High-Intensity Interval Program Reviews: Orange Theory Fitness

There’s a lot of buzz around High-Intensity Interval Training, a.k.a. “HIIT”. Research studies highlight its effectiveness and time-efficiency for fitness development and calorie burning. New HIIT-centric gym concepts are being heavily marketed.

HITT interests me because of its inherent fitness benefits, and because it often combines endurance and strength work in an intense way.

I’ve started checking out HITT gym concepts and at-home workout programs, to add HITT into my own mix and also share findings via OlderBeast. This is the first of several reviews, starting with Orange Theory Fitness (“OTF” for short here).

by

This is Part One in a series of reviews of “High Intensity Interval Training” (HIIT) gyms. Part Two reviews 9Round, the 30-minute kickboxing concept.

There’s a lot of buzz around High-Intensity Interval Training, a.k.a. “HIIT”. Research studies highlight its effectiveness and time-efficiency for fitness development and calorie burning. New HIIT-centric gym concepts are being heavily marketed.

I’m a longtime endurance-preferring guy (run, swim, sometimes bike) who’s added more strength training in the last several years. Most of us tend to skew one way or the other, but especially at 40+ we should seek a balanced fitness approach.

So HITT interests me because of its inherent fitness benefits, and because it often combines endurance and strength work in an intense way.

I’ve started checking out HITT gym concepts and at-home workout programs, to add HITT into my own mix and also share findings via OlderBeast. This is the first of several reviews, starting with Orange Theory Fitness (“OTF” for short here).

CONTEXT: COMPONENTS OF HITT

As context for this OTF review, let’s first break down the HITT concept into its two main parts. Different gyms/programs combine these in different proportions and styles.

1. High-Intensity Cardio Intervals. Running, biking, rowing, jumping rope, and plyometrics (jump training) can all be done with an interval approach. Short bursts of near-all-out effort are mixed with measured recovery times. Many of the recently-reported clinical studies used cardio intervals as their “experimental” group to compare to a lower-intensity, longer-duration cardio “control” group. There are so many example studies, that rather than just point to one, here’s a link to a Google search if you want to learn more.

By the way, swimming can feature high-intensity intervals as well, as can certain more-specialized exercise concepts like cardio (opponent-less) kick-boxing.

2. Metabolic Resistance Training. This means strength exercises done with minimal rest between sets. When done with enough intensity—some combo of resistance level, rep pace and rep count—this type of workout becomes cardio, too. You’re working your cardiovascular system, lots of muscles…everything you’ve got…all at once. It burns a ton of calories—hence the “metabolic” label.

REVIEW OF ORANGE THEORY FITNESS

OTF’s workouts are one hour long. They mix treadmill and rower cardio intervals with metabolic resistance work featuring dumbbells, TRX straps and bodyweight exercises. Cardio time is at least half, and often two-thirds, 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 (or soon will be, with plans for at least 350 more locations).

The Workout

A highly-choreographed hour, where each participant has their own assigned treadmill, rower, 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 Orange Theory Fitness, 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.

Facility & Staff

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

The Dublin, CA OTF (SF Bay Area) was really nice. They have high-end equipment, clean and well-maintained, and 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 base, push and sprint levels of speed/incline.

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 do mention this.

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

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 on a Wednesday, the Dublin, CA location’s schedule for Thursday shows four of 11 classes in “waitlist” status, three waitlists for Friday, and the coming weekend’s classes more in waitlist than available-to-book status.

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 precludes things like barbells, medicine balls, kettlebells, battle ropes
  • Need to pre-book classes may limit your “workout spontaneity”

Overall Conclusion

OTF meets a lot of people’s needs pretty well, if they’re looking for a blend of cardio and strength HITT, external motivation via instructors, and technology-assisted fitness. It’s particularly good for people who are just starting or re-starting a fitness focus, or those who “need motivation to do cardio.”

It’s less appealing to people like me who actually like running and would rather do that outside (for free, and with my dog). Also, those who want a higher mix and greater diversity of Metabolic Resistance training (and less pure-cardio) might find other concepts more appealing.

