The Big Three: How to Decide Between CrossFit, OrangeTheory, and F45
These three forms of fitness are all popular right now but which one is right for you?
The first time I did a CrossFit workout was over a decade ago and I’ll never forget how I felt afterwards. It was my first exposure to high-intensity training in a group setting. I had never touched a kettlebell before and pull-ups were a weak point for me. After the workout, I felt like I was going to pass out, puke, cry, or all three. I loved it.
I’ve come a long way in the last ten years and while I no longer belong to a CrossFit box, the training programs I write lean heavily on my CrossFit experience and I still throw in the occasional WOD (workout of the day). But there are now options beyond CrossFit if you’re looking for the kind of workout that is intense and in a group setting.
Fitness is going through a renaissance over the last decade. There’s more of an emphasis on functional fitness, strength training, and community. While CrossFit has established itself as more than a fitness fad, newcomers like OrangeTheory Fitness and F45 are still proving themselves. All three, however, are providing gym-goers with quality workouts and are building fitness communities.
Let’s find out which one is right for you.
CrossFit is no longer considered a fad. And it’s not a cult. Since the first CrossFit gym (or box) opened in 2002, it has exploded in popularity. There are over 15,000 affiliates in 162 countries and the CrossFit Games draw thousands of athletes and over a million people watched the Open Workout this year.
CrossFit, in a nutshell, is a combination of high-intensity workouts that combines exercises from weightlifting, gymnastics, agility work, calisthenics, and traditional cardiovascular workouts.
The CrossFit box is usually bare-bones. You won’t find mirrors or any machines. CrossFit expects you to be your own machine. The workouts demand maximum effort but in return you get real results.
And it’s competitive. There are whiteboards as scoreboards, a running a clock, and precisely defined set of rules and standards for performance in each WOD (workout of the day).
OrangeTheory Fitness, or OTF, studios are popping up everywhere. Founded in 2010, the privately-owned fitness franchise has exploded in popularity and has over 1,000 studios around the world.
OrangeTheory's group workout classes are 60 minutes long and focus on high-intensity interval training. You’ll wear a heart-rate monitor and the personal trainers will push you during your session into the EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) zone. This means you’ll be burning calories for up to 36 hours after your workout is complete.
Workouts are measured by effort levels, zones one through five (see below).
Classes focus on three key areas: strength, endurance, and power. Most classes will be divided into two groups: one on the treadmills and the other either rowing or doing bodyweight exercises.
F45 Training claims to be "the most effective workout method for burning fat and building lean muscle." It started in Australia and has been growing globally at an insane pace. There are 350 franchises right now but they are adding between 30 and 50 a month in the United States.
‘F45’ stands for “functional 45” - the workouts are 45 minutes. They combine functional movements with high-intensity interval training (HIIT) - short bursts of all-out exercise alternated with slower phases for you to recover. These are repeated throughout the 45 minute workouts.
Like CrossFit and OrangeTheory, you’ll do a new workout everyday and you won’t do the same workout twice. As with OTF, you’ll wear a heart-rate monitor.
There are no machines here. Instead, you’ll be using sandbags, kettlebells, ropes, barbells, and you’ll be running, jumping, and climbing. Workouts are done in group sessions and you’ll find a set of large displays on the walls to guide you through the workout .
Which one is right for you?
Deciding which one of these styles of fitness is right for you depends on a few factors, including what your goals are, how you like to workout, and what you’re willing to spend.
For CrossFit, you’re looking at between $150-200 a month. You’ll find heavier weights, more Olympic-style lifting, more gymnastics movements, and more of an emphasis on strength training than in an OTF or F45 studio. If you’re goal is to build your overall strength and conditioning, CrossFit is the best option for you.
OrangeTheory Fitness studios vary by franchise, but most will cost you between $50-150 a month. OTF is more focused on cardio, as opposed to the heavy strength training in CrossFit. You’ll find more running and rowing in OTF than in the other two. If you’re goal is to lose weight, OrangeTheory will get you where you want to be.
F45 Training pricing varies by franchise. At F45 Flatiron in New York City, a limited monthly membership (ten sessions per month) costs $259 and an unlimited monthly membership is $349, while an unlimited membership at F45 Dallas Main Street costs $90 every two weeks. Many F45 studios offer a free one-week trial.
F45 is technology-driven, with heart-rate monitors and televisions displaying exercises and workouts for you. The focus is on using your full body and multiple muscle groups to build and sculpt lean muscle that you'll need to use in your every day life. If your goal is to build lean muscle and lose fat, F45 might be the best choice for you.
Are you self-motivated? If you’re not the type of person who has the discipline to workout hard and consistently, all three of these programs are worth considering. They might be pricey, but the best investment you can make is in yourself.
What about for traveling?
CrossFit is the most travel-friendly of these three and it’s for two major reasons. First, you can do many CrossFit workouts on your own and without a gym. You don’t need a gym, class, or coach to do a workout that consists of push-ups, air squats, and burpees.
Second, there are 15,000 CrossFit affiliates around the world and getting access to any of them is not that difficult. Most CrossFit boxes allow visitors to "drop-in" - you'll pay a fee to workout (usually between $10 and $20) and maybe walk away with a free t-shirt from that gym. Many boxes will waive the drop in fee if you buy a t-shirt. Locating the nearest CrossFit gym to where you are is made even easier with this CrossFit Affiliate Map.
Orangetheory Fitness recently announced that they will be launching “pop-up” gyms in hotels. While this has only happened at one hotel so far (The Boca Raton Resort and Club), these pop-up gyms will be launching in twelve more in 2019. Each OTF pop-up gym is set to last six months and will cost you $30 if you’re a non-gym member and $20 if you are.
In the likely event that you’re staying at a hotel that does not have a pop-up gym, the growing popularity of OTF is making it easier to find a studio near where you’re staying. You can use the OrangeTheory directory listing to find a gym near you.
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All three of these fitness regimens cost more than the average gym membership and will demand maximum effort from you. But you’ll get results from them. Deciding which one is best for you depends on your goals and what you’re willing to spend.
Cover photo by F45 Training.