“Today is National Burpee Day!” exclaimed Nanci, my Orangetheory instructor for the next hour. “We’ve got a special workout in store!”

I smiled weakly. Oh no, what had I signed up for?

If you haven’t heard already, Orangetheory Fitness is coming to campus. Their University City studio is slated to open this December at 37th and Lancaster streets. Orangetheory Fitness is a 60–minute full–body circuit workout based on three components: interval training on the treadmill, indoor rowing, and weighted floor exercises. The combination of cardio and strength training is guaranteed to get your heart racing and sweat dripping down your back (trust me on this one).The fastest growing fitness studio in America with over 1,000 locations around the world, the cult of Orangetheory extends far and wide. This week I went to their Center City location to check out the hype. 

Friday morning. 7:20 a.m. I stepped into the Orangetheory Center City studio bleary–eyed and apprehensive.

As instructed repeatedly via email and phone call, I had dutifully arrived 30 minutes before the start of my first class. Tucked upstairs at the Shops at the Liberty Place, on 16th and Chestnut streets, the space is small, sleek, and color coordinated—everything is orange, of course.

As I filled out forms, detailing my age, height, weight, and fitness level, the 6:30 a.m. group walked out, drenched in sweat. The instructor Nanci, a tall pixie–cut blonde with tiny gauge earrings, walked out with them and shook my hand firmly. 

Photo: Emma Boey

“Welcome to Orangetheory. These stats get inputted to calculate your ideal heart rate and calories burned during the workout,” she said, strapping a heart rate monitor snugly around my left bicep. She beckoned me inside to show me the machines. Tangerine treadmills and glowing orange lighting made the studio feel like the inside of a chic tanning bed. 

Large TV screens display your name, the number of calories you burn, and your heart rate, which is color–coded based on level of intensity. Grey means light exertion, at 50–60 percent of your resting heart rate, and red is 90 percent of your maximum heart rate—blue, green, and orange dictate the percentages in–between. The heart rate monitors project your heart rate in real time onto the large screens, scoreboard–style. 

The goal is to spend 12–20 minutes at 84 percent or higher of your maximum heart rate in the “orange zone”  to maximize “excess post–exercise oxygen consumption,” or afterburn.  Hitting this afterburn sweet spot means your body torches more calories in the 24–36 hours following an intense workout. You earn points for every minute spent in the orange or red zones—a self–competitive incentive for you to really push yourself. Throughout the workout, I kept craning my neck to stare up at the screen, telling myself to stay orange, stay orange.

Half of the class started on the treadmills, the other half on the rowing machines.  At Nanci’s recommendation, I began with the rowing machine. We would be alternating rowing with rounds of burpees. “Trust me, just get the burpees out of the way,” she advised. She was right—the burpees were a killer. 

Photo: Emma Boey

By the end of the circuit, I had done at least 70 burpees and rowed over 1,500 meters. My arms were about to fall off. Luckily, it was finally time to switch to the treadmill.

To preface, I loathe the treadmill. Boring and uncomfortable at best, nothing appeals less than scampering in place like a hamster. But at Orangetheory, I loved it. Every minute, we alternated the speed and incline of our treadmill, tailored to our fitness level, to get the most out of walking, jogging, running, and sprinting. Notorious B.I.G. blasted over the speakers, and time flew by. Before I knew it, the class was over. Sweaty, breathless, and inexplicably giddy at 9 a.m., I felt ready to conquer the day. 

Would I go back? Definitely. As a self–described gym rat, Orangetheory definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone. Although there’s nothing particularly unique about the workouts—running, rowing, and weights—the class was harder and more interesting than something I would do on my own. The constantly changing pace and exercises kept the class engaging, and I really enjoyed being able to track my heart rate and measure my progress throughout the workout. 

It’s competitive, but you’re not competing with anyone except yourself. Everyone is running their own race, from super fit athletes to complete beginners. The instructors ensure to offer modifications to the exercises and walking or jogging is encouraged to obtain your optimal heart rate.

That being said, at $40 for a drop–in, Orangetheory isn’t cheap. At the Center City studio, they offer a student discount for $179 one month unlimited or $119 for eight classes per month. Prices for the University City Studio classes have yet to be released, but will mostly likely be comparable. Furthermore, classes are capped at 24 participants and fill up quickly, so you must to sign up in advance online. You also HAVE to show up 30 minutes early your first time. No exceptions. I tried to drop in a class Monday night—big mistake. 

Looking to give it a try? Your first class is free! For a limited time, you can get two free classes at the Center City studio.