What is Orange Theory Fitness and why should you care?

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What is orange theory fitness and why should you care?

I’ll let them explain what it is. The rest will be about whether or not you should care.

Full disclosure, I have not attended a class and don’t really plan on it. It’s not because I’m stubborn, or think it’s a bad workout – I really just don’t have the time. I also feel full license to comment on “that which I have not experienced” because the marketing materials, people’s feedback and the general organization of it is pretty self-evident. I know what HIIT training is and how it works – I don’t need to experience this particular brand to experience what a quickly beating heart-rate does to my metabolism.

More to the point, if fitness regimens in general get results of any kind (Insanity, p90x, Tae Bo…whatever) I am all for getting off the coach and moving. In theory, I support what Orange Theory Fitness (OTF) has to offer.  I’m not here to hate on OTF for the sake of hating alone, you’ll see.

So, I was scanning their content as I happened across one of their ads and got curious.  They do, after all, have a location close to our box.  What I came across first rustled my jimmies a bit, because of the “we’re not CrossFit” trope that seems to closely accompany a lot of their materials.

So, I got to digging and what I found wasn’t the least bit alarming. I was legitimately concerned that, because there was a need to proclaim they were not CrossFit, that it was INDEED a close enough analogue to carve out market share. I don’t think the claim needs to be made any further – this is definitely not CrossFit.

I happened upon yelp, and what I found was both alarming and amusing:

“… His class was exciting, electric and entertaining.  He danced, he sang and he instructed his students to ensure we got the best work out we could.”

Rest assured, this reviewer would have a poor time in our classes because we neither sing nor dance as a mechanism of motivation.

“…let’s get back to Jesse and the reason I’m writing this review.  He got fired.  I wrote the owners to express my disappointment in this decision.”

The singing, dancing monkey got fired? Maybe he should have been a fitness instructor first and foremost…

Then there is this video which has all of the makings of a trendy Vodka commercial. Now don’t get me wrong, CrossFit is super guilty when it comes to use of flamboyant colors, thumping basslines and display of the hawt athletes, but that sort of ends up being a consequence of the culture (for better or worse) rather than a thinly veiled primary selling point that this is “going to be a blast, girlfriend!”  Let’s put it this way, the CrossFit roots are dirty and painful – the marketing of Games Athletes in their unmentionables came later.  It is also replete with dated buzz words like “ignite your metabolism” and goes back to the 90’s with this weird, borderline meaningless data of heart rate alone – very reminiscent of this phase in fitness.

Why is heart rate the ONLY metric available? Why are all of the “strength” movements, negligibly weighted to begin with? Why is “power” confined to the rower? My primary curiosity would be to how this type of training translates over to the basic, common, fundamental bench marks of fitness that predate CrossFit by a long shot (despite CrossFit boldly defining Fitness in its own terms).

How fast can you run a mile? How high can you jump? What load can you carry as a % of your bodyweight? How accurately can you move an object from point A to B in space?  Then, additionally, all of the stuff that CrossFit dictates as essential components of fitness: mobility, explosiveness, deadlifts, pullups and so on.  I don’t suspect that a side-by-side comparison of two individuals over a 6 month period would very often favor OTF, for the very reason that these things aren’t employed in the training.  Another way to look at it, I don’t think that any of our athletes would find it particularly challenging.  I have no idea how someone who is “skilled” at OTF would fare in a standard WOD.  Just how fit could you get doing this type of training?

And then, there is the element of safety.  I won’t bother discussing the safety of CrossFit, because I suppose most people’s minds are made up, but, I will happily share some yelp reviews regarding the safety of OTF:

“I injured my rotator cuff at orange theory. They pressured me into using a weight that was far too heavy for an isolated rotator cuff exercise (7.5 lb, how does that sound to you?!) ”

It actually sounds pretty light and you pretty pathetic – honestly.  The trainer also sounds like an idiot.

“I picked up the lightest weight on the rack and I was told “you can do better than that!” I indicated that I was in pain DURING the workout, and I got a “but doesn’t it hurt so good?”

This doesn’t reflect poorly at all on OTF, honestly!  It comes down to a client who has no idea how to use weights and a coach who has no idea how to coach someone who has no idea how to use weights.  And when I say “no idea how to use weights” that involves the ability to KNOW that a weight is too heavy from experience, not refrain from it simply due to lack of confidence (and cave due to pressure).  No experienced person gets persuaded into using inappropriate weights – that is precisely what experience is.  And, at the end of the day, the coach should be able to navigate that scenario with a little more tact.

But, this all happens in CrossFit too – I hope the lesson is that poor communication leads to injury.  Ultimately, the person in question is absolutely right, they should be allowed to choose a lighter weight without harassment.

But, in any event, if you are getting off the couch, active and achieving your fitness goals (whatever they may be) – who am I to judge between what four walls you accomplish that?

My honest take on it is that this is the next stage in “Spin Class” phenomenon and a close sister to the boot camp – I’d be far more concerned if I was running strictly a boot camp. It has all of the makings with peppy, dancing trainers; encouraging, go-go attitude regimented by zone (reminiscent of hills, flats, sprints, etc. with various resistances) and set in a themed environment. It actually is quite clever, probably effective and polished to the T from a marketing perspective.

I really do hope they can effectively distance themselves from CrossFit – for anyone who remains bewildered despite the chasm between them

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