My Experience Taking An Orange Theory Class - Tucson Personal Training Group Fitness Blog

Personal Training in Tucson - The Protocol Strength & Conditioning, Llc

By: Jerry Trubman, Owner and Founder

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know that, every once in a while, I like to put up my periscope to see what’s happening in other parts of the fitness world. Most of the time I feel like Officer Barbrady on South Park, “Nothing to see here. Move along.”

However, it doesn’t stop me from occasionally doing it. Why? Well, for starters there is usually something this person/place is doing that is attracting a lot of attention. As a life-long student of fitness, understanding what is fueling that interest is good for me. It’s also good as a business owner. If I don’t do a good job fulfilling the wants/needs people are looking for, I’ll get replaced by someone who will.

Before all my friends think I’ve gone off the deep end by taking an OT class, let me remind you of other things I’ve tried in the past:

Body Pump

Zumba

CrossFit (for 30 days)

Pilates

Spin

Running group

… and this is just what I can recall off the top of my head.

I’ve always felt that if this system I call ‘The Protocol’ is as good as I say it is, I should be able to walk into another training modality and be able to hold my own. If I can’t, that’s a problem.  

So back to OT. The reason I wanted to check it out is that it has become fiercely popular in my area, and their small group training model (at least on the surface) looked similar to our own. It’s wise to go into these systems with an empty cup. In other words, if we walk in wearing all of our pre-determined opinions on our sleeve, we won’t get much out of it. I wanted to find out what they do well, what they do not-so-well, and, frankly, see what the fuss was about.

When I walked in, the staff was friendly. I filled out the typical paperwork you’d expect at any gym and was given a heart-rate monitor to put around my chest. Much of their training system, as I would learn later, revolved around being in different ‘zones’.

The training area featured a long row of treadmills, an equally long row of rowing machines, and a third row of stations designed for some type of weight training (adjustable bench, weight set, etc.). The training area also featured dim orange lighting and cranked up music. The vibe almost seemed to be a cross between a busy gym and a night club.

Large television monitors were scattered throughout the facility displaying everyone’s data. This is where we could see what ‘zone’ we were in. There is the gray zone, which is 50-60% of your max heart rate (pretty comfortable). Next is the blue zone, which is 61-70% (warmup). Next is the green zone, which is 71-83% (working out, but doable). The last two zones are orange and red. Orange is 84-91% (now we’re getting a little uncomfortable), and red is 92-100% (meant for short all-out blasts).

The idea is to spend between 12-20 minutes of your workout in the orange. This produces what they call EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), or the ‘afterburn’ where apparently you continue burning calories after your workout is over. The red zone is intended for short bursts between 30 seconds and one minute.

The first 30 minutes of my class was spent on a treadmill doing various speed/incline intervals. I had been focused on rowing for the past few months so I haven’t been running outside like I normally do. I also haven’t been on a treadmill in probably ten years, so let’s just say I was a bit inefficient at this. My heart rate quickly went into “orange” zone, and within 3-4 minutes went into the “red” zone, and pretty much stayed there for most of the run. I should mention that I have a genetically high resting heart rate for someone who is very active, about 70bpm, and no matter how ‘in-shape’ I am, it has never changed.

After the run, there was a workout which involved moving between a rowing machine and several weight lifting stations. The weights were much lighter than I was used to, and I found myself quickly going to another station in the back corner to get bigger dumbbells in order to challenge myself. The dumbbells at my station went up to 25lbs, but at the other rack I could grab as much as 70lbs.

The workout of that particular day was “strength focused”, so for them it meant sets of ‘only’ ten reps, but still virtually no rest between various types of random exercises.

The instructor was on a headset microphone so he could talk over the music, and actually did a very good job managing all these stations. It had to be tough keeping all these people doing different things straight in his head, but he handled it well. Of course, in a group that big, coaching an individual was next to impossible. Only if something was going terribly wrong did he intervene, which also was a good thing.

Long story short, my ‘splat score’ was 43. Meaning I spent 43 of the 60 minutes of the workout either in the orange or red zones. And more than 20 minutes of that was in the red. I figured this was either really good… or really bad.

