CrossFit vs Orange Theory, What’s The Difference?

With the advent of new exercise brands and methods, it can be tricky keeping up with the latest trends.  A new kid on the block is Orange Theory Fitness, a franchised exercise class.  While any exercise is better than nothing, it’s important to understand what each modality offers to know what is the best bang for your buck.

Some Key factors to compare between the two are:

  • Varied/unique programming vs franchised/regulated routines
  • True strength training vs low weight resistance training
  • Short and intense workouts vs prolonged episodes of exertion
  • Personalized attention vs revolving door

As I mentioned, Orange Theory is a franchise.  That is, every location will be exactly the same.  While this offers some quality control, it also can confine the regiment and limit the variety and type of training done in your workout. On the other hand, CrossFit is an affiliation.  A certain level of excellence is expected, but how a class is run and what it brought to the table is up to the owners and coaches.  This allows for a larger variety of programming and movements, as well as the room for the coaches and owners to bring their specific expertise to the table.  At StrengthRx CrossFit, we pride ourselves in our small class size and focus on quality of movement.  This allows us to incorporate things such as gymnastics (who doesn’t want to master a hand stand!) and Olympic lifting, making sure our members get the personal attention needed to engage these movements safely and effectively.

Due to the ability of the coaches to navigate the programming at a CrossFit gym vs having to adhere to a specific format, it allows for extremely effective training methods.  While Orange Theory and CrossFit both keep the workouts varied from class to class, CrossFit often incorporates a scientifically sound strength training platform.  That is, there is often a focus on a progressive, multi joint (more bang for your buck) weight training program that allows for documentable strength gains.   At StrengthRx, we use a six week strength training cycle.  This allows for an overload phase in which the muscles are challenged by heavy weights that force growth and adaptation.  This is followed but a de-load period in which a super compensation in the muscles occurs, followed by testing to chart and record the progress made.   While Orange Theory does use resistance training, it is performed with light weights.  This will only produce so many results as does not stimulate the muscles to grow in the same way.

Another thing to consider is the length of time you are working out.  Prolonged and vigorous exercise can put an extraordinary stress on your heart.  This is known as the reverse effect, where too much of a good things has the opposite effect.  Akin to long distance running, keeping your heart rate elevated for a long length of time has the potential to be as much a bad thing as a good thing.  Science is pointing to the fact that short bursts of intense exercise, followed by adequate time to recover is one of the most effective methods to getting healthy.  This notion of short bursts of exercise vs extended episodes of exertion is what is commonly found in a CrossFit class.  A dynamic warm up, followed by some strength training then often leads to a short, but very intense workout.  Most of the time these WODs (work out of the day) range from 5-20 minutes in length.  This allows for adequate stimulus but prevents excessive wear and tear on the cardiovascular system.  While Orange Theory doesn’t keep the heart elevated in a monotonous fashion such as long distance running, it does maintain an elevated heart rate for the entire class.  They do have “zones” of heart rate that fluctuate during the class, but this is up to the individual to self-regulate.

Another difference between CrossFit and Orange Theory is the sense of community and personalized attention.  While at Orange Theory you may come to be on a first name basis with the trainer, most CrossFit gyms are a tight knit community where the specific needs of the individual are met.  At StrengthRx, we specialize in helping people become self-empowered, teaching them various self-massage and stretching techniques to address any pain they may have and keep them feeling good. Individual diet guidance as well as supplemental training programs to focus on weaknesses and acquire new skills is also common practice.

Both CrossFit and Orange Theory Fitness are sound training programs that will have benefit if followed.  What matters is that you get up from your seat and get that body moving.  Check out your nearest gym and see if it’s right for you.

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