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Demystifying the Orangetheory Workout

By Leslie Barker

As you anticipate your first — or perhaps your second or third — Orangetheory Fitness class, this thought might be going through your mind as you think about the music, the energy, the workout:

What IS this and what am I getting myself into?

First, take a deep breath. Now, keep a few things in mind, starting with this: We understand exactly what you’re thinking. Everyone has a first class; everyone starts where you are. Confidence comes with time, but before we feel like Rocky Balboa at the top of the stairs, we may feel like Bambi taking his first wobbly steps.   

“When I have a new member,” says Abby Manzoni, head coach at Orangetheory Fitness Las Vegas-Summerlin, “I put myself in their shoes. There’s just so much going on. They start to look at others around them and are intimidated: I can’t keep up! That’s how I was my first time. I was overwhelmed.”

But she kept at it. She helps her members do the same, urging them to go eight to 10 times to experience and get the feel for every type of workout.

Maybe, as someone early in the game, your nightmares start with thinking you’re the only person in the room who doesn’t understand what’s going on. What do all those color zones mean? What IS a Splat Point, anyway? A push-press? Um...

First, remember that the coaches have heard all these concerns, doubts, confusion, questions — and can help with all of them. Second, keep in mind that everyone in that room has experienced a very first class; many Orangetheory first-timers around the world are probably experiencing it with you right now. And third, you’ve already conquered the most major step of all: walking through that door.

“I assure new people they are in the right hands,” says Jim O’Brien, who has coached more than 2,000 Orangetheory classes. “We take them on a studio tour where we show them the treadmills, the floor, and the rowers, and explain the science of what’s happening.”

To help further put your mind at ease, here is a primer of what’s behind the curtain in each portion of an Orangetheory Fitness class, plus tips to make the most of each.

TREADMILL

Expert: Abby Manzoni

More than the rower and the floor, the treadmill is what most intimidated Abby, a longtime gymnast, when she started taking classes more than three years ago.

“It was so foreign and scary to me,” she says.

Which is why she can appreciate and empathize with what new members are going through. She sees them comparing their speed and incline with others. She feels their hesitation and, eventually, their success.

“Just have fun,” she says. “I’ll be with you every step of the way.”

ABBY’S 6 TIPS FOR TREADMILL SUCCESS

Go by feeling. “Your Base Pace should be one in which you can hold a conversation for 20 or 30 minutes,” she says. “It should be challenging but doable. For your Push, you shouldn’t be able to say more than three or four words.”

Find a speed where you can let go of the rails. If the coach says to go 3.5 or 4 mph and you can’t do that without holding on, slow down so you can, she says. Or if you must grip, do it lightly.

Remember this is YOUR workout. It’s YOUR incline, YOUR speed.

Stay in the center of your treadmill. “Never be so close to the edge that you can hear it squeaking,” she says.

Pay attention to your form. Don’t run on your toes. Don’t take overly long strides. Keep your gaze forward, which keeps your posture erect. Watching your feet causes your shoulders to round and throws your hips and back out of alignment.

Look for lessons. “One day you learn your true Base Pace,” she says. “Maybe next, you’ll learn what heart rate zone you were in. One day you’ll learn what it feels like to recover. Every single time, you’ll learn something new because every workout is different.”

THE FLOOR

The expert: Jim O’Brien, who works for Honors Holding, which owns 102 Orangetheory studios.

“While running is something we grow up knowing how to do, starting with walking,” he says, “resistance training is a little less intuitive, so new members are often a little more apprehensive.”

But resistance training, in the right dose, has a wealth of health benefits. It can help with bone density and may lower all causes of mortality, he says. “It may help with Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and prehypertension.”

JIM’S 4 TIPS FOR FLOOR SUCCESS

Be upfront with your coach. Every exercise has options; your coach knows them all.

Make sure you’re using the correct weight. “If you’re at 12 reps and feel you could do 16, the weight is probably too light,” Jim says. “If you can’t make it to 12, it’s probably too heavy.” Remember that only you and your coach know (and care) how heavy the weight is.

Focus on form. It’s better to do fewer reps with correct form than to compromise technique by trying to do more. If you’re not sure how to do an exercise, ask your coach or watch the virtual assistant coach demonstrations on the studio TVs.

Feel unsatisfied? Speak up. “If you didn’t enjoy the floor today,” Jim says, “we might ask what it was you didn’t enjoy. We work with members to make sure they feel successful. Success equals enjoyment.”

ROWER

The expert: Austin Hendrickson, Sacramento Orangetheory coach; former University of California, Davis rower; host of Training Tall YouTube channel.

“Rowing is not a very intuitive motion,” he says. “It’s not something you can pick up and do. It takes both practice and focus to do well.”

But because it works 84% of the muscles in your body, it is worth every moment learning how to master it.

AUSTIN’S 5 TIPS FOR ROWER SUCCESS

Be patient. “We’re in such a rush to get everything perfect right away, but you have to trust the process.”

Adjust the footplates properly. “That’s one of the best things you can do for performance and safety,” he says. “Almost every single person straps their feet too high,” he says. “Sit your feet as low as possible where it’s still comfortable. The strap should go across the ball of the foot, leaving two to three inches of shoe showing on top.”

Adjust how you sit on the rower. “Too often, we sit down without thinking of how we’re sitting,” he says. “Consciously untuck your lower back and sit forward on your sit bones.”

Focus on the effort behind each stroke. That’s where you’ll get the most benefit, not from the number of strokes you do. “You create the resistance based on how hard you do each stroke,” he says.

Remember the movement order. Think legs, core, arms; on the return, arms, core legs. “Probably 90% of individuals say, ‘I don’t get it. I don’t like it,’” Austin says. “As a coach, my job is reiterating those big fundamentals. If you keep engaged and in the moment, that’s when you start to blossom.”

Take one stroke at a time. “Commit to being consistent,” he says, “and the sky is the limit.”