Fall 2017 HIIT Challenge: Week 2 (Orange Theory Fitness Review)

This is a review of Orange Theory Fitness (OTF), a HIIT-focused chain of specialty studios with over 600 locations in 44 US states and 10 other countries including Canada, UK and Australia. While specifics about this company will hopefully be useful to you, a lot of the info below can help you understand a part of the HIIT landscape and how to test it out, even if there’s not an OTF studio near you or if you choose to check out an alternative place that’s similar to OTF.

Together with other OlderBeast reviews coming during the fall, the goal here is to help you start experimenting with different types of HIIT and different places you can do them (at gyms, at home).

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Welcome to Week 2 of the Fall 2017 High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) Challenge. If you’re thinking “Week TWO? This is the first I’m seeing this” – no worries. Please start with the Week 1 kick-off post. Then come on back.

This is a review of Orange Theory Fitness (OTF), a HIIT-focused chain of specialty studios with over 600 locations in 44 US states and 10 other countries including Canada, UK and Australia. While specifics about OTF will hopefully be useful to you, a lot of the info below helps you understand a part of the HIIT landscape and how to test it out, even if you choose to check out an alternative place that’s similar to OTF.

The goal: help you start experimenting with different types of HIIT and different places you can do them (at gyms, at home).

During the challenge, we’ll review other concepts and approaches you can compare to this. All reviews will be of things you can trial for free. In OTF’s case, they offer one free trial class — you’ll see that clearly linked from their homepage.

CONTEXT: ORANGE THEORY FITNESS’ PLACE IN THE HIIT LANDSCAPE

Week 1’s post introduced the idea of HIIT concepts falling into one of two categories, or being a mix of the two: cardio intervals and metabolic resistance training.

OTF is somewhere in the middle this spectrum. It includes both cardio intervals and metabolic resistance, alternating during the workout. Basecamp fitness, with locations just in California currently, is another “blended” concept.

For comparison, these workouts are more toward one end of the spectrum or the other:

  • SoulCycle or other “spin” workouts are cardio intervals, using bikes
  • “Boot camp” style classes, or video streaming programs like P90X with a lot of bodyweight exercises and use of dumbbells, are mainly metabolic resistance concepts

Some gyms (full-service or specialty ones) have a variety of classes that span this range, in one location.

Instructor-led classes can be great for learning, motivation and community. But over the long term, many guys find they want to work out on their own at least some of the time. If that’s you, you can create workouts for yourself that fall anywhere on this spectrum. Our recent article on an at-home, full-body strength workout is an example of this. It’s at the metabolic resistance end of the spectrum. As such, it’s a great thing for runners, cyclists and swimmers to include in their mix.

REVIEW: ORANGE THEORY FITNESS

OTF’s workouts are one hour long. They mix treadmill, rower and/or bike cardio intervals with rapid-fire metabolic resistance work featuring dumbbells, TRX straps and bodyweight exercises. Their mix of these things shifts throughout a typical week, but it seems like in general cardio time is at least half, sometimes a little bit more, of the hour.

All participants wear heart rate chest straps that show your HR “zone” on TV monitors. The goal:  spend much of your workout in the “orange” (2nd-from-highest) intensity zone. That’s the “Orange” part of the name.

Where

This is a franchise system with over 600 locations in the U.S. (44 states) and 10 other countries. So chances are, there’s one near you. Here’s their location list.

The Workout

A highly-choreographed hour, where each participant has their own assigned cardio equipment and strength-work station.

  • Treadmill intervals are based on clearly-called-out variations of speed and incline, to help you calibrate “base, push, and sprint” levels of intensity that last from 30 seconds to two minutes.
  • Rower intervals are a little more subjective (driven by you and how hard you choose to push yourself), but effort meters on each rower show power and speed for guidance.
  • On my visit, strength work mixed squat and lunge variations, core work, and triceps/lat moves with dumbbells. Strength moves (how-to illustrations, plus # of sets/reps in the circuit) are usefully displayed in moving, graphical form on TV monitors.

At OTF, if you push yourself, you’ll definitely get a good workout and sweat a lot, man. Based on my HR monitor, the OTF system said I burned 850 calories in the hour. This is a similar calorie burn to running pretty hard in hilly terrain for that period of time. However, research suggests that HIIT creates a metabolic “after-burn” that keeps your metabolic rate up for longer post-workout than steadier-pace, longer cardio.

Facility & Staff

Since this is a franchise system, there’s likely more variation among locations than you’d see in corporate-operated chains.

The Dublin, CA OTF (SF Bay Area) was really nice. They have high-end equipment, clean and well-maintained. The layout (and having your “own” station for each part of the workout) makes moving around during short rest periods easy.

Along with the video-monitor cues for strength work, the treadmills have easy-to-follow placards coaching you on how to select your speed/incline for different levels of effort they call out.

There was only one shower, though. With 10-40 people working out in each class (not all of them needing to shower at the gym, of course), there might be a wait for the shower sometimes. A few Yelp reviews mention this.

Staff was friendly, helpful, and good at coaching people through the workout and demonstrating techniques.

Schedule

Classes run every hour for much of the day, 5 am through 8 pm. You need to book online in advance if you don’t want to risk being shut out. As I write this, the Dublin, CA location’s schedule for the next few days shows about a third to a half of classes in “wait list” status. So that shows that they’re popular. And that you need to think a few days ahead to ensure you can work out when you want to.

Cost

Costs appear to vary by metro area a little bit. But the general picture is that per-session costs range between $10 (if you do unlimited membership and use it 4-5x/week) and $15-16 (for a 4 x per month membership).

These are mid-range prices— a little more than basic all-around gyms, similar to many yoga or other “boutique” studios, and less than high-end full-service gyms or higher-end boutiques.

Pro’s & Con’s

Pro’s:

  • All-in-one coverage of cardio and strength-training
  • Well-designed facilities with nice equipment
  • Easy-to-understand program, HR-zone goals and related data tracking/encouragement

Cons:

  • Heavy emphasis on cardio you could do at a gym with more-diverse facilities, or on your own
  • Limited space for strength work (at least at the location I visited) precludes things like barbells, kettlebells and battle ropes
  • Need to pre-book classes may limit your “workout spontaneity”

Overall Conclusion

OTF meets a lot of people’s needs pretty well. Over the longer-term, how much you like this particular type of HIIT might depend on where you’re coming from in the rest of your fitness life.

If you’re a runner, cyclist or swimmer who wants to mix HIIT into a routine that will still include your core endurance activity. You may not want to have a high component of a group workout be cardio you can do on your own.

If you’re a “traditional” strength training guy (this used to be called “lifting” back when). This type of workout might be a great addition to your mix. It would give you time-efficient cardio and motivation to do it, as well as taking some of your strength work up-tempo for all the fitness and calorie-burn benefits that come with that.

And if you’re rebooting fitness from a low-ish level of activity. There’s great variety here, and you’ll get onto a steep trajectory of building endurance and strength while burning calories and improving muscle tone. A couple of months of OTF or something like it — if you can keep showing up and not get derailed — will bring you fast results!

No matter where you might be coming from, though, if you’re taking this challenge, then OTF is definitely worth trying for a free first class, dude.

NEXT STEPS

We’ll check in next week with more info to help your exploration of HIIT. Meanwhile, please use our Facebook Members group if you have  further advice to ask of, or offer to, the rest of us. Thanks.

Now get out there and get a little intense, brother.

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