Fitness Class Review: Orangetheory Fitness

The first Washington location tracks your progress in real time.

At Orangetheory Fitness in Fairfax, participants' results are tracked via heart rate monitor and are displayed in real-time on a screen. It's the first Washington location to open. Photographs by Melissa Romero.

Here’s the first thing to know about the Orangetheory Fitness workout: There’s a downside to being in shape.

That’s according to Reggie Williams, the general manager and head trainer of the first Orangetheory Fitness to open in Washington, in Fairfax. The first Orangetheory opened in Florida and has expanded to hundreds of locations nationwide and in Canada and the United Kingdom.

“The more you work out and the more fit you are, the harder you’re going to have to work in these classes,” he explained to me after my hourlong workout of treadmill intervals, rowing, and strength-training.

At Orangetheory Fitness, participants wear heart monitors around their chest that calculate how hard they’re working throughout the hour. The results are tracked live and broadcast on the flat-screen TVs above a set of treadmills.

The goal is to keep your heart rate in specific target zones—green is the baseline, orange is the push zone—that boosts metabolism and increases energy for ultimate calorie burn.

My problem: No matter how hard I pushed myself, whether it was on the treadmill or after a 12th burpee, I could not get myself into the orange zone. I cursed to myself as I stared at the screen above me while sprinting up an incline of 6 percent and watching my heart rate stay firmly in the green.

That’s the beauty of the Orangetheory Fitness workout, Williams explained. Since everyone’s fitness level and heart rate is different, you end up competing against yourself rather than the person sweating next to you.

In other words: You are your own worst enemy.

“You have to get outside of your comfort zone to get to the next level,” explained Williams, who said it took him about four sessions to figure out his base pace and push pace.

But the appeal of the Orangetheory workout is more than just number-crunching. For one, no workout is the same, which keeps the muscles guessing and prevents plateauing. Each class is split into two groups, with one starting on the treadmills for 30 minutes and another hitting the rowing machines for a warmup before heading to the weights. Williams runs around the room, shouting out times and offering instruction for each group through his mike over the music blaring through the speakers.

Our strength-training portion involved sets of high-intensity interval training such as burpees and mountain climbers performed on Bosu balls, TRX squats, dumbbell overhead squat presses, and a quick 200-meter bout on the rowing machines. After about 25 minutes, we switched over to the treadmills for 30 minutes of intervals involving either power-walking, jogging, or running—you could decide which level you needed to perform to remain in the baseline or push zones. A family of three next to me, for example, was a mix of a power-walking mom and her daughter and son, two former track-and-fielders who opted for the jogging and running levels.

I learned that at 4.5 miles per hour, I was exercising at about 60 to 65 percent of my maximum heart rate. At 8 miles per hour and at an incline, I started inching toward 75 to 80 percent. It wasn’t until I hit a speed of 9-plus that I finally inched into the orange zone for a few seconds, before Williams called out to get back to the base line.

Time flew, and after my 2.5 miles of running I joined the whole group on the floor for a cool-down stretch, after which Williams had us huddle in front of the live stats screen. He explained the breakdown of our individual workouts, which are e-mailed to each participant afterward.

The Fairfax location is still in the testing phase before it officially opens on December 12, which means participants might expect some technology glitches. My heart rate monitor malfunctioned, for example, which proved frustrating when my e-mailed report read that I only trained for four minutes and 51 seconds and stayed in the “light” blue zone for the entire workout.

Orangetheory has plans to expand to DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland—20 area locations are in the works including a Gaithersburg location in January—but until then it’s worth the trip out to Fairfax for the addictive workout.

“In here,” says Williams, “you become part of the game.”

Orangetheory Fitness. 13063 Lee Jackson Memorial Highway, Fairfax; 703-961-8985. Prices range from $8 to $15 per class depending on the membership package, which gives you access to all Orangetheory Fitness locations. Your first session is free.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated from a previous version.