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Monday, January 18, 2016

The New Orleans Exercist visits OrangeTheory Fitness

Posted By on Mon, Jan 18, 2016 at 5:53 PM

click to enlarge Personal motivations in front of the rowing machines at OrangeTheory: "Wine. More wine. Cheeseburgers," "Vacation" and "Ex-boyfriends!" - ANNA GACA
  • Personal motivations in front of the rowing machines at OrangeTheory: "Wine. More wine. Cheeseburgers," "Vacation" and "Ex-boyfriends!"

“OrangeTheory is the workout of strivers,” The New York Times declared this month. The “group personal training” chain combines cardio, weights and plyometrics in a one-hour class and is expanding faster than juice bars in 2012.

I showed up at New Orleans’ newly opened OrangeTheory Fitness (4141 Bienville St., 504-408-2602; at 7 a.m. on a Sunday. Folks, I am a striver.

OrangeTheory’s “theory” revolves around heart rate. Everyone wears a heart rate monitor on a chest strap, a ritual familiar to me from years of middle-school gym class. Unlike when I was 12, there’s no corresponding wrist display. Instead, heart rates are broadcast on overhead TVs. Lower levels of exertion mark you as gray, then blue, then green. When you hit 84 percent of your hypothetical maximum capacity, you’re pushed into the exalted “orange zone.”

The idea is to accumulate as many minutes as possible in the orange, setting oneself up for elevated calorie burn after class. Afterburn is a real phenomenon, though there’s no definitive science on how long it lasts, and no good way to measure it outside a lab. OrangeTheory’s marketing works this angle aggressively, promising that attendees will “burn calories up to 36 hours post workout.”

A man named Terrence introduced himself as our “coach” and told us that this morning’s workout would be focused on endurance. Half the class picked a treadmill to start; Terrence set the pace over a headset, guiding us through a progressively tougher set of interval runs or power walks. Everyone else alternated between rowing machines, free weights and TRX suspension training straps. After 30 minutes, we switched. There was a lot of sweat, very little talking and a loud hip hop soundtrack. (Let the record show that yesterday, somehow, was my first time hearing “Hotline Bling" in its entirety.)

click to enlarge Aggressive marketing promises unlikely weight loss of "up to eight pounds a week." - ANNA GACA
  • Aggressive marketing promises unlikely weight loss of "up to eight pounds a week."

What are these strivers striving for? The answer is weight loss. Keychains at the front desk boast that members can lose an unlikely eight pounds a week. A window covered with handwritten motivational slogans includes entries like “#SheddingForTheWedding,” “king cake” and a cartoon po-boy. The slogans are written on the outside of the window, so you can read them in the mirror while you're on the treadmill. If by any chance you forget what you’re here for, there’s a scale in the bathroom.

Brand-new equipment is almost certainly the best part of OrangeTheory. The treadmills have user-friendly buttons and built-in fans. The rowing machines draw their resistance from translucent tanks of real water, which makes a satisfying whirling noise as you “row” through it. It’s somewhat cramped, which means there’s no way your neighbor won’t notice if you start to slack.

I found myself surprisingly unfazed by the public-shaming aspect, likely because I’m already in decent shape. Glancing at my own heart rate felt like a more precise form of the mental check-ins I normally take during a run. I picked up the pace when I caught myself lagging, but I could also comfort myself that maintaining a relatively low heart rate and recovering quickly during strenuous activity are the hallmarks of cardiovascular fitness. Striving, it seems, goes hand-in-hand with smugness.

click to enlarge A summary of my workout appeared in my inbox minutes after I'd finished. - COURTESY ORANGETHEORY
  • A summary of my workout appeared in my inbox minutes after I'd finished.
By the end of class, I’d burned 662 calories and accumulated 23 minutes in the orange zone. The highest burner racked up 906 calories, with 30 minutes in the orange zone. If my OrangeTheory class had an Olympic podium, all the medalers would have been men — larger people simply expend more energy. But there was no ranking and no pressure. I didn’t even get a hard sell to follow up on my free trial class.

I'll miss the treadmill fans, but there are no amenities at OrangeTheory I couldn’t duplicate with a cheap heart rate monitor and a basic gym membership. The real question is whether I’ve ever torched 662 calories in 57 minutes going solo, and the answer is probably not. I’m resolved: my workouts need tougher intervals, fewer breaks and more full-body jumps. I am a striver.

OUR TAKE: The weight-loss claims are specious, but OrangeTheory will hold you accountable for every minute at the gym.

More fitness news and events this week:

- Big Boy Yoga, a yoga class aimed at “guys with ‘bigger’ meatier bodies,” holds its inaugural class at Balance Yoga & Wellness (120 S. Cortez St.; 504-309-9618; on Saturday (Jan. 23). The class costs $20; RSVP online.

- Theratique (4440 Canal St., 504-270-9618; holds a grand opening party from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. The “therapeutic boutique” provides wellness services like acupuncture, massage and nutritional consultation, as well as some more out-there offerings like hypnosis and astrology.

- The 10K Run on the Bayou at Bayou Segnette State Park (7777 Westbank Expressway, Westwego) is coming up Jan. 30. Today is your last chance to register online for $25 before prices go up.

- Chicago-based barre chain The Barre Code (787 Harrison Ave., 860-575-4681; will open its first New Orleans location in Lakeview on Feb. 13. Check their Facebook page for updates.

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