Orangetheory Fitness Review: Total-Body Training in 60 Minutes

OTF Makes Training Technical

orangetheory fitness
Orangetheory Fitness

Walking into an Orangetheory Fitness class for the first time feels a bit like walking into Cheers...where everybody knows your name. Except they don't know your name because it's your first time...but they know everybody else's names.

The point is, there's a feeling of community—a feeling that the people who attend are regulars, and in time, you could become part of their "tribe."

This is significant.

Camaraderie and social engagement are paramount to a positive workout experience, and Orangetheory Fitness has been intentional about developing a sense of community within each studio. And it's this intention and focus that help explain the explosion of Orangetheory studios around the country.

Orangetheory has almost 1,000 studios nationwide, with additional locations in 14 countries. The business model lends itself to such growth—individual owners can buy rights to certain markets and determine their own business plan within those markets. For instance, some locations are franchises, while others are owner-managed.

Also, since studios are relatively small, they're a quick build. Once a location is determined, it takes just a few months to get everything set up and ready to launch.

The Studio

On my visit to try an Orangetheory Fitness class in Round Rock, TX, I had the pleasure of sitting down to learn more about the company from the Regional Fitness Director, Aaron Keiser.

Keiser has been with the company since 2011, which means he's witnessed many of the organization's changes as the company has grown. For instance, workouts used to be developed individually by trainers and written on white boards. By stark contrast, today's workouts are put together by corporate management and provided to the studios each day on TV-sized monitors.

Another major change is the size of each facility. The original Orangetheory tudios were much smaller, not allowing for a full 30 students per class. These days, the "15-pack" gym is the norm—meaning that the gym has space for 15 treadmills, 15 rowing machines, and 15 strength training stations. This enables classes to handle up to 30 participants at a time, with 15 of them on the treadmills and 15 rotating back and forth between the strength training and rowing stations.

That said, not everything has changed. Trainers still lead each class to help explain the workout, demonstrate exercises, and motivate participants. It's this trainer-led atmosphere that helps facilitate the positive experience of what amounts to a really tough workout.

Orangetheory Fitness Workout Overview

Orangetheory workouts alternate their focus between endurance, strength, and power. Every studio around the world offers the same workout on the same day, but studio owners don't know until the morning of the workout what the workout for the day will be. I happened to attend class on an endurance workout day. This meant the workout included longer intervals and repetitions with a greater focus on cardio work. Newbies like me were asked to arrive about 30 minutes before class to get set up with a heart rate monitor and to go through a preview of the class.

The heart rate monitor system is interesting, and definitely a feature that sets Orangetheory Fitness apart. The studio provides you with a heart rate monitor, and your real-time data is displayed on TVs throughout the center to help you track your intensity. Heart rate is displayed as a percentage of your estimated heart rate max based on your age, and calories burned is provided as an estimate based on biometrics.

At the beginning of class, the trainer tells you how many minutes you should accumulate working in the target heart rate zone, and those minutes are displayed on the monitor as points. This type of monitoring system takes the guesswork out of intensity and makes it easy for participants to go at their own pace without feeling pressured to do something that's beyond their personal fitness level.

Continuous Interval Training

The workout itself is separated into two segments: treadmill training and rowing/strength work. Half the class starts on the treadmills and performs a series of intervals based on Orangetheory's own rating of perceived exertion scale. The other half of the class starts on the rowing machines to warm up, then heads to the strength training area to do a series of exercises.

Each strength training station includes a step, a TRX suspension trainer, a medicine ball, a BOSU Balance Trainer, dumbbells of varying weights, and a few other strength training tools. Exercises are explained and demonstrated by the trainer, and are also displayed on a large monitor. Each person rotates through the exercises at his or her own station at his or her own pace.

The day I attended, we performed a series of eight exercises, then went back to the rowing machines, did a 700-meter row, then returned to the strength training stations to do another round of exercises.

After 30 minutes, no matter where we were in our workout, the treadmill group switched to the rowing/strength training stations, and the rowing group switched to the treadmills.

This type of continuous interval training for a solid 60 minutes is certainly challenging. As such, it comes as no surprise that such a program, if followed consistently, could garner significant physical benefits.

The Total Package

After attending a class, I can see why Orangetheory Fitness has become so popular. There's nothing groundbreaking about the workout itself—it involves nothing more than treadmills, rowing machines, and strength training, all of which you can find at gyms across the country.

What sets OTF apart is the structure, training, camaraderie, and technology. Anyone who walks into an Orangetheory Fitness for the first time is practically guaranteed to feel: a) welcome, b) confident about what they can expect, and c) encouraged. That's a rare combination for most gyms and studios.

Because trainers are actively involved in each class, beginners have someone to ask questions of and follow along with. At the same time, the technology and TV monitor readouts provide real-time feedback that boosts self-efficacy and confidence. And because most people tend to attend classes at the same time each week, friendships are formed and trainers learn participants' names.

All-in-all, the business model is sound, and its one that gets results. If you can afford to pony up the roughly $150 to $200 monthly membership fee (fees vary by location), then it's certainly a workout worth trying.