Orangetheory Strength 50 Review: Can You Peel The Burn?

The scene before an Orangetheory Strength 50 class I reviewed.

This Orangetheory Strength 50 review is part of Class Action, FLEETSTREET’s workout review series. We get sweaty to give you the low-down on what the workouts are really like. 

The Gym – Orangetheory

My first time at Orangetheory was in 2018 when I was the digital editor at Best Health magazine. The fitness franchise came to Canada in 2012, however, the chain is American, originally founded by Ellen Latham in 2010 and has over 1 million members worldwide. While I had taken HIIT classes before, this was the first time I’d taken a video-led class that wasn’t at home. Instead of focussing on exercise form and instruction, it was more about timing and motivation cues for the instructors, as well as explaining the heart rate zones. Orangetheory opened its 100th studio in Canada in 2019.

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The Workouts 

Years ago, as a magazine fitness editor, I remember learning about the fat-burning zone strategy for workouts. Essentially there is a range for your heart rate when you will burn fat. Most heart-rate monitors will signal this to you when you get in the lower upper half of your heart rate range – that 70 to 80 per cent of your maximum heart rate (MHR). And, despite Orangetheory’s name, it doesn’t actually own the “orange” heart beat measurement, as you will see this data set on a variety of fitness equipment, from HRM to treadmills to climbers to ellipticals and so on. 

The “theory” is that this is when your body burns fat and not food or even muscle tissue to work out. But like coffee and wine, for every study you find that says it’s true, there’s another one that points flaws. Some research says the fat-burning zone can be as low as 50 per cent, and others point to it being as high as 85 per cent. And at Orangetheory, that orange zone is 84 per cent to 91 per cent of your maximum heart rate. But one thing is for certain, consistent exercise (including strength and cardio) will get you into shape. 

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How to calculate your heart rate for fat burn?

You take your age, minus it from 220. That is your maximum heart rate. To figure out 90 per cent, for example, you take your maximum heart rate number and multiply that by 0.90. 

Say you are 25 years old. 

220 – 25 = 195 (maximum heart rate)

195 x 0.90 = 176 (90% of MHR)

According to Orangetheory, when you exercise, knowing what your heart rate is and using that to target the orange zone for 12 to 20 minutes a class can help boost metabolism, burn fat and more calories, as well as improve cardio-metabolic, cardiorespiratory and mental health. It also allows you to track your progress. As you become more fit, your heart becomes more efficient and lowers your maximum heart rate over time. So, you might think you’re not working out as hard, but in actuality, you’re getting better at exercising. And you’re kinda lowering your body’s age, too, if you want to think about it that way. 

Orangetheory, though, offers heart rate monitors to its members and displays the data on screen in the gym, so you can see how you’re doing throughout the class. Download the Orangetheory app to get even deeper stats (calories, minutes, average and peak heart rates, distance and steps) to watch your progress. This means your goals and targets will evolve. 

If you know me, you will know that the one thing I love about fitness is how you’re not actually supposed to be good at it. You’re supposed to fail. If you are good or something feels easy, you’re doing it wrong. We are supposed to be a sweaty mess at the end of it. 

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The Class – Orangetheory Strength 50

Be straight with me: Are there certain types of cardio that you are intimidated by and others you don’t blink an eye at? 

I’ll sign up for a 60-minute spin class without hesitation. Rowing workout? No prob. But the idea of a treadmill class makes me nervous. Like heart-beating, questioning-my-life-choices nervous. Even with intervals or boot camp-style weight sets between, I feel incompetent to even stand on the treadmill. 

Can I do it? The logical side of my brain tells me I can. And so does the fact that I’ve taken Orangetheory, Barry’s Bootcamp and F45 classes before. I feel great after these workouts. But leading up to the class, it may as well be my wedding day or a final exam. (My friend and FLEETSTREET colleague Danielle calls this gymtimidation.)

So imagine my excitement when Orangetheory invited me to a 50-minute strengthening class instead of one that had me on a treadmill for 30 minutes. Poof – my anxiety melted away. 

Long story short: Strength 50 is a new class at Orangetheory, where the treadmills aren’t part of the workouts, and the strength conditioning time is doubled up. 

The class is geared toward all fitness levels, as you choose your own weights (or use body weight if you want). In the class I took, the sets and reps were very clearly set out. 

The trainers should be able to answer questions about proper form, intensity, weights, and so on. I did lean on my trainer for alternative exercises, as I have imbalances that affect me to be able to do certain moves.

