PowerliftingTechnique.com is independent and supported by our readers. Please note that we may earn a commission if you buy through any of the links in our article (at no additional cost to you). For more, see our disclosures page. And thanks for supporting our team!
Orangetheory and CrossFit are both popular methods of working out that combine cardio, interval training, and strength training. But the goals and class structure at each gym are different, and you may be wondering if one is more effective than the other.
So, is Orangetheory or CrossFit better? CrossFit is better if you’re looking to learn new skills and improve your overall fitness. You get to train with a large assortment of equipment and do different types of workouts that test your endurance, agility, and overall athletic abilities. It will also help you get stronger and build some muscle mass.
With that said, you will get stronger and more fit at Orangetheory as well, but it focuses more on cardio and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) than strength. It’s better if you’re looking for a workout that can help you burn a lot of calories within an hour.
Orangetheory and CrossFit are both expensive. Before you spend a large amount of money on a membership to either one, you should make sure the types of workouts they offer align with your goals.
In this article, I’ll review Orangetheory and CrossFit in more detail and provide a head-to-head comparison of the two fitness methodologies to help you determine which one is better for you.
Table of Contents
Founded in 2010, Orangetheory is a group fitness training experience that’s based on working out in different heart rate zones – zones ranging from 1-5 that are based on percentages of your max heart rate, or the highest number of beats per minute your heart can handle during exercise.
The name is a nod to the belief that spending time in zone 4 (which Orangetheory considers the orange zone on a color-coded scale) is the best for boosting metabolism and burning calories for up to 24 hours after exercise.
Orangetheory claims that its workouts can burn 500-1,000 calories per hour. While the exact number of calories you burn depends on your gender, weight, how in shape you already are, and how hard you’re working during class, the possibility of burning a high number of calories makes Orangetheory workouts ideal for people looking to lose weight.
Because they don’t require a lot of high-skill movements, they’re also good for beginners or people who aren’t interested in learning more technical movements such as the Olympic lifts (the snatch and clean and jerk) or ring muscle-ups.
- Can keep track of your stats in the mobile app
- Fun, motivating instructors
- Supportive environment
- Movements done in class don’t take a long time to learn
- Good for burning calories and weight loss
- Memberships are expensive
- Not a lot of amenities
Check out my full review of Orangetheory here.
CrossFit is a training methodology that combines elements of powerlifting, weightlifting, HIIT, endurance, gymnastics, mobility, strongman, and plyometrics (quick, explosive movements). The concept was developed in 1996, with the CrossFit name becoming incorporated in 2000 and the first gym opening in 2001.
Since then, CrossFit has grown to nearly 12,500 affiliates worldwide. There are numerous CrossFit competitions held each year, including local and regional competitions as well as the annual CrossFit Games for elite competitors.
CrossFit is often criticized for causing more injuries than other sports, but these can be avoided by recognizing when you can push yourself and when you need to take it easy.
Many people are also intimidated by CrossFit because it involves a lot of high-skill movements, but you can always scale workouts by using lighter weight or subbing movements for easier ones. This makes it a good option for both beginners and experienced athletes alike.
- Offers the opportunity to improve in a variety of fitness types
- Most gyms provide structured strength training in addition to daily workouts
- Close-knit and supportive community
- Can scale workouts to suit your abilities
- Classes typically take no longer than an hour
- Can be expensive
- Competitive nature can cause you to push yourself too hard if you’re not careful
- May need to do additional strength or skill work outside of class times if you have weaknesses to address
Orangetheory vs CrossFit: 10 Differences
You might have heard that that CrossFit and Orangetheory are both much more expensive than a big box gym membership, and that’s true. Regardless of which one you prefer, you’ll need to be prepared to spend a lot of money each month.
The cost of an Orangetheory membership depends on your location and how many classes you want to attend each month. But you can expect to pay at least $100 per month, with some locations costing $150-$200 or more per month for an unlimited number of classes.
A CrossFit membership also depends on your location and what kind of package you buy. I’ve come across some gyms that are only $60 per month, but it’s much more common for them to cost around $100-$150 per month. CrossFit gyms in areas with high costs of living can even cost $200 per month or more.
Orangetheory and CrossFit are both expensive, but CrossFit is a little cheaper in most areas.
2. Contract Length
Even though you may fall in love with CrossFit or Orangetheory and plan on remaining a member of either gym for a long time, it’s worthwhile to understand what kind of long-term commitment you need to make when you buy a membership.
