As soon as I stepped into Orangetheory Fitness, Chelsea's newest boutique studio, I knew I was in for a good workout. The mood lighting that bathed the treadmills, rowing machines, and TRX cables in warm orange couldn't help but remind me of Soulcycle or Barry's Bootcamp—that no-one-can-see-you-sweat-or-maybe-also-cry kind of lighting. Then an employee wearing a shirt that read "Keep Calm and Stay in the Orange" handed me a heart monitor to strap around my upper waist. How does this even work? Will I need to stay calm? What is the "orange?" All questions soon to be answered.
Orangetheory Fitness is a nationwide chain studio that offers strength and cardio interval classes with a focus on each student's heart rate, tracked by said monitor. Heart rate levels here are represented by color, and the idea is to get your percentage (your current heart rate divided by your ideal maximum heart rate) up to the "orange" level (just below red, around 85%—90%) for 12 to 20 minutes of the class. The amount of time spent in at this level creates the signature after-burn, torching calories up to 36 hours after class has ended. Hence, the orange theory.
Once my fitness monitor was activated, I saw my name on the TV screen in the classroom with a number, 44%. Before entering, seasoned "OTF" devotees said things like, "I love data! I don't need to be at 87% for more than 12 to 20 minutes." At this point, if you're like me, panic ensues. Oh my god, do I have to do math and running AT THE SAME TIME? I have accidentally signed up for the seventh circle of hell, please send help. But never fear, liberal arts majors—there is no algebra involved (at least none that you need to worry about).
Class begins, and students are split into two groups: We could choose either strength or running/rowing first, and I quickly slide over to my comfort zone of weights. Two instructors are here to watch over form, and one takes the microphone. Her name is Barb. Barb is an alum from the original Orangetheory location in Fort Lauderdale. And Barb does not play games.
"Treads, you've got 2 minutes at push pace! Weights, 2 minutes left, make sure you finish at least two rounds!" Weights turned out to be three sections of three to four different moves, doing two to four rounds of each (depending how quickly you worked). Expect to do things like squats with hand weights, planks, chest press with TRX cables, jump squats, and my personal favorite, burpees with a bosu ball. I looked at the monitor and saw my number flashing back and forth between the green and orange zones. I had to adjust the strap around my waist early on, but I soon forgot it was there.
When it was time to switch, I warily stepped up to the treadmill and noticed a note of levels—I could pick my pace! I could be a power walker on an incline, a jogger, or a runner. Barb offered motivation, calling out names of people doing their duty to hit the orange zone (there was another Megan on the board doing better with "the zone," but let's pretend it was me). We went from a steady jog to switching between 250-meter sprints on the rowing machines and back to the treadmills for quarter-mile bursts of all-out speed, and then a cool down. We had made it. While we stretched, Barb explained our final numbers.
I was pleasantly surprised to find I had hit the target zones more often than I'd realized. I spent 18 minutes in the orange zone, right on par with the 12-20 minutes they recommend. Burning 600 calories, I was about average—most people burned anywhere from 400 to 800 calories during the session. I walked out feeling worked but not exhausted, accomplished but definitely not like it was too easy. The system allows you to push yourself according to your own fitness level.
Barb's advice to newbies? "Go at your own pace! People tend to be competitive; there's a lot of energy in the room," she said after class. "The goal is being able to self-manage and not get wrapped up in what the person next to you is doing." She also notes that hitting red (the highest heart rate) is good, but not somewhere you would aim to stay. "Orange is the sweet spot."
Adam Krell and Jessica Kumari, this location's founders, are planning on heavy expansion in the city. When asked why Chelsea/Flatiron for the first NYC studio, Krell answered simply, "It's the pit of fitness!" The subways were also a big factor: they noted that neighboring gyms like Peloton and Uplift Studios benefit from the transit crossroads. The next named location is Park Slope, and Krell also hinted at an Upper West Side possibility. More studios will be announced in the coming months.
West 23rd Street officially opens on March 6th. Single classes are $34, or you can get in on pre-sale and discounted membership rates before opening day by calling 646-588-0133 or visiting the site.