Does Orangetheory Work? On Heartrate-based Workouts

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.

Brock Armstrong
9-minute read
Episode #378

The Downsides of Orangetheory

Now back to why my coachie-sense was tingling when I found out that the workouts are kept secret (unless you discover the Subreddit group that is devoted to sharing the workouts as they happen across the timezones). I generally coach people for specific events like 10k Road Races, Marathons, Triathlons, or Fitness Model Competitions. All of these require that we do at least 90% sport specific, periodized, and specifically targeted workouts.

For example, I am currently training myself for a triathlon. Had I known that we were doing the Orange Everest workout on Tuesday, I would not have crushed a bike-swim-bike workout the day before. And I would have planned a recovery day for Wednesday. As it was, I am a little more worn out than I wanted to be at this point in the week. and my inner coach is not happy with my inner athlete.

I should add that when I brought this clandestine point up with the fine fellow working at the front counter of my local Orangetheory, he did assure me that if I was to call them the day before and explain my dilemma, they would indeed reveal what the workout was going to be the next day. Call me lazy but that seems a little cumbersome. Based on that, I will dissuade my clients from using Orangetheory on a regular basis especially at key moments during our training blocks.

The other issue I had with the theory behind Orangetheory was this idea of using heart rate as a measure of your success at the workout. As I pointed out earlier, the equation of 220 minus your age does give a rough estimate of your maximum heart rate from which you can calculate your Heart Rate Zones, but this only goes so far for us fit folks. Many of us have resting heart rates that are considerably lower than the general public. According to the Mayo Clinic, a normal heart rate is 60-100 beats per minute. But mine can get down into the forties when I am sitting comfortably reading a book and this has an effect on my maximum heart rate.

If you are working toward a very specific fitness goal, there are some monkey wrenches in the Orangethery experience.

I have also been a runner long enough that I knew instinctively to shorten my stride and increase my cadence when we set our treadmills above a 10 percent incline during the Orange Everest workout. This technique results in more efficient hill climbing and thus a lower heart rate. So I was awarded a measly 12 “splat points” after what I considered to be a killer workout. Not because I wasn’t pushing myself but because I am efficient and a life-long mover.

Again, I should add that the fine fellow at the front desk did assure me that if I came to them with the results of Lactate Threshold or VO2 Max test, they would adjust my zones to match what the tests indicated. That is cool and gracious of them but similar to having to call them the day before a workout to see how I should plan around it, I think I would rather just workout on my own. 

The Bottom Line on Orangetheory

In the end, anyone who is interested in a killer, fun, full-body workout, in a high-tech setting, that does a good job at gamifying the gym experience, this would be a great fit for you. I actually walked away describing Orangetheory as Crossfit, minus the "Bro." For someone like Erika, who sparked this entire adventure, that is likely perfect and will help her reach her general fitness and fat loss goals. Especially when I consider how hard it is to get anyone to say, and I quote, "I looooove" a workout.

On the other hand, if you are working toward a very specific fitness goal, race, or event, there are just enough monkey wrenches in the Orangethery experience to make Orangetheory not worth the (not small) cost per workout. So for now, I will see you in the pool, bike path, running track, and gym.

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All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Brock Armstrong Get-Fit Guy

Brock Armstrong was the host of the Get-Fit Guy podcast between 2017 and 2021. He is a certified AFLCA Group Fitness Leader with a designation in Portable Equipment, NCCP and CAC Triathlon Coach, and a TnT certified run coach. He is also on the board of advisors for the Primal Health Coach Institute and a guest faculty member of the Human Potential Institute.