As Kesha’s “Timber” blared from speakers and I bounced through another set of skater lunges, my left knee started barking.
“It’s going down, I’m yelling timber / You better move, you better dance.”
Kesha and other pop stars led the soundtrack for this forced fun, way-too-much-glitter-for-breakfast Monday morning workout. I’m always down for some glitter in my Cheerios but wasn’t prepared for the amount of stoke I found at 8:45 a.m. at an indoor exercise class.
For months before Orangetheory opened in the lower level of the new Marriott hotel, I had heard a subtle buzz among the city transplant and Wilson mom set. “Orangetheory is coming.” “Did you hear Orangetheory is coming? I’m so excited!”
The workouts themselves are not revolutionary. They start with a rowing warm-up, a weight-and-calisthenics session, cardio and a rowing cool-down. Pretty basic. Roughly a dozen gyms in the valley offer group exercise classes in functional fitness with some combination of cardio, body weight resistance and flexibility exercises and weight lifting.
So what’s the Orangetheory special sauce? The chain boasts “science-backed, technology-tracked, coach-inspired” workouts. High-fives seem mandatory upon entering the room.
The schtick is heart rate zones, with participants striving to get their heart rates into Zone 4 (orange colored, 81%-94% maximum heart rate) or Zone 5 (95%-100% max). Hold that for a minute and you earn a “splat point.” The goal is a dozen splat points per workout. Splat points aren’t easy for everyone to achieve because everyone’s heart rate is different, not necessarily because you’re not trying as hard as the person next to you.
The theory of maximum heart rate was devised by a cardiac researcher in 1970.
The five zones for cardio exercise have been around for decades. They are more calculated than the “rate of perceived exertion,” which asks you to rate how hard you’re working on a scale from 0 to 10. This is all routine information. Heart rate monitors have been incorporated into training regimens for everyone from middle school P.E. students to Olympic athletes.
The heart rate maximum formula’s inventor, Dr. William Haskell, told The New York Times in 2001 that the formula “was never supposed to be an absolute guide to rule people’s training.’’
Orangetheory has taken a version of that formula and not only popularized it but capitalized on it. Orangetheory uses your heart rate and a corresponding colored zone projected on screens around the gym. The competitive effect is supposed to be one of motivation, but it occurred to me more than once that it also could inspire guilt or shame for those of us whose heart rates don’t climb as high as everyone else’s.
My boss, arguably the fittest person in the building, says he has a hard time earning even one splat point per class. Apparently we share superefficient tickers.
I have a friend of virtually the same age and fitness level who regularly bikes and hikes with me at the same pace, RPE, or watts on an exercise bike, and her heart rate is almost exactly 30 beats faster than mine. She’d get splat points all day long.
The good thing is, if you get on the Orangetheory bandwagon and attend 20 classes, the instructors will recalculate your heart rate zones based on your individual statistics. Then the orange zone should be far more precise.
We did planks with shoulder taps, pull-ups on TRX straps, squat jacks and a dumbbell press. Colorful screens showing a figure doing the exercise and a fitness coach demonstrating each set of moves made it easy to follow along.
Taking a brief breathing break during T Pain’s “Apple Bottom Jeans,” I read some of the inspiration lining the walls: “Live life all-out.” “Can’t. Will. Did.”
Tired from paddleboarding the Snake River on Saturday and hiking Sunday to Goodwin Lake, it felt like I was too “summered out” to work any harder. My 1998 reconstructed ACL is the one that I never rehabilitated as well as I should have, and it gets cranky under duress. I began cheating significantly with my stronger right leg (2013 ACL rehab done correctly) on things like “frog squats,” a deep squat exploding into a leap, “ribbits optional,” instructor Alli Wolf said.
During the second half of the workout, my group moved to cardio. I stepped onto a treadmill for the first time in years, and as soon as I did I remembered why I hate them. Even a 2% grade and 3 mph felt like too much; it felt like I’d fall off the back if I faltered in my stride. Moseying and faltering are some of my signature moves. I motioned for help, and although the two bikes were taken I grabbed a spot on a strider for the rest of the cardio.
Finally done with the cardio piece — intervals of sprints and recovery — we hopped back on the rowing machines for a final sprint-rest-cooldown session to Taylor Swift’s “Me.”
“Do you have rowing experience?” Wolf asked. “I can tell.”
One of the most inspiring things about the class for me was participant Elizabeth Shockley.
The 72-year-old grandmother of instructor Tristan Shockley has been attending Orangetheory classes twice a week for a month. Her other exercise is mainly yard work and walking.
“I like the fact it makes me sweat,” Shockley said. “Afterwards I feel energized for a long time.”
As a group of 14 people, we burned 9,748 calories.
Back at the office, an email rolled in with my dismal stats: 333 calories burned, 8 minutes in the easiest zone, 34 in Zone 2, 18 in Zone 3 and no minutes in Zones 4 or 5. No “splat points.” It said my heart rate averaged 118 with a peak of 139. Interesting. On a bike I can usually get my heart rate to at least 145 without gasping for breath, 150-plus at an all-out sprint.
Upon learning that my workout buddy Amanda Martin earned 29 splat points, I was surprised, then jealous, then just let it all go. For me the continuing journey to heart health and the optimal fitness to do the mountain town activities I love is not a competition, but if competition motivates you and helps you meet your goals, more power to you.