Can Orangetheory Help Trail Runners and Hikers? 

A woman lifts weights at an Orangetheory fitness class

Sweat drips down my forehead and into my eyes. I blink away the salt, refocusing on the number—and colour—on the screen in front of me.

The orange flips to green, and I push myself a bit harder, forcing the incline up to nine per cent. The heart rate monitor secured around my bicep measures my pounding heart as it revs up. Keeping my breathing steady, I watch as the number climbs past 151, turning the screen orange again and earning me another splat point. 

I’m testing out Orangetheory, a unique group fitness class I’ve been attending for the past month to see how it can help outdoor adventurers achieve their goals. Prior to my trial membership, I’d peeked into studios, peering through glass windows at sweaty people on rowers, treadmills and lifting free weights aglow in a tangerine-tinted lights, but I didn’t know what to expect before my first class. 

Orangetheory fitness class

I’ve always enjoyed group fitness classes. I like shutting off my brain and having an instructor tell me what to do to hit my goals and improve my fitness.

At my first class, I was introduced to the five heart rate zones, with a focus on my personalized ‘orange zone’: 84 to 91 per cent of my max heartrate, expertly determined by an algorithm after taking five classes. The personalized heartrate algorithm is always updating and collecting data from every class you complete to change as you do. My ‘orange zone’ is 152 to 166 beats per minute. This feels like a moderate-to-high intensity, where sweat sometimes blurs my vision and I hear my heart pounding, but I never feel dizzy or too out of breath. 

Orangetheory encourages members to spend at least 12 to 20 minutes in this zone per class. You earn a ‘splat point’ for every minute you spend in that zone. It’s easy to see which zone you’re in at any moment with screens on the treadmills and a real-time chart on the mounted in-studio TV. 

A woman at an Orangetheory fitness class

I spoke with Brittany Leboeuf, a research scientist for Orangetheory, to dig into the science behind the carrot-coloured group fitness classes. “[It’s] based on the science of interval training and wanting to take our members above and beyond the anaerobic threshold. By achieving a heartrate that’s into that orange zone, some of the benefits they will achieve include improved aerobic capacity, basic circulatory function and burning of excess calories, as well as a positive influence on their mental health.”  

Sometimes, I felt like my Orangetheory heartrate monitor wasn’t reflecting the effort I was exerting. Leboeuf explained, “sometimes there can be a delay in the heartrate monitor reading. The way that your muscles are working when you’re doing strength training, which is very haphazard and not always rhythmic, is different than something like walking or running, where it’s very cadence-based and easy to pick up patterns. With certain movements, you may notice there’s a little bit of a mismatch of what you see on the screen and how you’re feeling, but it typically corrects itself pretty fast.” 

A man rows at an A woman at an Orangetheory fitness class

Leboeuf explained that achieving between 12 and 20 splat points allows members to ensure they can properly recover from each workout, while gaining the most benefits from their time in the gym. “The workouts are really specifically programed to elicit that response,” she said.  

The workout templates are designed to be the same every day, no matter which Orangetheory you walk into across the country. There are different, unique formats for each class, strung together by the concepts of endurance, strength and power. Treadmills, rowers and a weight floor with free weights offers a well-rounded workout—and much more cardio than I’m used to. 

A woman at an Orangetheory fitness class

Orangetheory has a full template design team of certified trainers and exercise physiologists who put each workout through a vigorous process of quality control. “It’s really efficient, effective, exciting, fun, all-encompassing and translational. We want to help people live longer and better. [There are] things in your everyday life that you want to feel strongly equipped for, like playing with your kids or grandkids, going on a walk with your dog, carrying your groceries inside, walking up a flight of stairs or just feeling good when you wake up in the morning and not feeling like you’re moving slow. All these real-life moments are significantly harder if you have lower fitness levels. While we love performance-based [metrics], we also recognize that these other aspects are important.” 

At an Orangetheory fitness class

What I really wanted to know was—why the colour orange?

“Our creator really wanted a colour that was vibrant and represented energy.” Orangetheory’s mission is bringing members more life. “You’ll see our signature orange colours everywhere, including under the orange lights in the studio, to make it really unique and specific… it’s a vibe. It creates a shift in energy.” 

After attending every type of class currently on offer, I was surprised by how diverse, effective and enjoyable this workout is. I never expected I could spend 30 minutes of a workout class on a treadmill and not be bored to tears. The loud, pump-up music, quick switches in speed or incline, and enthusiasm of the coaches always helped. 

A woman rows at an Orangetheory fitness class

Here’s a basic breakdown of the classes I tried: 

  • 60-minute 2G: two groups that spend half of the time on the treadmill and half on the rower/weight floor 
  • 60-minute 3G: three groups that spend 1/3 of the time on the treadmill, 1/3 on the rower and 1/3 on the weight floor 
  • Tread 50: the entire class on the treadmill 
  • Strength 50: the entire class on the weight floor 

Over 15 classes, here are some of the statistics I achieved: 

  • 38.5 kilometres (treadmill distance) 
  • 1,312 metres (treadmill elevation) 
  • 54,900 steps 
  • 6,832 calories burned 
  • 273 splat points earned 

During the treadmill portions, I typically chose to power walk rather than run. Increasing the grade of the incline helped me train for summer hikes with significant elevation gain. “More than that, [the classes are] going to train other aspects of fitness that may not be in the forefront of your mind when you’re training for something like a trail race,” Leboeuf says. For example, “strength training can help prevent injury and help your form when you’re trail running or hiking. The treadmill and rower can help improve your aerobic capacity. It’s not the same as hiking or trail running, but it’s still very important to improve your fitness overall whether training for a race or doing it recreationally.” 

A woman at an Orangetheory fitness class

If you’re outside adventuring most of the week, consider a Basic membership (four classes per month) to supplement your fitness routine on rainy days and prepare for your next outdoor adventure. Also check out the challenges—prizes and bragging rights provide extra motivation. 

Leboeuf says that Orangetheory can be a great addition to your outdoor adventures to make sure you’re staying fit, strong, avoiding injury and taking care of your body on those days you’re not outside—to allow you to get out there and live a better, longer, more active, outdoorsy life. 

Talk to your doctor before starting any workout program. 



One thought on “Can Orangetheory Help Trail Runners and Hikers? 

  1. I ADORE Orangetheory. I’m in my mid-sixties and love that the workouts change up every day, so boredom doesn’t set in. Also, like you, I power-walk. For me, that’s because I have a very old ankle injury which means my bones have fused and I have been instructed by my doctors not to run. On that note, because of my ankle, I am not supposed to jump, either, and what I love about OTF is that I always get modifications from my coach when I can’t do something involving jumping. It’s a really great workout. My studio in Greenbrae, California, hosts a wonderfully diverse group of people, everywhere from beautiful, young, athletic 20-year-olds to a lovely couple in their 80s, to everyone in between, all shapes and sizes. I also hike a lot with my border collies and I am sure that OTF helps keep me moving up those hills!