Orange is better than black. How Orangetheory shifted my mental being.

Orange is better than black. How Orangetheory shifted my mental being.


Power, patience, patience the coach would bellow across the speaker. One more push, you’ve got this. You came to work, let this be the best hour of your day.

And for the past 6 months, it was true. Orangetheory became the best part of my working day. And what it did for me, mentally was remarkable. This is just part of the story.

All I want for xmas is to feel content

On Xmas Day last year I was sitting down in front of the fire, with a glass of wine, 3000 miles from the place I call home (Melbourne), a cold Boston winter, messaging and calling loved one’s back in Australia, and by early evening I was overcome by sadness.

What should have been a special day —experiencing my first white xmas, seeing the smile on my two beautiful girls faces and yet I just couldn’t get out of a dark mood.

It had been a hard year. Work was more challenging than ever, I was feeling lonely, missing family and friends at home, drinking more than I should, eating badly and resultantly I was somewhat overweight (by my standards).

Worse of all, I felt I was not doing enough as a Dad, being happy around the kids, playing with them, paying them attention.

I’ve always been a bit up and down. Was once diagnosed with depression (something I take seriously with family history…), but I’m generally stable, positive, balanced for the most part. I’m prone to mood swings, where I can be super happy and creative, and days when I’d be flat. But that’s par for the course I figured.

I have close family members, that have had, and still have severe mental health issues. Resultantly in my 20s I spent a lot of time trying to understand mental health, my own brain, what triggers moods, and how to find peace with myself.

On Xmas day though things triggered. It was a build up of emotions I hadn’t properly dealt with.

The ultimate trigger was Instagram. You might know that thing where people post their favourite photos and memories from the year? I tried to, but when I reflected on the year I didn’t see all these happy times.

After feeling sorry for myself for an hour, I said fck it. This was the year I was turning 40, and given how sad I was on xmas day, I was already freaking myself out thinking how sad I will be if I am in similiar mental state by the time my birthday rolls around, March 27.

That’s enough, I said to myself. I will do 3 things;

  1. I will get fit. No more stop starts. No more excuses.
  2. I will make some memories. Travel, ski, dance, sing, swim. Not for instagram…just to be, happy, moving, seeing, experiencing.
  3. I will learn to deal with stress, feel content, and accept situations for what they are.

Focus on mental and physical health

I figured if I start with getting fit, mentally and physically. If I pull this off, I’m a shot at (2) and (3).

So I needed to try something new. Running on my own was pointless. I need people, external stimulus, variety. I’ve been a stop, start, runner for years. Quick to give up when things got hard, boring, or uninteresting.

So I thought I’d give Orangetheory a go, really not knowing if I’d like it. (I actually thought it might be only for women, and I’d get bored).

“What do you want to get out of Orangetheory?” says Megan the customer service lead at the local studio.

“Get fit I said. Lose a few kgs, get stronger, but really I just want to feel better.” I responded.

“Well, she said. That 3rd option is what it’s all about.”

And so I started.

What is Orangetheory?

For those that don’t know OTF, its high intensity interval training, but it’s set to your own pace and your own heart rate. You run, ride, row, and do all sorts of body weight exercises as a group. And by group, I mean the entire planet does the same class. But each day they change it up. Tick — to variety! Expect the unexpected.

Good music, great coaches encouraging you all the way (Hi Christina, Dani, Josh, and Hope at Woburn!) and a class full of regulars that make you laugh and work harder, without it being in anyway competitive.

The competition comes from yourself. The goal, get your heart rate in the orange zone, which is 91% of your max heart rate, for pushes, sprinkle in some red zone for all-outs, and pace yourself in the green recovery zone. Ideally they say 12 splat points, which is mins in orange or red is ideal, unless you’re like me, and strive to destroy myself in each class.

Does it really work?

I went 4–5 times a week, sometimes 6 sessions, for 4 months. You don’t have to do this to get results trust me, I can just get a little obsessed by things. And my goal was to be in better shape at 40 than I was at 23 when I was playing competitive hockey, and training every other day.

And it worked;

  • I lost weight — 10kgs. I didn’t change my diet much, and I still drink my gin and tonics. So it could have been more I guess.
  • I improved my 5km time by about 5 mins. My best 5kms in the past 10 years was 28mins, and I now run 23mins (and then look around for more weights to do!)
  • For those that do OTF my base on the tred went from 5.5 to 8, push from 7 to 9.5, and all-out from 9 to 10.5 (with incline as I get nervous about sprints and my dodgy calves).
  • I got stronger — hard to judge this one, but I guess lifting heavier is easier.
  • My hair didn’t revert from grey like my 23 year old self 🙂

But something more important than all of this happened. I got happier.

You are messing with my mind

They say it takes 90 days to form a routine. Either way after 30 days, I had my routine locked in. I felt great. I had more energy, I was better able to cope with stress, I was happier, more positive. The days I didn’t go to OTF I felt off. If I woke up feeling cloudy in the head, or sad, I’d force myself to OTF and by the time the class was over, I was normal again. In fact better than normal. The feeling post workout, is hard to explain, but it’s so satisfying.

It was the most intense 3 months of work I had experienced. The company I work for was pre-IPO. As head of corporate marketing, things got busy fast, with a lot of pressure. I was frantically working on the S1, investor pitch deck, the investor video (which is unbelievably a 30 minute long company and product overview), a refresh of the website, onboarding a new agency, hiring new employees, and trying to help them be successful, and basically trying to help get a private company ready for public.

But this lead to the second revolution of Orangetheory.

I’m a better, more empathetic leader

OTF taught me more than just my own health and wellness. You learn how to push, how long an all-out is, and why it’s important to recover.

I try, where possible to follow the same principles. When our creative team is in a mad sprint, working extreme hours from early to late, I tell them to stop, recover, take time out. It’s subtle and simple, and I have more to do on the work front, but knowing a team is burning out, reminds me of pushing too hard on the tred, and getting injured.

The other side effect is the positivity that comes from the coaches that seem to bounce in, no matter what is going on in their world, to motivate, push, and challenge us to work as best we can.

Amazing how positive leadership can help you go that extra mile, up your pace just slightly, or push one more set. Something I try to follow with my team.

Making memories

Oh what about those memories? I’m still working on it but pretty sure this xmas won’t be as negative as the last.

  • Skiing most weekends in New Hampshire trying to keep up with my 6 and 8 year olds.
  • New York city birthday weekend. And being probably the most fit I’ve been at 40!
  • Universal Studios and hours of swimming in Florida.
  • IPO celebrations with work in NY.
  • Barbados swimming with turtles, snorkeling, playing catch in the pool (by the bar). Oh and still doing my out of studio workouts every other day in the heat!
  • Playing soccer and hockey with the girls every weekend when it’s not minus 20.

Not a bad 6 months. Not bad at all. It’s fair to say that without the routine of going to Orangetheory, I may not have been able to have coped with the work stress. 9 months on, and I’m still loving it.