Photo by Keven Salazar

Orange Insanity

Orangetheory Fitness is an obsession for many who do it

An Orangetheory Fitness class feels like something between a workout and an EDM concert. 

Dim orange light fills the room during my second class at the Eugene studio. People hustle around, furiously rowing on machines, running on treadmills and lifting weights. 

Remixed pop and hip hop hits blast through speakers

Motivational phrases cover the walls: “Crush your personal best.” “Good things come to those who sweat.” “Life Changes in the Orange Zone.” 

Eugene’s Orangetheory reopened Jan. 11 after an expansion. The popular high-intensity interval training workout is an addiction, but a healthy addiction, for its members. People who do Orangetheory have found motivation, escape and a community in the workout. 

Ellen Latham, a former fitness writer and Pilates coach, started Orangetheory in Florida in 2010. Since then, it’s spread to 23 countries and has more than 1,300 locations. The company topped the Forbes list for fastest-growing women-owned companies in 2017. It had more than 800,000 members and made more than $1 billion in sales in 2018, according to Business Insider.

Orangetheory’s financial success is impressive, but not surprising, considering membership rates. Prices depend on the location, so studios aren’t supposed to release rates. 

But when I was offered a membership at the end of my first workout, the regular prices for the Eugene studio were $169 for an unlimited monthly membership and $109 for a membership that includes eight classes in a month. 

These rates are high compared to a gym like the YMCA that includes workout classes, whose monthly prices for individual adults are $43 to $60, depending on age. But they’re comparable to those of other local specialty fitness studios — yoga, spin, barre, etc. 

The Orangetheory workout is based on the idea that if you spend enough with your heart rate in the “Orange Zone,” around 84 percent to 91 percent of your maximum heart rate, your body will continue to burn calories for hours after the workout. Most members wear heart rate monitors that track workout information that’s displayed on screens in the studio. The goal is to spend at least 12 minutes in the “Orange Zone,” or in the “Red Zone,” which is anything above 91 percent. 

 The workout includes running, rowing and strength training exercises all done in intervals. Everybody works at their own pace. Workouts are designed by a team of doctors, physical therapists and trainers at company headquarters in Florida. Every Orangetheory studio around the world does the same exercises on a given day, but workouts are never repeated from one day to the next. 

Marcelina Gilbertson, my coach for a workout, and head coach of the Eugene studio, played volleyball in college. She started doing Orangetheory a year after she graduated. Gilbertson says she missed the collective motivation of playing team sports and found that in the workout

“I just feel like being in a group setting like Orangetheory,” she says. “The energy of the room pushes you to go harder than you would otherwise.” 

Gilbertson says the intensity of the workout makes it a good escape. “That one hour is a total release from everything that’s going on outside in your life,” she says. 

Brooke Wagner, Eugene School District 4J’s director of elementary education, is another former college athlete. 

“For me, it replicates a team sport activity,” she says of the workout.  

Wagner says that in her first week doing Orangetheory a year and a half ago, the class did a timed mile. It took her more than 16 minutes. She was the last one on the treadmill, but the rest of the class cheered her on as she finished up. 

She says the attention was mortifying, but supportive and inspiring at the same time. Last week, she ran a mile in under 9 minutes.

Dawn Marlan, director of the University of Oregon’s undergraduate comparative literature program, says she initially thought she’d hate Orangetheory. But she fell in love with how the high-paced workout helps you stay present when she tried it.  

She also says that compared to other workouts, it’s a better environment for those who are self conscious while exercising. 

“You’re not staring at yourself in the mirror, you’re busy and focused on a certain activity,” Marlan says. “You get swept up in the moment in a way that distracts you from body image.” 

Katie Morris, the studio manager, says she likes the workout because everybody can do it, no matter their fitness levels. 

The biggest demographic groups at the Eugene Orangetheory are 30- to 50-year-old women and female college students. She says group fitness in general still has the image of “women in leg warmers dancing in front of mirrors.” 

But Morris says all kinds of people have recently started to try Orangetheory, including firefighters and athletic coaches. She says the oldest member of the studio is 83 years old, and the youngest is 15.

Heidi Newland, a UO student who works at Eugene Orangetheory’s front desk, says anybody can benefit from the workout because you choose your own pace. 

“I think it’s really cool that it challenges everybody, and anybody can do it,” she says. 

Everybody interviewed for the story says they’ve met new people at Orangetheory and that they were excited about the workout. 

People who don’t do the workout sometimes describe it as “culty,” but Morris says she takes that as a compliment. 

“I think anything exciting and fun is culty, but it’s cute. You drink the orange Kool Aid!” she says. 

As my workout nears its end and reaches a new frenzy, people whoop and cheer, and Camila Cabello and Shawn Mendez’s “Señorita” comes on, remixed with a bouncier bass line, sped up to a pounding 180 beats per minute to match my heart rate. 

The class ends, and we’re herded together for a group photo. My coach, Gilbertson, unfurls an orange banner — the official flag of the Republic of Orange. A volunteer wraps it around her shoulders like a cape as the iPhone camera flashes.

 The Eugene Orangetheory Fitness studio is at 23 Oakway Center. It’s open 5 am to 9:15 pm Monday through Thursday, 5 am to 7:15 pm Friday, 6 am to 1 pm Saturday and 7 am to 1 pm Sunday. 

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