by Pat Staszak, PT


It’s no coincidence that I chose to focus on high-intensity interval training in my last blog post. For the last four months, I’ve been reaping the benefits of HIIT as part of my own workout routine. So this month, I’d like to give you a peek at the program I’ve been hooked on: Orangetheory Fitness.


OTF is a national exercise chain offering group personal training. It uses exercise physiology to design a workout that keeps your heart rate in a zone that will help you burn calories both during and after your session. The workout is the same in every gym across the country, and it changes daily. Each hour-long session is split between an interval cardiovascular workout (on the treadmill, bike, strider or rower) and a variety of strengthening, core and weightlifting exercises. Participants are equipped with a heart rate monitors, and there are multiple screens in the room that display everyone’s heart rate–allowing you to see how you’re doing at a glance.


Different colors on the screen represent different heart rate zones, which helps to keep you on track during each part of the cardiovascular training. For about 25 minutes, your trainer guides you through alternating high-intensity intervals and lower-intensity recovery intervals. During the high-intensity phases, you’ll be instructed to go all out, pushing your heart rate into the orange and red zones on the screen. During the recovery phase, you slow down and let your heart rate return to the green zone. Thankfully, the treadmill training is a relatively short workout–it is the hardest I have worked in a long time! 


The strength training portion of the workout is also just under 30 minutes and consists of a wide variety of exercises that help build strength, balance, agility and coordination. There are multi-planer, functional movements performed using TRX straps, dumbbells, balance balls, kettlebells, and a step, as well as your trusty old bodyweight exercises: squats, push-ups and the occasional jumping. This part of the hour is where you can really work on getting strong, so that you can move better all the time.  


I’ll admit that the workout can be intimidating, but the group environment lends a sense of solidarity to each workout. Everyone is working hard and struggling a bit.  And each class is filled with people of all ages and fitness levels. There are those who are in great shape and look really coordinated doing the exercises–and then there are the rest of us! 


Seriously, though: the good news is that each person does their own workout. Modifications can be made to all of the exercises if needed.  If the workout is tailored to each individual, this is a safe, effective way for just about anyone to improve their fitness level and transform their body.  And the wide variety of exercises helps to keep you from plateauing as you move towards your goals.


As an over-fifty former athlete who is nursing a chronic shoulder injury and who had a partial knee replacement a year ago, I needed to start slowly and make some changes to the suggested workout.  To protect my arthritic knees, I walk on the treadmill instead of run, or ride the bike to give my knees and hips a break. I also have had to make concessions in the weight room in order to protect my knees and shoulder, which means that I usually lift less weight, use lower steps and do my push-ups from knees. But don’t worry–even if you have to rely on modifications to the standard workout, you can still see measurable improvements to your fitness. Since joining OTF four months ago, I have made consistent gains in speed, I have lost a little weight and, most importantly, I feel stronger than ever. 


So if you are interested in getting stronger and improving your overall fitness, give OTF a try.  Remember: whatever your workout goals are, you will need to be able to keep it up over the long haul to see results, so it pays to establish good habits from the beginning to prevent injuries that could slow you down later on.  If you are a beginner or have an injury, start out slow. It may take a few months, but as your muscles and the tissues around your joints get stronger, you should be ready to try more challenging versions of the exercises. And over time, you’ll notice big changes in your strength and endurance, both during the workout and beyond.


Be sure to check back in next month, when we’ll be sharing our top tips for starting any new exercise program. Thanks for reading, and have a great month!