CrossFit vs. Orange Theory Fitness

Fitness friends! If you’re reading this, you’re probably considering which one of the above two fitness programs to start. I want to start off by saying that I’m a fan of anything that gets people off the couch and moving. In that spirit, kudos to Orange Theory Fitness (OTF) for creating a fun, and safe environment for people to work out in.

Earlier this week I did a free trial at Orange Theory fitness in the Domain. I wanted to experience it first-hand before giving an opinion. Not surprisingly, it was a solid workout. The class was split into 3 groups, that rotate between stations of treadmill, rowing, and circuit style elements with light dumbbells and bodyweight movements. Facility was great, coaches were super friendly, engaging and motivating.

Watch the video review here, or the more in depth point by point review below!

Disclaimers:

1. I have been a CrossFit gym owner for four years now, and a coach for six. As I mentioned above, I only did ONE class at Orange Theory. I’ll try to be as objective and honest as possible in my review. But you should also know that I’m not 100% sold on every element of the CrossFit methodology and business model, either. If it doesn’t line up with solid principles for training, then I’ll raise an eyebrow regardless of which side of the aisle it’s coming from. (This is true to the point that it caused a split with an old business partner.)

2. Every CrossFit gym is independently owned and operated, with almost 0 quality control from CrossFit. This obviously means that your experience at different CrossFit gyms is going to be WILDLY different. The same is not true for OTF.

COST –

OTF – 4x Month is $69, and Unlimited is $169.

CF – At our gym, 9x Month is $135, and Unlimited is $185. Both of those plans with us include a quarterly personal training session. When you factor that personal training session out, cost per month is close between the two.

Conclusion – Tied.

FACILITIES –

OTF – Corporate fitness feel. 4 showers/ bathroom/ changing areas, very clean and well maintained. Workout floor was super well organized, giant screens showing heart rate at every station. Probably around 2000 square feet. Didn’t love the orange lights everywhere….

CF – Garage gym feel. Some CrossFits are looking more and more like corporate fitness, but most will probably still have a much more rugged feel. Our gym has one bathroom, and two pretty spartan shower/changing areas. You’d have to look pretty hard to find dirt on the floor at an OTF, not so much at a CrossFit.

Conclusion – I won’t pick a winner here since some people prefer training with less amenities.

COACHES CERTIFICATION –

OTF – You must have an accredited certificate either through, ASCS, NASM or another nationally recognized entity. Then OTF conducts it’s own training which lasts one full week and is 9-4 every day.

CF – Weekend certification is all that’s required not only to coach but to OPEN a CF gym. This is one of my biggest beefs with CrossFit. After learning over a weekend how to coach someone through an air squat, you can call yourself a coach, or even open your own gym. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t qualified CF gym owners and coaches out there, but you have to look at their qualifications beyond their CrossFit affiliation.

Conclusion – Advantage OTF. The standard at all OTF will be a high level of certification, while the same is not true of CrossFit.

COACHING –

OTF – Movements were demonstrated very quickly, I wasn’t timing but seemed like maybe :10 seconds to demo each of the bodyweight and dumbbell movements during our circuit. The fast-paced nature of the class and split stations aren’t conducive to in-depth coaching.

For instance, we were doing single leg dumbbell deadlifts (props to OTF for including some good functional movements in their program). I used one dumbbell on the same side hand as the leg I was using. (This adds a core stability anti-rotation component to the movement.) The coach asked me why I was doing it like that, I said, “I don’t know,” and he said, “I don’t think it makes much difference anyway.” During this conversation, I rounded my back on purpose, to see if he would correct me, but he did not. The dumbbells were pretty light, and it’s highly unlikely that I would have hurt myself, but as a coach I would have been all over both of those points.

CF – Again, all CF gyms are different, but a good CF gym also educates you on WHY you perform certain movements. In the example of the Dumbbell deadlift above, it’s important to maintain a tight core and neutral spine while bending over (a skill that will be used in day to day life). I would want clients to understand that, as well as the training difference between holding the dumbbell in different hands, holding two dumbbells at the same time etc.

Conclusion – Advantage CF.

PROGRAMMING –

OTF – The program is essentially a mix of high intensity cyclical activity (rowing, running), mixing in body building (muscle hypertrophy). This should cause anyone familiar with solid strength training programs to raise an eyebrow, simply because hypertrophy should not be performed at close to max heart rate. BUT… that’s the same principle at play in most CrossFit programs, which push intensity within hypertrophy/ muscle endurance workouts.

CF – CrossFit programs are a mix of skill/movement development, gymnastics, multi joint movements performed against resistance for either skill building, muscle endurance, increasing muscle size, and increasing top end muscle strength. All of the above elements can occur during circuit training for intensity, or on their own for emphasizing technique and quality. Better CrossFit gyms will structure their program so that it adheres to good strength and conditioning principles, emphasizing control and movement quality before intensity, and recognizing that the sport of CrossFit is very different than training.

Conclusion – Advantage CF. As I mentioned earlier, there are parts of both programs that I don’t agree with, but CrossFit has more flexibility to be done really well than OTF does. Additionally, good CF gyms focus much more on movement quality. This is very important for connecting fitness to life in general, not just the hour you spend at the gym few days a week. Also worth noting, all CrossFit gyms are responsible for their own programs. Some choose to use the workouts posted on CrossFit.com, or from other blogs, while OTF only uses workouts written by their HQ.

NUTRITION –

OTF – No official company position, no nutritional guidance is given unless a specific OTF coach takes it upon themselves to offer nutrition advice.

CF – CrossFit as a company advocates Paleo and Zone Paleo diets. Most gyms offer nutritional information upfront, and or run nutrition programs in addition to membership. Again, this will vary on a gym by gym basis but in general I think CF does a much better job in promoting a healthy diet in conjunction with exercise.

Conclusion – Advantage CF.

COMMUNITY –

OTF – No gym facebook group. The coach I spoke to said that he organized happy hour type events once every three months or so.

CF – Most gyms will have both a public facebook page and private group for members only. In addition to happy hours, generally CrossFit gyms also get members together for CrossFit competitions, obstacle course races, recreational sports etc.

Conclusion – Advantage CF.

FINAL THOUGHTS –

If you’re newer to strength training and you’re still a little afraid of barbells and garage gyms, OTF is a great option. CrossFit demands a little more thinking, requiring you to stop sometimes and really learn to control your bodies and understand why you’re doing a movement, which might be more than some people want. Maybe you don’t really care about maintaining a neutral spine while bending over or learning how to climb a rope, or work towards learning a handstand. Some people just want to zone out and move for an hour straight. If that sounds like you, then I would give OTF a shot.

Are you interested in knowing the “why” behind all the movements you’re doing? Do you want coaching through those movements at a higher level? Then CrossFit is definitely a better option (provided you find a gym with great coaches). Also, if you’ve tried other fitness programs before and not had success, either because of lack of accountability and/ or poor/no nutritional advice, then CrossFit is hands down the better option.

Still deciding? Or ready to roll?

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