The Truth About OrangeTheory Workouts
When people find out I’m a trainer, there’s a moment where I’m tested. It happened recently at a dinner with my girlfriend’s family. The conversation turned to OrangeTheory, the popular bootcamp style of workouts that is a variety of weights and cardio supported by technology.
My girlfriend’s sister, Katie, had been going to a local franchise for the last few months and everyone wanted to know what I thought of the workout.
I could tell everyone thought I would tear into OrangeTheory with more intensity than the dessert I just demolished.
But, my response surprised everyone — and it’s an important reminder when trying to find the right workout for you.
How to Find the Right Workout For You?
I’ve been training people for more than 15 years, including some big names. But, when people ask me what I think about their workout plan, my initial response usually catches them off guard.
I started by finding out how many times per week someone wants to exercise and how often they are hitting that goal.
I call this the consistency ratio, and it’s the most underrated aspect of finding the right workout for your goals and your body.
The “best workouts” are the ones that work for you. But, “working for you” is less about reps and sets and more about consistency and sustainability.
If you’re given the world’s greatest program, but you can only do it 50 percent of the time for a couple months, your results will be underwhelmed. If you compared that approach to an“inferior program” that you complete 80 percent of the time for a year, you would see much better results on the hypothetically worse program.
The reason is obvious: results are about keeping you engaged and getting you to work hard. You can always “optimize” later, but consistency (not perfection) always comes first. That includes both your diet and workout.
But, with so many options — from online coaching, digital streaming, bootcamps, apps, and 1-on-1 training — finding what works for you isn’t as easy as it seems.
So, the first place to start is considering variables that might make it harder for you to want to workout.
This includes things such as:
What is the workout environment?
- Are you doing exercises that make you feel comfortable and confident?
- If not, do you have the support to help you gain that confidence?
- Do you have fun doing some (not necessarily all) of the workouts?
- Do you feel it’s making you better?
- Are you taking action and making it happen, or finding reasons to avoid it?
- Does it fit into your lifestyle — or cause such a dramatic change that you can’t wait till you’re done with the program?
There are many other considerations, but anything that increases your consistency ratio to about 80 percent (or more) is the sweet spot for results.
Are there some things I don’t like about OrangeTheory?
You bet, and we’re going to cover those in more detail below.
But, those details don’t matter as much as showing up week-after-week.
Is OrangeTheory a Good Workout?
Back to my girlfriend’s sister. For the first time in her life, she was consistently exercising. So, I encouraged her to keep going as long as none of the movements were causing pain.
If you’ve found something that works, don’t worry about the details right now. Just keep showing up.
As for OrangeTheory itself, it has some elements that help people both from a consistency standpoint, the environment, and the workouts themselves.
OrangeTheory workouts are an hour-long full-body experience, which mixes cardio and weights as a way to improve endurance, strength, and power. And, everything is supported by heart rate monitors, which measure your progress throughout the workout and share your results on video boards.
The workouts can support either fat loss or muscle gain (depending on how you adjust your diet), and it really caters to those who enjoy working in group classes.
I may love training in dark garages, but many people struggle training in isolated spaces.
Training in a large group, like at OrangeTheory, is motivating and far less intimidating than 1-on-1 training.
As Katie (my girlfriend’s sister) shared,
“It was able to teach me exercises that I could use outside of their gym that I never knew how to do before or wouldn’t be comfortable trying by myself in an average gym.”
And the relationships you develop can help hold you accountable because others will know when you skip.
The camaraderie of group workouts is an undeniable benefit. Oh, and, for better or worse, when everyone can see your heart rate on the video screens — as is the case , you’re less likely to phone it in.
Plus, Orange Theory gamifies the workouts, which can also help with motivation.
During a workout, you’re awarded “splat” points. These splat points indicate minutes spent in the high-intensity heart rate zones.
Orange Theory’s website suggests you should aim for 12 splat points each workout to maximize calorie burning (more on that below).
Orange Theory does get some things right when it comes to the workouts if your goal is fat loss.
Although half of the time is spent on the treadmill (or bike or strider), the workouts include strength training. Coaches combine 2-3 strength training moves together, alternating between upper body, lower body, and core movements.
Called “tri-sets” or mini-circuits, this is a solid setup for a fat loss workout and one we use with some Born Fitness clients.
They also pair these circuits with cardio sprint efforts, usually on the rower, before returning to the strength circuit for another set. We use this strategy at Born Fitness as well, although only with more advanced clients (and for limited amounts of time, more on that below).
Where Orange Theory Can Improve
From a workout standpoint, there are a few areas that you might want to consider before starting an OrangeTheory program. Again, these aren’t reasons the approach is bad, but things that might not be a good fit for you.
Issue #1: No Cycling Intensity
When you combine 26-28 minutes of treadmill-based cardio and 26-28 minutes of high-intensity circuit-based strength training, you’re pushing your body at a high level for a long period of time.
This leads us to my first point of contention with OrangeTheory: it uses maximum intensity as a badge of honor, which doesn’t always lead to great results.
It’s important to be mindful of what makes a “great” workout. Yes, intensity is required, but in the right amounts.
Qualifying a workout as “good” only if you burn 800 calories and finish with sweat angels on the floor is a slippery slope. Plus, this can lead to developing a mindset of earning your food with intense exercise sessions for some people.
You need to train hard, and OrangeTheory will teach you how to do that. But, high-intensity workouts without adjustments will not only lead to diminishing returns, but could lead to burnout and increase your chance of injury.
A pattern I’ll often use with clients in our coaching program is 1-2 strength phases followed by a 4-5 week high-intensity circuit phase. We cycle intensity and rest to ensure you make progress and challenge your body in different ways.
Issue #2: A Narrow Approach to Cardio
While high-intensity cardio is an excellent tool for improving your aerobic fitness, it’s not necessary to dramatically change your body.
A new study suggests that high-intensity exercise and moderate-intensity exercise work equally well when it comes to fat loss.
The meta-analysis (study of studies) examined 55 different studies to investigate the differences between HICE (high-intensity interval exercise) and MICE (moderate-intensity continuous exercise).
HICE training had several benefits, such as building aerobic capacity (called VO2 max), delivering oxygen to your muscles, and improving overall cardiovascular health.
But, if you’re just focused on fat loss, both HICE and MICE seem to work equally well.
Issue #3: Difficulty Personalizing Group Workouts
This isn’t specific to OrangeTheory, as most group training programs made for the masses can do a lot of good, but they have a potential limitation.
OrangeTheory strength training workouts appear to be random.
Random workouts might be entertaining (and will make you sweaty), but how do you know if you’re getting stronger in a particular movement?
And when you pair your strength moves with cardio bursts, you’re less likely to recover between sets. Shorter recovery means you’re unable to load up the moves set-after-set to challenge yourself enough to build (or maintain) lean muscle.
Remember, when you’re strength training during fat loss periods, you want to maintain as much lean muscle as possible, not endlessly burn calories that could mean you’re losing muscle and fat.
To do that, you need to do more work (sets x reps) gradually over time. The simplest way to do that is tracking your workouts and repeating those workouts over a 3-5 week period.
All that said, we can critique almost any workout. If Orange Theory is helping you be consistent with your exercise, is not causing injury, and is an environment you enjoy, then you should feel confident sticking with it and seeing where it takes you.
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