And since gyms like Orangetheory and CrossFit, which are almost entirely class-based, operate differently than big box gyms, it helps to know all of the contract options that are available to you before you join one.
Orangetheory doesn’t have long-term contracts. They’re based on however many classes per month you want to take. You can get membership plans for unlimited classes, 8 classes per month, or 4 classes per month.
You can also buy packages for 10, 20, or 30 classes per month.
Each CrossFit affiliate has its own types of contracts. Three-month, six-month, and annual contracts are common, though many gyms will also allow you to buy monthly packages for a certain number of classes per week or per month.
Month-to-month contracts are also available at most CrossFit gyms.
CrossFit is the better option if you prefer to pay for a membership for a specified amount of time, but you get the benefit of signing up without a long-term contract at either CrossFit or Orangetheory.
Orangetheory and CrossFit aren’t like typical gyms with cable machines, plate-loaded machines, and endless amounts of cardio equipment. They each have specialized equipment that suits the different types of workouts they offer, and quantities are limited to the number of members who may be in class at any given time.
Orangetheory has treadmills, bikes, rowers, benches, medicine balls, BOSU balls, and dumbbells. There are also some TRX suspension trainers and pull-up bars at each studio.
CrossFit workouts include the use of barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, wall balls, plyo boxes, rowers, pull-up bars, gymnastics rings, and ski ergs.
Most gyms also have Assault bikes or Rogue Echo bikes (bikes that are like a cross between a stationary bike and an elliptical) and Assault runners (treadmills that are powered manually instead of by a motorized belt). Gyms that cater to competitive CrossFitters may also have unique implements like Strongman sandbags and yokes.
CrossFit gyms that also specialize in Olympic weightlifting will have dedicated lifting platforms. Many gyms will also supply jump ropes for members who don’t have their own for workouts that include double unders.
When it comes to equipment, I’d choose CrossFit over Orangetheory because you get to use some unique pieces of equipment, which gives you more opportunities to learn different skills.
One of the benefits of joining group fitness gyms like Orangetheory and CrossFit is that you get to be part of a community. But each gym caters to a different clientele, so it’s important to consider which one you’d fit in with better before deciding which gym to join.
Orangetheory fosters an environment of friendly competition. Because you can see how you’re doing compared to everyone else in the class if you’re wearing a heart rate monitor, it can push you to work out harder.
The ability to earn splat points (points for staying in the orange heart rate zone for a specified amount of time) also adds a gamification element to the classes, which can be motivating if you get bored with other types of workouts.
The Orangetheory community is friendly and supportive, and the coaches are knowledgeable. It does skew more towards a female clientele, but most studios have at least a few male members. Based on my experience, you’ll also find a combination of college students, young adults, and middle-aged adults in an Orangetheory class.
Orangetheory is also good for beginners because the exercises don’t take long to learn and you can move at your own pace.
The CrossFit community is very tight-knit, and everyone that I know who does CrossFit says it’s the community more than anything else that keeps them coming back.
The members at some gyms can be cliquey, but in my experience, if you put yourself out there, you can make some great friends at CrossFit. It’s easy to get close to other people who go to the same class times as you and suffer through the same grueling workouts as you every day. There’s a good mix of males, females, young adults, and middle-aged adults at most gyms.
CrossFitters also tend to be non-judgmental and supportive because they recognize that the workouts are tough, everyone comes from different athletic backgrounds and has different strengths and weaknesses, and that a lot of skills take a long time to master.
Most gyms also offer challenges, in-house competitions, and social events for their members throughout the year, which can be great ways to get to know the other members.
Both gyms have a supportive atmosphere, but if you’re looking for a gym that’s more evenly split between males and females or offers more social events for members, go with CrossFit.
5. Gym Policies
All gyms have rules to protect their members and equipment. But in group fitness studios, rules are even more important to follow since people are confined to smaller spaces and can be using multiple pieces of equipment in a single workout.
Some rules may not be dealbreakers when you’re trying to decide between two gyms, but it still helps to get a better understanding of them before you join one to prevent headaches with the staff and other members later on.
Orangetheory doesn’t have a strict dress code. Any kind of athletic apparel is allowed as long as it doesn’t have any inappropriate sayings or isn’t too revealing.
