A little over a year ago, I decided to increase my physical activity in a real effort to change my body and my life. I started to take four-mile power walks, but didn’t see the immediate results that I thought I would. In my mind, I was doing everything right. I bought new sneakers, got off the couch and started moving. I thought something was better than nothing, right? Wrong! It turns out that although my intentions were good, I wasn’t moving my body in the right ways.
Noticing my frustrations, my younger, more active sister invited me to her new gym to take a class. It was more of a challenge than an invitation. In true little sister fashion, her mode of encouragement was telling me there was no way I could keep up with the fast-paced workout. I can’t say that I was super motivated, but sibling rivalry has a way of making you do things you wouldn’t otherwise want to. So, I laced up my sneakers and followed my sister to this weird-sounding gym called OrangeTheory Fitness. A year later, I’m almost 40 pounds lighter and my life has never been the same.
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My Introduction to HIIT
As I stepped into OrangeTheory in Boynton Beach, FL, for the first time, I noticed it wasn’t your typical gym. It’s more like a big room with different stations: a section with treadmills, another with rowers and a separate strength-training area with free weights, ab dollies and bosu balls. The concept seemed simple enough—run, row and lift—but the class itself was a whirlwind of movement. I was strapped to a heart rate monitor and followed along as the high-energy trainer guided the class from station to station. My vital statistics (heart rate, calorie burn, max heart rate) were displayed on a big screen TV for me, and all, to see. As we moved from the work on the treadmill (at the time, I could only power walk), to the sprint row, to the strength-training exercises, I could monitor in real time just how much effort I was exerting. This wasn’t the leisurely stroll around the lake that I was used to. I had to move, and I had to move quickly.
As my heart rate increased, the information on the screen changed colors to match each zone representing a different level of intensity: white, blue, green, orange and red. OrangeTheory uses High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), or short and intense bouts of exercise, to trigger your body into burning fat even after you’ve left the gym. At the end of every class, a chart shows you how many calories you’ve burned and how long you were in each zone. When you hit those intense orange and red zones for 12–25 minutes of your workout, you activate a response in your body that allows you to continue to burn more calories after your workout. This was crazy, I thought…I can burn calories even when I’m not working out? The bonus calories, quick movements and bursts of intensity made my workouts fun and ever-changing; I was hooked!
The Afterburn Effect
During the short periods of hard work in a HIIT workout, your body can’t deliver enough oxygen to your muscles. Your muscles accumulate a deficit of oxygen, and in order to get back to normal, your body offsets this deficit with an increased rate of oxygen to restore and rebuild damaged muscle protein following your workout. This results in a revved up metabolism for 16–24 hours after you leave the gym—the phenomenon is referred to as Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen consumption, or EPOC.
I can’t say I totally understand the science behind it, but I don’t care because it really works for me. In a few short weeks, I went from a power walker to a jogger, and eventually became a runner. Prior to this, the only place I ran to was the makeup counter. Now, I can’t stop running. I started taking four classes a week, and although my muscles weren’t built in one day; a leaner, stronger and more athletic version of myself emerged. Eventually, the same effort and intensity that I was putting into my workouts started seeping into other aspects of my life. I made better choices with my food, sought out challenging physical activities outside of the gym (like paddle boarding and indoor rock climbing), and surrounded myself with people who had the same habits and goals.
18 Races and Almost 40 Pounds Later
A month after I started OrangeTheory, I completed my first 5k race. Now, a year later, I’ve run 18 races (14 5ks and four obstacle course races), completed a dri-tri challenge in under an hour (a 2000 meter row, 300 reps of body weight exercises and a 5k treadmill run) and logged more miles than I can count. I’ve lost almost 40 pounds and have succesfully kept it off. I’m nowhere near done with my body transformation and I still have more weight to lose to reach my goal, but I’m very proud of the things I’ve been able to accomplish. Regardless of the physical changes I’ve made (the clothes I buy now are a lot cuter), I’m really proud of the fact that I can not only keep up with my little sister, but I can outrun, outrow and outlift the girl I was a year ago.