Orange Theory: Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze?

Orange Theory: Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze?


In today's fitness landscape, myriad options compete for attention, with Orange Theory Fitness often at the forefront, as evidenced by the amount of Orange Theory locations rising. Just a quick search “orange theory near me” and you will likely find a facility near you. While Orange Theory is lauded for its intense, heart rate-focused workouts, there are missing pieces to its methodology that undermine its efficacy for optimal fitness and health. In this article, I will cover the following topics:

  • What is Orange Theory?
  • Will doing an orangetheory workout today benefit you long-term? 
  • Are the orange theory prices worth it? 

Understanding Orange Theory's Approach:

Orange Theory is based on the theory of excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), which promises increased metabolism and calorie burn long after the workout ends. Orange Theory's workouts are structured around five heart rate zones, with a significant focus on the higher zones – Green (71–83% MHR), Orange (84–91% MHR), and Red (92–100% MHR) – aiming for intense exercise that triggers EPOC. 

This methodology is designed to maximize calorie burn and metabolic rate, often leaving participants in the high-intensity zones for the majority of the 60-minute class  through various exercises, including treadmill running, cycling, and elliptical training. This approach is designed to maximize calorie burn and metabolic rate. 

The theory of maximizing calorie burn and metabolic rate are good. However, it's the application of these principles that make this methodology flawed.

The Limitations of Orange Theory's Method: Orange Theory's methodology, while effective in achieving short-term calorie burn, often overlooks the importance of biomechanical efficiency.

Acccording to the Orange Theory website, a typical class will include a row machine, cardio in the form of a treadmill, elliptical machine, or stationary bike, and strength training in the form of pushes and pulls. 

Before we dive into why these workouts are an issue, it is helpful to read testimonial posts from users in the online forum Reddit Orangetheory

The Reddit user pleasestopcora writes:

"So I’m 8 weeks into OTF and loving it which is saying something considering I’ve done virtually no workout of any kind (besides maybe a random 30 min walk here and there) in a good 7 years.

A few days ago I made the leap from PW to part time jogger - woo hoo! There are times I can’t keep the base pace at a jog and need to walk for a min but for the most part I’m jogging now!

So Saturday was day one jogging for more than like 30 seconds at OTF. On Sunday (yesterday) I did an outdoor run/walk for 45 min (very little of this was running, maybe 10 minutes) - no OTF. Then this morning I woke up to the 23 min tread block and jogged the 0.8 mi without stopping 🙌 (in addition to the rest of the tread work - very little walking today).

So now I’m at work and my ankle has been really bugging me. It’s not swollen at all but it feels bruised. It doesn’t HURT to walk but it’s a little uncomfortable and running right now would definitely hurt.

I’m so out of shape that I don’t know how much ankle pain (or other types of pain for that matter) are just a normal part of working out and having your body adjust to intense exercise and when to actually take it easy.

Thanks for any insight!"

In this post, the Orange theory user was feeling great, but as time went on, they began to experience joint pain. 

Another Reddit Orangetheory user Chakarulas writes: 

"I suffer from lower back pain here and there. I get an episode at least once a year. Got one two weeks ago after 1 year with OT. Doctor says I can go back to workout but to take it what does Easy actually is? I am still sore and with some pain. Would like to go back to OT, but not sure what I could do. Anybody here with lower back pain and been able to workout ? Any advice? Should I wait? Doctor said I could go back, but just says take it easy ...."

This user has a similar story. After repeated exposure to the training that Orange Theory proposes, they begin to experience pain. 

So what’s going on here?

Let’s examine a photo of someone’s typical posture while doing a traditional workout at common Orange theory locations

This may seem like an ordinary posture for the stationary bike. No problem, right? 

Consider this next photo.

What is the difference between these two photos? 

In both photos, we find that the pelvis is rounded in a posterior tilt. We also find that the head is tilted downward, and the shoulders are rounded forward. The pelvis is fixed in the ground, and the legs are unable to perform hip extension. 

Now compare the two photos to the following:

Notice in this image, that the runner’s hips are fully extending, the neck is aligned with the pelvis, and the shoulders are dynamically moving to counterbalance the hips. 

The Functional Patterns Method

In short, Functional Patterns aims to help you run stronger, more efficiently, and without pain. In comparison to Orange Theory workouts, FP values high-intensity movement as secondary. The crucial step is to train the muscles to integrate as one unit to move forward in space. 

Critiquing the Orange Theory Model: The primary criticism of Orange Theory from a Functional Patterns perspective centers on their main priority in calorie burning and EPOC. For instance, if someone is experiencing joint or muscle pain while running, the typical Orange Theory workout day will have the user switch to a bike or elliptical machine. This focus on calorie burn and staying within certain heart rate zones, regardless of the individual's biomechanical needs, is limiting to a person’s fitness potential. 

Functional Patterns questions this approach: Isn't the primary goal to make individuals biomechanically efficient so they can perform activities like running without pain? Why resort to machines like bikes and ellipticals, which do not align with our natural evolutionary movements, when it is possible to improve one’s movement patterns?

Put another way: imagine you wanted to become fitter, however, your knee hurts whenever you run. Would it be wiser to work out on a row machine, or to fix your movement patterns so that you can run without knee pain? 

Is the Orange Theory Membership Cost Worth it?

A typical Orange Theory price can range from 99 USD a month for a regular membership which includes 4 classes monthly, to 209 USD a month for a premium membership, which includes unlimited classes. 

Now let’s contrast this to a Functional Patterns course price.

The recommended starter course to learn the basics of the FP methodology is the 10 Week Online Course. The course starts at 197 USD. This includes 99 instructional videos, 12 hours of video content, and unlimited access for 365 days.

This course is less than a premium Orange Theory membership cost. 

When you consider that Orange Theory is focused on maximizing heart rate states, while Functional Patterns is focused on solving biomechanical issues for life, it becomes clear which one holds more value. 

Functional Patterns: A Holistic Approach: Contrasting with Orange Theory, Functional Patterns offers a training philosophy that prioritizes natural human movement and biomechanical efficiency first. Instead of pushing participants to their maximum heart rate zones irrespective of their biomechanical needs, FP focuses on correcting the imbalances that lead to pain before optimizing maximum heart rate zones. 

Why People are Shifting Towards FP: In a world where information is readily available (with queries like 'orangetheory workout today', ‘reddit orangetheory’ or 'orange theory locations'), people are becoming more aware of their long-term health needs. They are recognizing the limitations of high-intensity, calorie-focused workouts and are looking for training methods that offer sustainable health benefits. Functional Patterns addresses these needs by focusing on movement mechanics, ensuring a holistic approach to fitness that is often missing in conventional workout regimes like Orange Theory.

Conclusion: It must be said that Functional Patterns is not arguing against high-intensity workouts. FP is arguing that high-intensity workouts should not be the primary focus if the goal is optimal fitness and health. The primary focus is improving one's Big Four (Standing, Walking, Running, Throwing). For more information, here is a video describing the FP methodology

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