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Fitness Moves - One woman’s discovery of a workout that promises way more than toned muscles

Jun 22, 2015 07:50AM ● Published by Kevin

Orangetheory Fitness had me with its ad: Spend one hour exercising, and for the next 36, I’d burn more calories even while resting. “Try us for free” clinched our rendezvous. So I filled out an online form and the next day received a text message: “Hey Dayna! This is Bre from Orangetheory Fitness. How are you today?”

I was fine but apprehensive. I was also committed to trying Orangetheory’s group approach to personal training. Bre and I corresponded about what I needed to do: The next day, report half an hour early for class, fill out paperwork and be introduced to the workout. I was to bring a water bottle and towel and wear comfortable workout clothes and “running shoes.” Running shoes? Uh-oh. I’m not a runner.

I’m not a complete wreck, either. What I am is older than I feel, most days. My physical history includes big peaks and valleys, like having two children and then teaching step aerobics, then gaining 100 pounds (don’t tell anyone, OK?) and losing 50 (tell everyone, please).

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Your heart rate is measured with a “pod” that attaches to an elastic band you wear under your shirt.

No doubt my body mass index (BMI) is too high. My fitness level is fair, perhaps tapping timidly on the door to “good.” About a year ago I began a health campaign with the goal of increasing my activity beyond hopping onto an elliptical in my house at least every other day.

And along comes an opportunity to take a class at Orangetheory. Why not Taupe Theory or Seafoam Green Theory? I wondered.

Sales associate Amy Scott at the Orangetheory studio in Fort Myers had the answer. Yes studio, not gym, and the first opened four years ago in Fort Lauderdale. The facility is smaller than the average gym and that’s on purpose. At about 2,500 square feet, it’s designed to foster camaraderie, according to co-founder Dave Long, quoted in Forbes magazine.

I arrived and filled out a form: name, age, height, weight, any medication? Sign. Trainer Mike Huber, a 21-year veteran of the Army who now sports a long blond ponytail, took me and another first-timer into the studio, which was bathed in orange light, and showed us how the equipment worked.

Colors are used at Orangetheory to illustrate heart rate zones, including gray (about 50 percent of your maximum) to blue (60 percent) to green (70 percent) to orange (85 percent, and where you should be for at least 12 minutes of a 60-minute workout, they say) and then red (100 percent: Take it easy, Animal!). Your heart rate is measured with a “pod” that attaches to an elastic band you wear under your shirt.

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I was just trying to get to orange, because if you spend 12 minutes or more in the orange zone, you apparently reach EPOC, or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, which is the idea on which Orangetheory hinges.

The percentage at which you’re exercising is projected under your name onto a screen during class so you and the trainer, and anyone else in the class who cares, can monitor it. When class started I didn’t just monitor mine, I obsessed. Apparently my eye lock on the screen was obvious because Huber leaned over the “tread” I was on and said gently, “Don’t try to compete with these people,” who by the way were all women and one man ranging in age from 20s to 70.

I was just trying to get to orange, because if you spend 12 minutes or more in the orange zone, you apparently reach EPOC, or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, which is the idea on which Orangetheory hinges. EPOC means you continue to burn calories at a higher rate than normal for up to 36 hours after exercise, Huber explained. Woo-hoo! Buttered popcorn, white chocolate, pistachio ice cream …

He had split the class into two groups: Half of us started on the treadmills at a self-determined pace: walking, jogging or running. Like other aspects of an Orangetheory class, it’s up to you to pick your level. But whatever you choose, when the time comes to “push” or “all out,” you will work it, increasing the treadmill’s incline level or speed, according to a chart on the wall.

With classic rock playing loudly and Huber on a wireless headset instructing both groups, it was often challenging to decipher which instructions were meant for my group. Huber competed with Guns N’ Roses and Maroon 5 and all I could think was that I definitely did not have the moves like Jagger. No swagger, just sweat. I’m all about the basics, no trouble.

For 26 minutes I hated hearing Huber occasionally announce an “all out” as much as I hate doing my taxes and sitting for an employment review.

The other group began with rowing and progressed to intervals of strength training with free weights, mats and ropes. Screens around the room showed cartoon people demonstrating how to do squats, lunges and dumbbell lifts.

The groups switched halfway through class. The rowing group took over the treadmills, and vice versa. Combined it’s a full-on, whole-body workout.

And it was hard. The hardest—for most of us, it seemed—were the second-half plank position holds on forearms and toes for what felt like two weeks—or longer.

However, I left the studio feeling great.

That night and all the next day, I thought about what Catherine Bliss told me before class, that after her first visit her thighs were so sore she needed help getting up from a seated position. So did I. But gerontologist Sue Maxwell, who’s a very youthful looking 70, had told me that in six months of Orangetheory workouts she had lost about five inches from her waist, and I remembered that, too.

Maxwell’s progress is just one indication that something magical is happening at that storefront on the way to the beach.

Among 500 national Orangetheory clients who entered a recent six-week weight-loss challenge were first-place winner David Beers and third-place winner Lea Burkey. David lost 60 pounds and Lea 36. For their victories they won $10,000 and $4,000 respectively. Both work out at the Fort Myers studio.

Written by Dayna Harpster, a writer living in Southwest Florida.

Ready to Book a Class?

The Fort Myers’ Orangetheory is located at 11600 Gladiolus Drive; another studio is scheduled to open at 8001 Dani Drive. Your first class is free. 239-243-0730, orangetheoryfitness.com

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