But not everything is for everybody, and there’s a reason why OTF is doing well and expanding quickly. It’s a good concept, well-executed.

TAKE ACTION

If you’ve been generally interested in HIIT, or wondering about Orange Theory Fitness in particular, I hope this review helps you.

But I also challenge you to experiment with fitness alternatives on your own. You try new foods, go new places, watch new TV shows — so start bringing that curiosity into your fitness life, brother. It’ll be GOOD for you.

You can try OTF for yourself at no cost by signing up for a free workout at their website. Pretty much ANY other gym or studio (or online streaming program, nowadays) also offers free trials. Start taking advantage of them! You’ll learn something from each one, and maybe find a long-term new part of your fitness mix.

 

“With every mistake we must surely be learning. Still my guitar gently weeps.” While My Guitar Gently Weeps (George Harrison, –click to listen)

 

If you think this would be useful to others, please help spread the word about OlderBeast by sharing this post with the social media buttons below. THANKS, MAN.

You may also like

article-image
Strength

Why (+ How) to Do Pull-Ups. Even If You Can’t Do One Today.

There are a small number of strength moves that work multiple muscle groups, can be done with the simplest of equipment (or none) almost anywhere, and can be varied in intensity based on where you currently are strength-wise.

Your workout time is scarce and you need to invest some of it in endurance, flexibility and balance. too. So these multi-benefit, do-anywhere, grow-with-you strength moves are key for the OlderBeast.

Pull-ups are one of these exercises, and they should be part of your routine, man. Even if you’re not sure the last time you did one. Or maybe, to be honest, you’re not sure you currently can do one. I’ve been there, too. Then you start trying them, then you start doing then, and you don’t ever have to go back to “not sure.”

So let’s discuss why pull-ups are so strongly recommended, and how to get started no matter where you currently are capability-wise for this challenging exercise.

article-image
Endurance , Mindfulness & Stress Management

Why 40+ Guys Should Walk, Blah Blah Blah

The “Blah Blah Blah” isn’t a “dis” to walking (I love walking…been doing it since I was 11 months old). It’s just acknowledging that headlines touting walking might be background noise because they’re so familiar.

AND YET: many guys rarely walk. And it IS true that walking is a great component of lifelong fitness and wellness, and so easy to do. So what gives? What are the barriers, and how can you overcome them?

article-image
Fitness Planning & Gear

What We REALLY Need From a Workout Plan (Introducing OlderBeast Weekly Workouts)

“Just tell me what to do” is a common desire people have for workout plans. That’s understandable. Expert direction and a friendly kick in the butt are helpful.

But for 40+ guys seeking diverse fitness that’s sustainable month-in/month-out for decades…typical sources of “tell me what to do” have drawbacks. They usually don’t cover the range of activities you need to be all-over fit. They often overlook the need for exercise to be a place of mental retreat and restoration. And they rarely guide you to take charge of your own planning and motivation, which is key to long-term habits (in OlderBeast language referred to as being your own Architect). Not to mention, using “tell me what to do” sources over years and decades gets expensive.

Here’s what OlderBeasts really need from workout plans. And a public service announcement: OlderBeast is beta testing a new Weekly Workouts feature.

article-image
Endurance , Fitness Planning & Gear

Beware of the Myth of the “Fat Burn” Heart-Rate Zone

Does your tracker or sports watch have a heart-rate function? Or have you used cardio equipment with built-in HR measurement? If so, you may be aware of the so-called “Fat Burn” heart-rate zone.

I advise you to “mostly beware” of falling for the allure of this name, man. It sounds too good to be true. “Burn more fat with lower exertion than you would with higher exertion!” And it is too good to be true. However, low-intensity workouts in HR ranges labeled “Fat Burn” do have occasional purposes. Hence my “mostly beware” admonition.

Let’s walk through the facts and logic here, and you can make your own call.

2 Comments
  1. […] is Part Two in a series of reviews of “High Intensity Interval Training” (HIIT) gyms. Part One provided context on HITT and its components, then reviewed Orange Theory […]

  2. […] Profile of a HITT-oriented fitness studio with instructor-led sessions: OlderBeast’s Orange Theory Fitness review. […]

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.