What I Learned from Orange Theory: A Lesson on Motivation

I began taking Orange Theory workout classes at the beginning of 2018. My goal was to get in a bit of shape. Little did I know how much they would transform my view of motivation and learning.

The First Class

I’ll be honest. My first Orange Theory class was pretty rough. I got a stitch in my side about 30 seconds into running on the treadmill. (The treadmill block usually lasts 25 minutes.) Then I didn’t know the proper rowing technique. Then I had to receive a lot of adjustments during the weight training block. Thankfully, the class motivator was super encouraging and didn’t make me feel bad about being slow as a tortoise.

The Theory

Orange Theory’s claim to fame is their heart rate monitor system. People wear the monitor around their stomach or wrist. This monitor provides data including heart rate, calories burned, and number of splat points. It’s encouraged that people earn at least 12 splat points per class. The more splat points, the greater number of calories burned for a longer time. All of this information is displayed next to your name in a block on a tv screen. Your block changes color depending on how hard your heart is working. The more times your block turns orange, the more splat points you earn. The red block signals people to slow down.

The whole class, I worked my buns off. Yet, I couldn’t make it to the orange zone. I would watch my block turn from grey to blue and then green. Then it would just stop. And I didn’t earn a single splat point. I felt a bit discouraged after that first class. I had never sweat that much during a workout in my life! The next class, I reasoned, would be better.

10 more classes, and I still couldn’t make it to the orange zone or earn a single splat point. I nearly vomited one class when a new motivator realized I was the only one without any splat points and pushed me too hard. After that class, I decided not to wear my monitor anymore. I haven’t worn it since.

A few months later, the company announced they were changing their formula so the monitors would display more realistic data. OT realized some of the numbers were making people like myself work too hard. They probably also realized it was super discouraging.

What Now?

To this day, I really enjoy the classes. I love challenging myself and having an encouraging coach there to help with my form. I don’t think about my calories or splat points, but I can see how this could be encouraging for others. Even though there’s a new monitor formula, I still feel burned by the whole experience. It took a long time to believe that I was capable of doing a killer workout, despite the contrary (misleading) data.

This was a huge lesson for me. The inability to earn splat points left me discouraged about my abilities. And then it struck me that many learners probably feel this way, especially when they are novices. As an instructional designer, we have a lot of power. We design the learning experiences for students, and sometimes we include systems that may be more demotivating than motivating. What can we do? Here is my brainstorming on the topic…

  1. Get feedback early and often, especially from students. Are they motivated by the way content is presented? Is there a system in place that rewards students for certain things? Do they like it?
  2. Recognize that not everyone is motivated by the same things. Consider encouraging students in multiple different ways such as direct feedback, personal messages, etc. Find out early on how learners are motivated and then tailor curriculum when appropriate.
  3. Have students provide feedback during the experience. Do they experience certain pain points that decrease motivation? Why?


Orange Theory image from Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Orange_Theory_new_student_and_studio.jpg

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