Is the Theory Behind Orangetheory Fitness Flawed?
Heartrate-based workouts are nothing new but there is a new gym chain in town that claims to have cracked the code. So I did some undercover investigation to get the goods on whether or not the theory behind Orangetheory is flawed or fit.
There is a new-ish chain of gyms popping up around the world called Orangetheory Fitness, and after hearing a few of the athletes I coach rave about it, I figured I should give it a try. Happily, they offer a free trial session, so I really had nothing to lose. Except for perhaps my fitness dignity. So, I put on my fake nose and moustache and headed to the Davie street location to experience it for myself.
The first class I attended was on a Thursday at 7:30 am. The staff informed me that today's workout is called Orange Endurance and interestingly, everyone who happens to be in any Orangetheory Fitness location around the globe will be doing this same group endurance workout all day today. From Vancouver to Melbourne, Tampa to Seoul, Winchester to Lübeck, everyone is getting sweaty with the Orange Endurance workout.
This is how the workout went. After a three minute warm-up on the rowing machine:
This set was a combo of:
- Step-ups (with dumbbells)
- Mountain climbers
- Lateral Raises
- Weighted bicycle crunch
- And a 600m effort on the Rowing Machine between each set.
This was a combo of:
- Chest Press
- Bicep Curl
- Lateral Pulldown
- Squat jumps
- With a 600m row between.
After that was done (approximately 26 minutes later) we moved over to the other part of the gym where the treadmills and rowing machines are.
The treadmill set was a descending duration of different paces. We did some easy pace (or baseline), some push pace, and a few all-out efforts, starting with 3-minute intervals and working our way down to 30 seconds intervals.
We finished the class with a 3-minute cool-down with a few more minutes of stretching at the end.
My Second class was on a Tuesday at 7:30 am again (yes, I am a glutton for early morning punishment). They called this one the “Orange Everest” workout and they claim it is one of their most popular workouts.
This is how it goes. After a 3-5 minute warm-up on the treadmill:
We all started the 23 minute “Everest climb” at an incline of one percent and then we simply increased the incline by one percent every minute until we reached a challenging climb of 15 percent. During this, we were allowed to adjust our pace but we had to keep up with the incline that was being dictated and monitored by the coach.
After we spent one minute at the maximum of 15 percent incline, we started coming down the other side. When we reached the bottom we did one minute at the “push pace” and the final minute “all out.” Being someone who loves to kick at the end of a race, this is where I really shone. And when I say that I shone, I mean that I flung sweat in all directions.
Then we hustled (well, some of us hustled) over to the weight area of the gym and started the next phase of the workout which consisted of:
- Narrow Grip Dumbbell Bench Press
- Hammer Curls
- Seated overhead press to standing
- With a 250m Row between each set.
We did this four times through, with 12, 10, 8 and 6 reps.
Then we moved on to:
- Plank Dumbell Rows (on each side)
- Tricep Overhead Extension
- Supine Leg Lifts
This set we added reps instead of dropping them. We started at 6 reps, ended on 12 reps, and then collapsed. After a brief stretch and chat, we were sent on our way. Foolishly, I rode my bike to the gym, so my workout wasn’t done yet. Needless to say, it was a more leisurely ride home than usual.
What’s the Science?
Ok, enough reminiscing. Why did I decide to give Orangetheory Fitness a try now?
Well, after referencing a study done at the University of California that evaluated the effects of concurrent strength and aerobic endurance training on muscle strength and endurance, body composition, and flexibility in female college athletes, listener Erika wrote to me on Facebook and said, “I work out exclusively at Orange Theory and looooove it. Would you equate that workout to the one in the study that saw the crazy improvement in the various health metrics?”
I responded to Erika, saying “Sure... with a few caveats:"
- The lifting must be done at a high enough weight to reach muscle failure.
- The bursts of cardio must be short and very intense.
- The study only lasted 11 weeks. If the study had continued longer there definitely would have been diminished returns. Those kinds of results will not go on forever.
- The subjects in the study only did that workout 3 times per week so they allowed for adequate recovery.
- I also added that I had not been to Orangetheory but I promised that I would give it a try and let her know what I thought.
To find out more about that particular study's outcome and how to combine (or not combine) cardio and resistance training, make sure you check out my article on whether to keep weights vs. cardio separate or combined.