Orangetheory understandably has an almost cult following | Health Issue | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Orangetheory understandably has an almost cult following

But its workout style won’t fit every regimen

click to enlarge The exterior of Orangetheory in East Liberty - CP PHOTO: JARED WICKERHAM
CP photo: Jared Wickerham
The exterior of Orangetheory in East Liberty

“It’s so ... orange.”

My sister and I stood outside of Orangetheory Fitness in East Liberty and exchanged uneasy looks. In full view, the gym was quite eerie. Everything, and I mean everything, was blanketed with a deep orange. Silhouettes moved in sync like cogs in a machine from exercise to exercise. The scene was a mix of mesmerizing and creepy. 

Orangetheory Fitness has a devoted following of gym junkies. The workout is a combination of endurance, strength, and power. Each class is an hour long, incorporating short spurts of cardio with strength training and are led by a timer-toting instructor, who signals when to increase intervals or change to a new movement. 

I’ve heard rave reviews of Orangetheory but wasn’t convinced. Perfectly synchronized movement combined with the orange hue freaked me out. But in the spirit of fitness, I decided to give it a chance. Thankfully, I wasn’t alone. My sister agreed to accompany me into the orange.

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At 6:30 a.m., we dragged our bodies to the gym. An orange-clad, peppy receptionist greeted us with paperwork. We affixed our heart rate monitors and were talked through the visual aids and workout cues. Then, we headed to the treadmills.

For our class, the workout was structured into blocks; the first a mix of endurance and power on treadmills and rowers. The second, pure strength. Screens hung around the room, demonstrating weightlifting movements and color-coded heart rate tracking. 

But I wondered – why all the orange? Online research gave few satisfactory answers. One explanation is that workouts are designed, so you spend at least 12 minutes in the “Orange Zone,” when you hit between 84 to 91 percent of your heart rate maximum (this is the fourth in Orangetheory’s five-step, color-coded heart rate system). I have my own theories, including that orange blocks out harmful blue light. Maybe making everything orange ensures that nothing distracts you? We may never know.

The class was fine. It didn’t blow either of us away. But I saw why it drew a crowd of followers. It was a community-based individual workout, similar to CrossFit. Someone else told us where to go and what to do. We didn’t have time to think. There was an instructor in the room but little one-on-one attention, ideal for self-motivated athletes. 

I have one big issue with Orangetheory. Despite the hard work and obvious success of all class members, our trainer justifies holiday calories with “one, big push.” Often, in fitness classes driven to attract the masses, much like crash diets, motivation sticks to a common mantra. “One more rep and you can eat that doughnut!” It’s a toxic, harmful sentiment that turns me off from popular fitness routines. 

After the class, Orangetheory emailed me a workout summary. It featured my calorie burn, heart rate breakdown, and fat cell destruction. I was not convinced. It seemed doubtful that I could burn 620 calories in a one-hour session, but nonetheless, the report card was a nice touch.

A membership, in my opinion, is overpriced for the value. If I thrived on heart-rate calculation or actually cared about my calorie burn, maybe I would have fallen in love. It was a good workout, but I’d rather stick to a gym that’s not coated in orange.

Location Details

Orangetheory Fitness

5841 Penn Ave., Pittsburgh East Liberty

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