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I arrived at Orangetheory’s newest location just outside West University a full hour before my class would start. I sat in my car, taking deep breaths while I assessed a place that I knew held my personal can of whoop-ass. My yoga teacher’s favorite tough-love mantra rang in my mind, “This, too, shall pass…” 

After all, this wasn't your everyday group fitness class. The Orangetheory Fitness program is to a typical workout what Moneyball is to baseball; a cutting-edge, stats-based approach designed to get the best results for your time and money.

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Heart rate monitors on giant screens give immediate feedback on how intense your workout is.

After strapping on a heart rate monitor, I joined several other newcomers for a pep talk from our trainer for the hour, Philip. He explained that our heart rate monitors would gauge the “zones” we were hitting throughout the workout, which we could track on the huge flat-screen in the studio.

These were grey (resting), blue (lightly active), green (fat burning), orange (83-91% of your maximum heart rate), and red (above 92%). Our goal was to hit the orange zone for 12 to 20 minutes, and be in the green zone for most of the session. According to Philip, hitting them would allow me to burn an additional 300-400 calories in the 24 hours following the class.

When it was time, Philip opened the glass doors to the studio. It was spacious and L-shaped, divided into cardio and strength sections and enveloped by walls of mirrors. The music started pumping—classic Rolling Stones—and I started rowing. I had signed up for a high-intensity interval class—everyone either started on rowing machines or on treadmills. Those like me who started on the rowers followed straight into strength training; those on the treadmills stayed there for half the class. Afterwards, we swapped places, allowing everyone the opportunity to be fully tortured.

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A high-intensity interval workout includes strength training, rowing and time on the treadmill.

What impressed me the most about Orangetheory—besides the 500 calories I burned in under an hour—was its upbeat atmosphere. Philip’s coaching was positive and encouraging; he shouted empowering slogans over the music, and gave individual tips to every participant. I felt energized throughout the class—both from the group atmosphere and the personalized guidance. Plus, I was always able to hold myself accountable by keeping an eye on my heart rate zone.

“Orangetheory trainers push you, but they’re all big about proper technique and form. Classes encompass every level of fitness—people who are in their early 20s or in their late 70s; people who are athletes and people who haven’t been inside a gym for years. Everyone can take the same class, and it will be equally challenging for all of them,” said Houston franchise owner Jim Potesta when I queried him about the class's style a few days later. And he's right—the studio had weights that ranged anywhere from two to 50 pounds, and people had the option to power walk, jog, or sprint on the treadmills.

It’s no wonder that Orangetheory has become a national phenomenon. There are even studios in the UK, Colombia, and Australia. Within Houston alone, Potesta has plans to paint the town orange with over 20 locations in the next three to five years. For those looking to put their heart (rate) into their workout, Orangetheory currently has six studios in Houston. 

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