Tuesday, November 5, 2019

That Time I Tried Orangetheory Fitness

That Time I Tried Orange Theory Fitness Wandsworth
Photo c/o Orangetheory Fitness Wandsworth
* I was invited to try Orangetheory Fitness with a complimentary 10-day pass. While this opportunity was gifted, all views are strictly my own and in no way influenced by Orangetheory or any other parties. 

I've been hearing a lot about Orangetheory from some of my fellow American expats lately, so when offered the chance to try out the Wandsworth location I was super keen. I was fairly sure from what I'd heard from my friends that it might be too hard for me personally, but I've been doing a lot of physical activity for the past year, so I wanted to try it and challenge myself. I was also pretty curious about the science-based concept and the format of the workout classes... Orangetheory is unlike any workout class I've ever tried.

The whole concept behind Orangetheory is based on science, specifically regarding excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. The name refers to one of your heart rate zones with red being the top and orange being just under it, described in the Orangetheory model as uncomfortable. The idea is that if you keep your heart rate in the orange zone between 84% to 91% of your unique heart rate maximum for 12 minutes or more, you get the most out of your workout and continue to experience after burn for up to 36 hours which can boost your metabolism as well as your body works harder to recover the oxygen it lost during exercise. Before your workout begins you are fitted with a heart monitor that fits around your bicep and your stats are posted on a big screen TV to monitor your progress. Let's not get ahead of ourselves though - here's what happens when you visit Orangetheory Fitness for the first time...

It's suggested that you arrive approximately 30 minutes early on your first visit and honestly, it's necessary. You can get acquainted with the lockers, which to be honest are a little fussy so they take some time, change and prepare yourself. You might be given a tour of the facilities including the members area, the bathrooms and the changing rooms, which are separate from each other. The changing rooms in the Wandsworth facility have everything you could possibly need including L:A Bruket shampoo & conditioner, dry shampoo, styling tools and more. 

Once you're ready, a team member will give you a form to fill out and sign before leading you through a questionnaire about your fitness level and goals. The questions don't take long, but they are pretty in-depth. Orangetheory Fitness is a membership club, but first timers can try 3 classes for just £30 - that's just £10 each, so it's a bargain in London. The questionnaire helps the team identify your fitness goals, the reasons behind them and what your schedule is like in terms of commitment to your fitness plan. After your initial 3 classes, they'll recommend a package suitable to your goals and schedule. Pricing will be provided at that point based on the package that's right for you. To give you an example, I told them that I do reformer Pilates 5 to 6 times a week and dance for anywhere between 2 and 10 hours a week. I said that my goal was weightloss, toning and improvement of overall fitness, but unfortunately that wasn't specific enough. When asked how many hours I could commit each week, I initially answered three, but I now realise afterwards that one or two would be more suitable for my schedule if I were signing up for a membership. Eventually the trainer I spoke with got out of me that I was competing in pro-am dance competitions. She said that she previously trained professional Latin dancers and she pointed out that improving my strength and endurance to get through the high energy, short spurts of dancing should be my goal. More about the goal later... Following all of that, I was fitted with a heart monitor before meeting the coach.

The coach for the session took me into the fitness studio and explained what was happening that day, how to use the equipment and everything I needed to know. This is where it all gets a bit overwhelming... The classes are completely different every single day - no two are ever the same. So there may be a lot of information to take in... I'll admit I was completely confused before the class even started. There was a big screen TV, a screen on the treadmill, a printout on the treadmill, a rowing machine and a weights area as well as a fair few numbers of options, but I decided that I would be able to manage it all once we got started. 

When the class starts, everyone meets in the lobby. There's a mandatory high five with the coach on your way in the door, which I found to be a bit cheesy to be honest, but I'm sure it's motivating for some people. You'll want to be sure to bring a towel and some water with you and head to your treadmill. They set you up on a specific treadmill, which will be told to you before the class starts. When you get there, you have some options to choose from based on your ability. Firstly, if you can't run for any reason there's a cycle, a strider and also walking options, so don't be terribly intimidated if you're not suited to running. Whether it be an injury, your fitness level or a general dislike of running, there are other options so if that's the case, be sure to mention it to your coach when you arrive. I am not a runner, but I decided to be brave anyway and try the treadmill. I felt like testing my limits. I explained to the coach that I'm not a runner by any means - I mean, I don't think I've ever gone running for more than 5 minutes in my life. It's just not my talent. He encouraged me to try the hardest setting anyway and to adjust if I needed to.
treadmills and heart rate screen at Orangetheory Wandsworth
photo c/o Orangetheory Wandsworth
The options can best be described as a walk, jog or run and each one has a base level and increased levels that are set, so you know what to do when you're prompted. For example, one base level might be a speed of 4, then increase up to 2.5 more than that for a push and the sprinting speed would be 2.5 or more higher than the push. So you might start at 4, increase to 5 and then to 7. That's not the exact numbers - I can't remember exactly because I was working hard and sweating like an animal, but you get the idea. You decide whether you're going to choose walk, jog or run and then increase accordingly - there are directions on a screen on your treadmill to help you keep track. Though my coach said I should start with the run, I never made it past the jog and in the end decreased to the walk... The jog felt like sprinting to me. The Orangetheory sessions are really hard physically and mentally complicated to keep up with at first, so in my opinion, it's better to start off slow in the first session or two and if you feel that you're up to it, increase to a jog or run after you've done it once or twice and gotten your bearings.

