So you’re ready to finally get in shape.
Deciding that was the easy part. Now you’ve got to pick which workout program you want to do.
(And then, you know, actually do it.)
Two of the most popular ways to go these days are Orangetheory Fitness and Crossfit.
They’re both group-based fitness philosophies that challenge your body in a ton of different ways and borrow elements of strength training, cardio, HIIT, calisthenics, and more.
But which one is right for you?
Overall, expect to do more cardio and high-intensity interval training at an Orangetheory class, while Crossfit has a bigger emphasis on strength training. OTF is also more consistent location to location, since it’s a chain, while every Crossfit gym or box is a little bit different.
In this article, I’ll dive into all the differences between Orangetheory vs Crossfit and give you all of my top pros and cons for each.
What is Orangetheory Fitness?
Relatively new on the scene, the first Orangetheory studio opened up in 2013 and was created by Ellen Latham.
The idea behind Orangetheory is simple: Work participants incredibly hard for 60 minutes at a time while monitoring their heart-rate for absolutely optimal calorie burn and results.
Along with an “afterburn effect” from the elevated heartrate, you can expect to burn 500-1000 calories in a single session, according to OTF.
The workouts themselves are a blend of several different disciplines:
HIIT (high intensity interval training)
In each class, you’ll wear a heart-rate monitor that keeps an eye on your beats per minute. The idea is that each participant give their maximum level of effort.
If you’re still pushing and staying in the heart rate zone, you’re doing a great job even if you can’t complete a given exercise.
There are Orangetheory studios in 45 U.S. states and 21 countries across the world.
What is CrossFit?
CrossFit, on the other hand, has been around a little bit longer and was founded in the year 2000 by Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai.
Today, there are well over 10,000 CrossFit gyms across the United States and beyond.
In a CrossFit gym, you’ll arrive at a specific time (much like you would at Orangetheory or any other class-based workout), and run through:
Skill & strength work
The workout of the day (or WOD), which all CrossFitters do
Cool down and stretching
The CrossFit experience, including the workouts of the day, borrow from all sorts of disciplines, including:
Plyometrics (explosive jumping)
Today, CrossFit is one of the most popular fitness regemines in the entire world.
What are Orangetheory workout classes like?
When you show up to an Orangetheory fitness class, you’re never sure quite what you’re going to get.
The workouts rotate daily and are the same at every single location (which is a little like the WOD of CrossFit).
A typical one hour-long class will have you rotating through:
Though the exact order and duration of each session, plus the intensity and exercises done during the weightlifting portion, will vary depending on the day.
Throughout the class, you’ll monitor your stats, which are displayed on the wall in front of you. You can track your:
Splat points (a measure of your effort level, independent from your fitness level)
The workout will challenge both your endurance and muscular strength, while strategically guiding your heartrate on a “roller coaster.”
You’ll spend some time at a peak fat and calorie burning heart rate, and other parts of the class allowing your heart to slow down.
The workouts are designed to be fun, engaging, motivating, challenging, and to maximize the “afterburn” effect of an elevated metabolism over the next 24-36 hours.
Orangetheory Pros & Cons
Alright, so like any workout, diet, or fitness program, Orangetheory isn’t for everyone. There are some really great things and some not-so-great thing about OTF.
Effective workout: There’s no denying that you’ll burn a ton of calories during a workout at an Orangetheory studio (somewhere between 500-1000 per hour long class). And the science behind interval training is solid. A blend of cardio, conditioning, endurance, and strength work should get great results for almost everyone.
Supportive/fun environment: If you’re the kind of person who can’t stand going to the gym alone, you’ll love the way OTF is structured. Your stats are up on the wall for all to see, and you’ve got a professional trainer urging you on the whole way. These classes unlock your inner competitiveness and force you to push yourself harder than you normally might.
Adaptable to all fitness levels: Remember the “splat score” from above? Orangetheory is all about measuring your effort level, not your fitness. The idea is to be in the right heart-rate zone during the corresponding portions of class, and to push yourself to give your all. If you can’t do as many reps or as intense of a workout as the person next to you, that’s perfect fine, as long as you’re giving maximum effort within what you’re capable of.
Can be expensive: There are lots of different class package options available to you at OTF, but no matter how you slice it, expect to pay a lot more than joining a regular gym. A mere 4 classes a month will run you should where around $60 per month… that’s only one workout a week!
No childcare: If you join a great health club like Life Time Fitness, you can drop off the kids with one of the best in-gym daycares around. Even lower-tier clubs like LA Fitness and the YMCA usually have good daycare centers. But if you want to workout at OTF, you’ll have to leave the kids at home.
What are CrossFit workouts like?
When you show up to your CrossFit gym (or box, as they call it), expect to get in a solid 45 minute to hour long workout.
