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This Sneakily Smart, Weirdly Easy Workout Wants to Replace the Gym

Orangetheory Fitness is the ideal class for the class-averse.

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The record store. The diner. The mall. If you're old enough to be confused by Snapchat, you've certainly noticed that all the places you used to hang out are slowly disappearing. And, as crazy as it sounds, the gym is on its way to becoming just as obsolete.

With the recent (and colossal) studio exercise boom, group classes aren't just a trend, they're a way of life. Running on a treadmill towards nothingness went from the post-work norm to outdated and weird practically overnight. If reading an Us Weekly on an elliptical is your ideal version of calorie-burning — no shame in that game! — it's easy to feel left out by the sudden focus on swapping personal space for shout-y teachers and computerized machines for free-form movement.

I know not everyone is bopping between a smorgasbord of studios, picking up a barre class here, a spin class there, and planning their daytime meetings around Classpass sign-up alarms that ding! just before noon. I see you, gym purists! I know you're still out there, doing your thing in the weight room, and plowing away on the StairMaster like you're charging to the top of the Empire State Building. If you've remained a loyal member at your favorite gym and haven't yet made the leap (or more accurately, the stride) to a class-based exercise regime, well, kudos. But, also, don't shoot the messenger...because that's all about to change.


Orangetheory Fitness is spreading faster than a contagion in a horror movie. The first studio opened just five years ago, and since then has become one of the country's largest fitness franchises with nearly 200 studios in 28 different states; 150 new locations are set to open later this year. Translation? They're coming for you — and unlike an airborne virus, it's definitely a good thing.

Are you a gym rat who's watched classes from the other side of that glass wall (people deadlifting en masse, sweating on top of one another while doing routines that look miserable)? You no longer have to look on in fear. That's because Orangetheory combines cardio and strength into something that actually feels like your go-to gym-floor workout, only better and much, much smarter.

Orangetheory combines cardio and strength into something that actually feels like your go-to gym-floor workout, only better.

Unlike indoor surfing, cheerleading, or aerial hoop, Orangetheory Fitness is the ideal class for the class-averse. Every anxiety that would keep someone, whether they be fit or far from it, from locking themselves in a room with strangers for 55 minutes is inapplicable at OTF.

An Orangetheory franchise recently opened in Manhattan, and I visited it with no expectations beyond, ugh, I'm going to have to run. I was, however, pleasantly surprised by the entire experience.

Each class toggles between three different stations — treadmill training, indoor rowing, and weight training — and is, most notably, foolproof. You follow an instructor's alerts to change between intervals on treadmills. You follow metric guidelines yelled out to you while on the rower. You follow your heart rate on the board, conveniently located just a glance away from every piece of equipment in the room. You follow GIF-like looped videos of fit people doing strength exercises so if your mind goes foggy during that second set of chest presses, you have something to motivate you.

Even I, who would rather blood-let herself with leeches than run for 20 straight minutes, was set up for success. There are three different treadmill levels, and regardless of if you're walking, jogging, or running, you can participate fully and feel like an equal member of the class, even if you're treading next to a seasoned marathoner.

Even I, who would rather blood-let herself with leeches than run for 20 straight minutes, was set up for success.

If this all sounds cool, it's because it is. While other treadmill classes are about pushing yourself to your physical limit, Orangetheory uses data to prove that's not really necessary.

The entire concept is based on the science of EPOC, or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. Using a color-coded system and a proprietary heart-rate monitor ($69, worn across the chest or on the bra line), participants actively watch their real-time stats on televisions around the room and adjust their workout accordingly to stay in the target orange and yellow zones, and spend less time in zones that are either too intense (red) or not intense enough (green and blue).

But here's what makes it really special: You not only burn calories in the moment (most people in my class ranged between 500 and 700), OTF claims you burn even more post-class via the "afterburn" (another word for the EPOC effect). In real world terms, this means that when you're far from class, sitting at your desk rolling your eyes at your boss's latest grating email, you're still getting in shape.

Sure, any challenging exercise class can boost your metabolic rate to this point, but the data collecting and stat monitoring at OTF helps ensure you get the afterburn effect each and every time. What's even crazier, though, is that I found the class to be...well...not super hard.

Yes, I was sweating like a hog, found more than a few stations to be deeply challenging, and now decidedly hate rowing (so difficult!!!), but I left the studio wanting more. I didn't feel like my ass was kicked or like my legs were quivering, and I didn't run down to empty, as I'm typically instructed to do at other studios. I, oddly, still had some energy left in the bank, and felt somewhat guilty about it. At any other studio this would be a negative, but at OTF? It means I did it right.

The point of Orangetheory is to work out just hard enough and stop while you're ahead.

The point of Orangetheory is to work out just hard enough and stop while you're ahead. Seriously. My naturally aggressive, "That was good, but I should probably do sit-ups when I get home" nature meant I was working out smarter than ever before, and perhaps even better than when I have to drag my bag of bones home like a pirate with a pegleg.

OTF is somewhat of a lazy runner's paradise. It allows you to work out as little as possible to achieve maximum results, without you having to doubt that you're working out hard enough. No "just ten minutes a day..." infomercials, no 4-Hour Body required reading, no wacky New York Times article touting a heart-pumping two-minute workout that will change your life. With some data and a rainbow chart, Orangetheory has created a colorful guide to let you work out to the point you need to and nothing more.

As someone who is screamed at to "go breathless" in a minimum of three classes a week, I'm still having a hard time believing this, but it's true. Which brings me to what was originally my big issue with OTF: You have no idea what to expect when you walk through the door. Each day's classes are exactly the same across the schedule — workouts are handed down from corporate — but they change day to day, meaning you basically never do the same class twice.

The first time I did OTF, this bothered me. How did I know when to push myself? How could I plan for when I should go all-out and breathless? What could I do so I had energy left for the end of class? But once I asked all of these questions out loud, I realized that here, at this studio, they were pointless.

OTF really does take all the guesswork out of exercise. You strap on a monitor, watch your screen, work hard, and stay orange. That's it. No worrying, no scheduling toning classes on the opposite days as cardio, no juggling schedules, no panicking about instructors — this is a class designed to burn the most amount of calories, in the smartest way, with the only requirement being that you show up. If that's not the future of exercise, I don't know what is.

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