It doesn't stop there... You will most likely do circuit sets, though every workout is different, so it's hard to know. You might run for a bit, then row for a bit and repeat this process. Or walk and then sprint uphill and then run flat and then walk again. The session I attended was a Run/Row class, so it was a bit complicated. On top of all the options above, we also had to remember our times and distances with every set to add onto it and then at certain points there were timed sprints uphill. To be honest, I got totally lost after about 10 minutes and I'm still not sure what I was supposed to be doing. At a certain point I was completely out of it and couldn't really get back on track.

Following the cardio part of the class I attended there was a guided weights session. There are screens on the wall with demonstrations of the exercises and the coach is assisting as well. When the workout is finished you are emailed a summary of your session called a Beat Report. It's kind of like a school report card that tells you things like how long you stayed in the orange zone, how many calories you burned, stats on your heart rate and how far you ran.

My experience with Orangetheory Fitness Wandsworth was two-sided. I pride myself in only giving honest reviews here, so I feel that it's important to highlight both the upsides of my experience as well as the downsides. Truth be told and I'm not ashamed to admit it... I didn't finish my session at Orangetheory. As I said before, I'm not a runner and after 23 minutes, I simply couldn't do anymore so I stopped. I also don't have an ACL in my right knee and while it was only mildly sore while I was running, I didn't go back to try again because I had knee pain for a few days afterwards. In fairness, I was told not to run by my doctor, but I thought my knee could handle one day, especially since I dance so many times a week in high heels, but I was wrong. After 23 minutes I listened to my body and I stopped. That said, I never thought I'd be able to do as much as I did at that level of intensity, so I didn't feel upset or defeated. I felt empowered and motivated to keep doing the things I've been doing to continue getting even stronger. It's also worth noting that I had a cold when I went, which can really play havoc with your ability to work out and can effect your heart rate as well. I intended to go back and give it another go, especially since every single day is different, but given the knee pain, it didn't seem like a wise idea and I felt I had enough of the experience to write this review. I did stay and watch the weights session so I had an idea of what it was like.

The staff at Orangetheory Wandsworth are absolutely endearing. They're encouraging, supportive and super nice. I didn't feel intimidated to try or embarrassed to stop. When I walked out of the session one of the trainers checked on me to make sure I was okay and gave me a bottle of water with electrolytes. I can't imagine a nicer group of people to encourage members and make the workout experience as positive as possible.

water rowing machines at Orangetheory Wandsworth

In terms of the actual workout, I'm also of two minds about it. I was honestly confused most of the time, but that being said, if you committed to doing it more than once I feel like you'd get used to it and better at it. My one complaint would be that I couldn't hear the coach. I love loud music when I work out and they play some excellent, pumping tunes in the fitness studio, but the music drowns out the coach when he speaks, even though he has a microphone. Because there are so many things to pay attention to, keep track of and that you need to hear from the coach in terms of times to switch up activities, it's important to be able to hear what's being said. Other than that, the Orangetheory workout really keeps you on your toes and it's a little challenging to keep up with what you're supposed to do, but like I said, I think if I'd gone back a few more times I would've gotten used to it and therefor, gotten better at it. With that in mind, if you're planning to try Orangetheory for the first time, don't be discouraged if you have no idea what's going on for the first few sessions. Give it a try and know that the next time you go it will be completely different. Some days will be more challenging for you either physically or mentally than others - just keep at it and try not to get frustrated. If you're lost, ask for help and your coach will put you on the right track.

I'm someone who gets bored easily with workouts, so I loved the pace of the class. You're running for a minute or two, then rowing for a minute then doing something different. If you're like me and you love to switch it up and stay entertained, Orangetheory might be just perfect for you. If I was good at running, I'd probably be the next client to sign up. If you're someone who loves a physical challenge and a good sweat, you'll also love Orangetheory. The workouts are intense and structured to keep you at an optimum heart rate for a specified period of time, so you'll definitely be pushed. Because of that, it's also the perfect thing to do if you need to pack a lot into a short amount of time. I imagine that you could do a lot towards reaching your goals with just two or three hours a week, so it's great for busy people. There are classes 7 days a week at a range of times and you book with a convenient phone app, so it's super easy to work it around your schedule. 

It's not all sweat and hard work... Orangetheory offers special events, workshops, challenges, socials and more. While I was visiting they were promoting Hell Week for Halloween which involved members completing a certain number of challenges and those who did received a t-shirt as a reward. Just today I saw something on Instagram about accountability workshops to help people meet their fitness goals before the Christmas holidays rather than getting derailed by the silly season. Orangetheory has a real community vibe to it and the energy you get from being around other likeminded people with similar goals is a great incentive to keep it up.

Orange Theory Wandsworth

Orangetheory Fitness Wandsworth is a beautiful facility with state-of-the-art equipment and all the necessary amenities. It's the kind of place you could look forward to going to every week. While Orangetheory isn't what I would choose for myself for personal reasons, it's definitely worth checking out and the intro rate is a bargain, so if you love trying new workouts, there's not much to lose and you might just find the workout you've been looking for.

Orangetheory Fitness Wandsworth is located at 8 Garrett Lane, just off Wandsworth High Street near the Southside Shopping Centre. For more information or to book your first session, visit wandsworth.orangetheoryfitness.co.uk

* Special thanks to Orangetheory Wandsworth for partnering on this post.
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