Once your group get started, your instructor will guide you through:
Dynamic warm ups (jumping jacks, jump rope, bodyweight movements to get your muscles warm and heart pumping!)
Skill & strength work – This will vary by the day, but you’ll typically work on nailing your form and strength on key strength movements like muscle-ups or squats
WOD, or the workout of the day – This is a standardized workout that all CrossFitters do. You never know what it’s going to be. It could be a long sprint challenge, a series of pull-ups and deadlifts, or a burnout burpee session.
Cool down – You just worked crazy hard, so the instructor will have you stretch and cool down to prevent soreness and improve recovery.
Like Orangetheory, CrossFit workouts will be a little bit different every day. But there will be a little more consistency and you’ll have specific goals you’re always working toward.
The WOD might change every day, but you’ll get frequent chances to improve you pull-ups, deadlift, and other key strength or endurance indicators through constant practice.
CrossFit Pros & Cons
Here are the best and worst things about joining a CrossFit gym:
Competition: In CrossFit, not only will you compete with the people around you during daily workouts, you’ll get the chance to compete against yourself. You won’t just track calories burned, you’ll be constantly pushing toward new strength or endurance PRs (personal records), which is innately rewarding and motivating.
Variety: If going to the gym is just too boring for you, you’ll love the intensity and variety of CrossFit workouts. Every week, you’ll get a chance to learn new skills and improve your athletic performance in a ton of different areas. You strength, explosiveness, and endurance will all improve across the board if you stick with the program.
Great for beginner strength: If you really want to do strength training but have never set foot in the weights section of a gym, CrossFit is a great intro. You’ll get awesome guidance from qualified trainers who can teach you the right way to do each of the movements and rotate you through strength training (without paying a fortune for your own personal trainer).
Not personalized: You won’t really be able to “tweak” CrossFit to meet your specific goals or address lagging areas of performance. You show up and do the class as prescribed, though you can scale the workouts to your own abilities. But if you’re weak in the lower body and want to work on your leg strength, there’s not much room in the program for customization.
Over exertion: CrossFit is notoriously intense, and the competitive environment can sometimes encourage people to push themselves too far. Going far past your own cardio abilities, or repping out with weights that are too heavy for you, can be really dangerous and should be avoided. A good trainer will help you stay safe, but CrossFit does have a reputation for causing injuries.
Also expensive! Like OTF, CrossFit gyms will cost you a pretty penny every month. To get unlimited access to an average CrossFit box, expect to pay at least $100 and probably upwards of $200 per month.
Major differences between Orangetheory and CrossFit
So what actually separates these two workout systems? And which one is a better fit for you?
Here are the main differences between Orangetheory and CrossFit, as I see it:
CrossFit has a bigger strength training component
In Orangetheory classes, you’ll definitely spend some time in the weight room getting a good pump. But the classes are mostly designed around heart-rate science and maximum calorie burn.
CrossFit gives you more of an opportunity to track strength PRs and progression on key movements like pull-ups, deadlifts, etc.
Orangetheory is probably safer
CrossFit is totally safe when done properly and responsibly. The problem is, that’s not always the case. The nature of CrossFit can encourage some people to push it way too hard with weights they can’t handle.
(For example, the WOD might call for 225lb deadlifts for everyone. If you choose to scale your workout down and use less weight, you get less points for that session and will probably “lose” the competition. So some people choose to use a weight that’s too heavy for them and risk injury.)
Franchise vs independent
Orangetheory Fitness is a huge franchise chain, and runs each individual studio pretty much the same way. Everyone does the same workouts on the same days, no matter where you go. That’s actually a great thing if you’re traveling and need to visit a different OTF than you’re used to.
That also means that if you don’t enjoy your OTF experience, Orangetheory probably just isn’t for you.
CrossFit gyms, or boxes, are a lot more individualized. CrossFit is a method, not a franchise. That means you can look around for a specific gym or studio that really suits your vibe and has a great sense of community.
Both are expensive, but Orangetheory is probably a little more affordable
It’s hard to give an exact average price of a CrossFit gym membership, but most sources I’ve found say you can expect to pay over $200 per month for unlimited access to the gym and classes.
Orangetheory is also pricey, but a little bit less so on average. Expect to pay around $160 per month for an unlimited membership.
Orangetheory and CrossFit have a lot in common. And, if done responsibly and consistently, both will get you AMAZING fitness results.
I’d say the best thing about both of them is the fun, supportive, and competitive group atmosphere. If you hate going to the gym by your lonesome, definitely give one of these a try.
(And if you’re looking for a simple workout and nutrition program you can run at your local, regular gym, here’s my favorite for getting lean and shredded.)
Hope this helps!