The Strength 50 exercises were compound, functional movements, meaning they used multiple joints and muscle groups. That included alternating side plank reaches, goblet side lunges, squats to shoulder presses. Equipment I used: weights, bands, TRX, steppers, medicine balls, Bosu balls and more.

Now, back to the heart rate zones. Strength training is typically anaerobic, meaning it doesn’t put as much stress on the heart as cardio (which is called cardio for that very reason).

So, you might be wondering how and why Orangetheory would create such a class… Well, that’s because there is cardio, just not on a treadmill or row machine. Instead, it’s about dynamic movements that engage more than one muscle group, including body weight exercises like walkouts to standing.

All classes are led by a certified coach to help participants of all ages and fitness levels get a good workout. You will notice that the class is divided up into three sections: total body, lower body and upper body, all while tracking your heart rate. And the goal is to keep within the orange zone. Red is too intense, and grey is, well not dead. You’ll see why below.

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What are the Orangetheory heart rate zones

Here are the breakdowns of the Orangetheory heart rate zones.

Zone 1 – grey50% to 60% The exercise is doable, you can talk easily, and this is often seen with warm-ups, cool-downs and active recovery. 
Zone 2 – blue61% to 70%This happens with excercises you can do for a long time, like a light jog, power walking or an easy row. Again, you shouldn’t have difficulty talking.
Zone 3 – green71% to 83%According to Orangetheory, this is the “base pace,” meaning you could maintain this effort throughout your workout. You can talk, but it’s getting more difficult.
Zone 4 – orange84% to 91%If your workout efforts were a sandwich, this would be the protein. You’re working hard, sweating and could tire if you keep this up. You can talk, but to communicate, you’d likely rather give an encouraging nod to another member that the workout’s almost over. This is where your Orangetheory coach wants you to be for the majority of class. 
Zone 5 – red92% to 100%This is when you push yourself, like at the end of an interval or to get some distance on the tread or rowing machine. You could attempt to talk, but you’re too focussed to even try. Besides, you’re not here for long. 

When you go between orange and red zones, you accumulate Splat points. That’s what the Orangetheory logo is. According to Orangetheory if you get 12 of these, then you’re supposed to have a higher metabolism for 24 hours after your workout. 

Orangetheory recommends taking the Strength 50 class once to twice a week to see results and benefits. 

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We Tried It

Again, I was excited to try an Orangetheory class that didn’t have me on a treadmill for half the class. However, I should’ve known better. There was cardio in there, as the mix of moves and HIIT setup had my heart going as if I were running. But when I checked my workout performance stats, I was brought back to reality. 

Was it the orange lights? My heart pumping as I tried the beat the previous set? The energy of the room?

Either way, the workout was tough and fun. But was it harder than a cardio class? In my mind, it felt the same, as I did challenge myself. I chose heavier weights because I had access to a wider range than I do at home. And I pushed myself harder because I was in a roomful of fit people. I’m sure I burned more calories and had higher heart rate outputs than my at-home workouts.

But how did it compare to the regular Orangetheory class? The calorie burn was lower in the Strength 50 class, and while my orange minutes were similar (15 versus 16), I had half the amount of Splat points. 

But that’s typical, actually. Workout stats of strength conditioning tend to be lower, according to research, but strength training increases overall calorie burn (more muscle helps!). 

What about the fun factor?

Strength 50 was a good time. The nightclub-inspired lights, the music and the coaches’ coaxing are super motivating. And it was fun to learn new moves. I don’t love the video format for visual cues, so I did take advantage of the coaches when they walked around the room to check my form and offer alternative moves. And their specialized advice was worth it. So, if you take this class, lean on the coaches for more tips and form advice.

I would definitely take this class again.

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The Verdict

For Orangetheory fans, it’s a great way to break up their workout routine. Also, for them, it would be very cool to see how strength training affects cardio results. I’m sure it would, as endurance athletes use strength conditioning to improve performance. 

As for Orangetheory newbies, the gym says this class is for those wanting to lower body fat percentage and increase lean muscle mass, and/or want to improve athletic performance from running to swimming. 

I think it’s great for those who are creatures of habit, and would rather their workouts change and not where they work out. And it’s definitely good for those who love, love workout data. 

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Orangetheory, locations across Canada, no drop-ins, monthly memberships range from $119 (4 classes) to $219 (unlimited).