I got a chance to speak to the instructor a little bit afterwards. He admitted to me that when he saw my heart rate go up so fast, he thought I would die out quickly. He was impressed that I managed to go through the workout as well as I did. He also asked how I felt. I told him honestly, “I could do this entire class again right now.” I don’t think he believed me.

I must admit, it did feel pretty good to get some cardio in. I’ve always felt that typical gym-goers are not in as ‘in-shape’ as they think they are. This is evidenced in our facility by when a gym bro accidently finds us, and gets introduced to their first kettlebell swing. Five minutes later he’s sucking wind in the corner after 3 sets with a weight that one of my 60-year-old women would call ‘a good warm-up’.

On the flip side of this equation, training one’s heart-rate is, by far, one of silliest possible ways to train. Even the medical community has wised up to this, so frankly I’m surprised that OT is able to get away with their marketing campaign of, “Taking science, fitness to a new level.” There is nothing new here. Just a clever re-packaging of the same crap that started during the aerobics, jogging craze, and ‘fat is the enemy’ high-sugar diet revolution that has made Americans so fat to begin with.

As far as the ‘afterburn’ goes: Due to the depletion of muscle/liver glycogen, these types of workouts have a tendency to make people hungrier afterwards (especially for carbohydrates). This leaves us with one of two options: We can either give in to the cravings and consume a caloric surplus, negating any of the fat loss effects from the workout, or we can white-knuckle ourselves to keeping calories the same and experience some results.

White-knuckling, by the way, is the hardest way to lose weight… just ask any yo-yo dieter how that has worked for them.

It’s been said a million times, but I’ll say it again here... you cannot exercise intensely enough to compensate for poor eating habits (even with EPOC). If you read that last sentence and are thinking, “Oh yea? What about that Olympic swimmer guy who ate 10,000+ calories of junk food and was still ripped?”

I wasn’t talking about him. He ate 10,000+ calories and then swam 400 laps at an Olympian’s pace. I’m not talking about the proverbial ‘you’, I’m talking about YOU, fatty! YOU can’t train hard enough to compensate for crappy eating. You would die before even making a caloric dent.

I felt this first-hand in my OT workout. I was ravenous for the rest of the day. But, of course, my incredible eating discipline allowed me to keep my calories absolutely the same that day… wink, wink.

As far as the training itself goes, it fell into the category of what Mark Reifkind refers to as, “Random acts of exercise.” No real rhyme or reason, just exercise for exercise sake. As far as coaching value is concerned, the classes can run up to 30 people. If I was paying over $100 per month for training, I would want a little more personal attention than that.

So, what makes it so popular? I have a few guesses. First, there is the aspect of community. Community amplifies results, and surrounding yourself with people who have similar goals and aspirations is very motivating. Second is that the environment is fun. It’s like a night club in there. It’s different from the crappy office environment that most people sit in all day. For one hour, you get to unplug and have a good time.

I think the best way to summarize my experience would be to create a distinction between exercise and training. This was put very well by Mark Rippetoe:

“There is a huge difference between exercise and training. Exercise is physical activity for its own sake, a workout done for the effect it produces today, during the workout, or right after you’re through. For some, exercise is perfectly adequate. It’s certainly better than sitting on you’re a** channel-surfing.”

I’ve always believed that the health journey is similar to the spiritual journey: We are all on the same path, we’re just in different places. As soon as one decides to start 'training', these run-around jump-around programs start looking very silly.

The goal of training is to develop proficiency in something; to make to make documented, incremental improvements until a high level of competency is attained. As Lewis Carrol said in Alice In Wonderland, "If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there." 

Modern life has put us pretty far behind the curve when it comes to physical readiness, so it makes sense that these types of modalities are so popular.

As I’ve told many people who have called to inquire about our services and don't like our skill-oriented approach, “Come talk to me when you’re serious.” 

Until next time,

Jerry Trubman is a coach, clinician, author, blogger, and powerlifting state champion. With over two decades of lifting experience, he has devoted himself to seeking out better answers, and distilling them into practical programs that produce great results. Jerry has coached "Team Protocol" to 4 National Powerlifting Championships in the 100% Raw federation. He writes the internationally-read blog, “The Healthy Addiction” and lives in Tucson, Arizona with his wife Marie and dog Sadie. To subscribe to his blog, click here.



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