Intense and Addicting: In the Zone of Orangetheory Fitness

Orangetheory Fitness pushes the limits with intense, heart-based interval training.

photos by john altdorfer


You should hit up Orangetheory. It’s designed to keep your heart rate in a certain band. I have not done it yet, but it’s big.”

I had no idea what my friend was texting me about, but he had piqued my interest enough for me to check it out online. Heart-Based Interval Training … Burn 500-1,000 calories in a 60-minute session … burn calories up to 36 hours post workout … lose up to 8 lbs. per week.  

Upon arrival, I realized I had passed the East Liberty studio countless times before, although for whatever reason my brain associated the sign with Orange Julius.

“We’ve heard that before,” laughed studio manager and Pittsburgh regional director Claire Williamson. I’m handed a heart monitor to strap under my shirt, the output from which will display on a flat screen hanging in the gym.


“The goal is to be in the green,” she says, noting the majority of the class (25-35 minutes) should be spent there.

“But we want you to push it to the orange or red zone for about 12-20 minutes. The combination of working into the orange/red zones and recovering into the green zone throughout the workout for those specific time goals leads to an ideal optimization of fuel use throughout the workout and a change in body composition.”

Today is an ESP day — endurance, strength and power — of 55 minutes divided between the treadmill, weight floor and rower. The gym itself is lit in an orange-ish red color because, she explains, orange is the color of happiness and energy.

As the rest of the class enters, Williamson puts on her headset, cranks up the music and begins cheerily doling out instructions in rapid fire.


Figuring I'm in familiar territory, I increase the treadmill’s incline to a level 6 and adjust the speed to 4 miles per hour to begin with a good, steady run. Heart racing after about two and a half minutes, I glance at the monitor, expecting to see red. Instead, my stats indicate I’m chilling in the blue zone. I pick up the pace to 6 miles per hour with the incline at 8. See another minute tick off the clock. Great. Only 17 more to go. But the monitor indicates I’ve finally pushed green. Continuing, I feel my heart threatening to implode as Williamson encourages us to “get uncomfortable” for a 90-second burst, which I do, legs flying at 7 miles per hour with the incline still at an 8. Gasping for air as I finally break orange, I begin thinking about my typical hour-long workouts and one word comes to mind: cute.

By the end, 16 of us have collectively burned 10,557 calories, 515 of which were mine. My body is ready to collapse, and I’m starting to think my “friend” hates me. Still, some sadistic pull has me wanting more.

“People get really addicted to it,” Williamson says.

Verdict: Fitness novices, beware. 

This is intense.  

Orangetheory Fitness,  5841 Penn Ave., East Liberty; 412/362-3616,
The first session is free with monthly memberships ranging from $59-$159.

Eat This Month

Probiotics are found naturally in your body and in foods such as yogurt and aged cheeses, or they also can be purchased as a supplement, says registered dietitian Sharon Bachman.

Benefits include weight loss, digestion, strengthened immunity and protection against gum disease and colon cancer.

Adults can start with a daily serving, although for the first few weeks expect side effects: bloating, diarrhea, gas and upset stomach.

“It’s just your body’s response to getting rid of the bad bacteria, and symptoms will resolve,” says Bachman.

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