Spa Junkie at… Orange Theory Fitness, London

Our reporter’s competitive spirit is ignited during a new fitness class

Orange Theory is yet another exercise class fresh to UK shores that serves up a cocktail of cardiovascular and strength training – the body-sculpting method du jour adopted by the likes of Barry’s Bootcamp. Its focus is excess post-exercise oxygen-consumption (EPOC) – a bit of a mouthful, granted – and is based on the idea that the body’s after-exercise need for oxygen means it continues to burn calories at a higher rate when the workout has ended. To maximise the “Orange Effect”, the classes mostly involve interval training, which is heart-rate-monitored and designed to maintain a target zone that stimulates metabolism and boosts energy.

The five-zone interval training sessions, called the Orange 60, involve wearing a heart-rate monitor (made by the brand Polar) – the results of which are projected onto a screen along with everyone else’s in the class (guaranteed to ignite the most competitive of spirits). The website says that the 60-minute workout includes multiple intervals that are designed to produce 12-20 minutes of training at 84 per cent (or higher) of the maximum heart rate. It claims that this encourages the after-burn effect, a 200-400 calorie-burn increase in the 24-36 hours after a workout.

I journey to Islington’s Upper Street, a road now festooned with bijou bars, and sense a danger that Orange Theory might become excess post-exercise alcohol consumption. The studio is a two-minute walk from Highbury & Islington station, sandwiched between a bookies and a KFC, a far cry from my usual super-club KX, which is perfectly located between two restaurant havens – Daphne’s and Bibendum.  

The studio is so new that it still smells of fresh paint. I fill out an obligatory health questionnaire and am handed a heart-rate monitor to fix under my sports bra.

The class of 11, mostly women, gather in the waiting area. I soon discover that the newly opened studio was formerly Sequinpark, a much-treasured women-only gym that has now been taken over by fitness chain David Lloyd.

We pile into a studio, which has a capacity of 24. Ibiza Clubland 5 is on the stereo. Four of us start on rowing machines that have a flywheel designed to emulate the dynamics of a boat moving through water, while the remaining seven jump on the Matrix cardio machines with heart-monitor-assisted technology. Two trainers help each group.

After a brisk minute-or-so 200m rowing warm-up, we move to the strength training area, collect a medicine ball (I choose a 3kg one) and do 20 squats while pushing the ball out at chest level and above our heads. Next up, 20 Russian twist abs exercises. I lift my feet up while doing them, and the trainer gets the rest of the class to follow suit. Then it’s time for 20 crunches, still holding the medicine balls. We repeat the set twice.

We each collect a pair of weights (I opt for 4kg) and do 20 lateral raises, followed by 20 forward raises, before dropping down to perform some plank push-ups. We place one hand on the floor while the other raises the weight up in a bicep-curling motion for 10 reps before switching sides. We complete the circuit with 20 jumping jacks.

Next we take to the TRX suspension machines to perform 20 triceps dips. The trainers have to adjust me slightly here; it’s hard to check on my posture without mirrors. This is the hardest workout of the lot – after 20 reps my triceps are quivering and I can feel the burn. The 20 chest presses that follow, however, are a little easier.

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Then it’s back to the rower for a 250m sprint. I’m halfway through my second set of exercises when I’m asked to switch over to cardio – timing is an issue, and many of the newbies like me haven’t finished the routines.

On the running machines, I pump my speed up to 9km and set my incline to 1.0. I see my name and zone up on the screen now – it didn’t make an appearance during the first half of the class, which makes me think there was some sort of technical hitch.

As we work through intervals, from a 9km run to a 12km sprint and back to 5km rest, I work up a sweat but am nowhere near exhaustion point. I wonder if I’m doing something wrong. The display screen says I have already burnt 360 calories in cardio alone after 20 minutes.

At the end of the session we stretch out and the trainers talk us through our results on screen. My Polar heart-rate monitor says I have burnt only 370 in the whole session (the highest is 700), but as I worked off 360 on cardio alone this doesn’t seem to make sense. I don’t think the monitor was picking up my activity for the first half of the class.

I depart feeling disappointed – I was nowhere near the top of the leader board and if the monitor is to be believed, the class only just covers half the calories I consumed at lunch. But I hope the knock-on effect of this EPOC goes some way towards helping me burn off the dinner-party canapé consumption (DPCC) tonight.

The bottom line:

With bulk packages of 20 classes costing £250, compared to 20 classes at Barry’s Bootcamp for £320, Orange Theory is certainly cheaper, but it feels like the difference between flying BA or Easy Jet – both get you there, but in markedly different ways.

I felt that the strength exercises were quite basic, save for the TRX, which is a great mode of gravitational training. I was also disappointed that my belt didn’t seem to monitor me accurately (make sure that it beeps and flashes as soon as you put it on, otherwise you might not show up on the screen).

The future may be bright, but for me, it’s not Orange.

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Spa Junkie pays for all her own travel, therapies and accommodation; this class was a free trial.

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