, like wanting to lose weight or tone muscles.

Dr. Rachelle Reed, Orangetheory’s senior director of health science and research, says that the rates of people meeting physical activity guidelines in the U.S. is somewhere around 20 percent for adults and even lower since the pandemic started.

One of the most common reasons for not exercising is a perceived lack of time. “There’s a common misperception that in order to be a physically active person, you have to devote a ton of time to it every day, but really the research shows that just 30 minutes a day or a couple of workouts a week can have a really big return on investment,” she says.  

The hardest part of an Orangetheory workout can simply be showing up, but know that those first-timer fears are normal, and trying something new has both short- and long-term benefits for your body and your brain.

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