Grunting is allowed, but some members do get annoyed by it, so it’s best not to do it too loudly if you can help it. There aren’t any rules against chalk, but most members don’t use it. Because the only weights you use are dumbbells, it’s advised not to drop them.
Guests are allowed for free if it’s their first visit and they can prove they live locally. If your guest lives further away, you have to pay a small guest fee.
You can cancel your Orangetheory membership at any time, but you have to provide 30 days’ notice before your next billing date. You will still be charged for another month after you cancel, and you can take advantage of any unused classes during that time.
CrossFit has a very laidback dress code. It’s not uncommon to see men working out without shirts on and women wearing just booty shorts and sports bras. Chalk, grunting, and dropping weights are all allowed.
If you have a month-to-month contract, you can cancel at any time. If you have a term contract, you have to tell them that you want to cancel at least 30 days before the contract expires.
Most gyms allow you to bring a guest as long as you notify the staff or the guest signs up online first. Whether or not you have to pay a guest fee depends on the gym.
CrossFit is better if you’re looking for a gym with a lenient dress code where you can use chalk, drop weights, and grunt during your workouts.
6. Class Structure
Orangetheory and CrossFit both offer group training experiences, but their classes are structured differently. Understanding how the classes at each gym operate can help you decide which one would be a better fit for you.
Orangetheory classes take one hour. Every studio around the world does the same workout every day, and there’s a different theme each day: strength, power, or endurance. These dictate how long your cardio intervals will last and how light or heavy your weights should be during the strength training portion of the class.
You’ll typically start on the treadmill (or the bike or strider, which is similar to an elliptical, if you prefer), then move onto some work on the rowers. After that, you’ll move onto the strength portion of the class, which can include a combination of bodyweight and dumbbell exercises.
You have the option to wear a heart rate monitor to keep track of your heart rate zones. Your progress is displayed on a large monitor so you can see how you stack up to the rest of the class, and you earn splat points for each minute you spend in the orange zone.
A CrossFit class follows a format such as this:
- A 10- to 15-minute warm-up
- 15 to 20 minutes for strength or skill work (for example, working up to a max snatch for the day or doing drills to work towards your first muscle-up)
- The daily workout of the day (WOD)
The coach will also leave a few minutes to discuss the goals for that day’s workout and answer questions before the WOD starts.
Sometimes there’s also a structured cooldown, but most people will cool down on their own or simply clean up their equipment and leave once the class is over.
Each affiliate provides its own WOD, but all classes at the same affiliate do the same one every day.
Sometimes they’re short AMRAP-style workouts (meaning as many rounds as possible) in which you try to complete as many rounds of a set of exercises as possible within 15 minutes, for example.
Sometimes they’re chipper-style workouts, which are longer workouts that include higher reps of multiple movements and can take 25-30 minutes to complete. Some WODs are even designed to be done in less than 10 minutes.
There’s no clear winner both gyms offer structured, one-hour classes. But if you prefer longer cardio workouts, go with Orangetheory. If you prefer mixing barbell training with shorter but more intense workouts, go with CrossFit.
Because neither Orangetheory nor CrossFit are your typical big box gyms, you won’t find amenities like pools or saunas at them. However, there are some minor differences in what kind of perks are included with a membership at each gym, which can impact your decision on which one to join.
Some Orangetheory studios have locker rooms, but they’re not the norm. Most only have lockers or cubbies in the lobbies where you can store your belongings during class.
Many studios also have shower stalls with soap and shampoo, but you’ll have to bring your own towel or buy one at the front desk.
There are also no childcare services, and kids are not allowed to wait in the lobby during class.
Orangetheory doesn’t have smoothie bars, but you can buy bottled water at the front desk.
Whether or not you’ll find locker rooms and showers at a CrossFit gym depends on the gym. Larger gyms will have them, but some gyms only have single-person bathrooms for you to change in or open cubbies to store your belongings during class.
It’s not common for CrossFit gyms to have smoothie bars, but some will have coffee machines or sell bottled drinks and protein bars.
And while most CrossFit gyms don’t offer formal childcare, I have seen gyms where coaches who aren’t teaching a class will volunteer to watch your kids for you while you’re working out. If you have older kids who are more self-sufficient, you can also bring them with you and let them sit off to the side where they can’t get hurt.
Neither gym offers a ton of amenities, but CrossFit is better in that regard. Many CrossFit gyms sell bottled drinks and protein bars, and it’s usually not a problem to leave well-behaved children in the gym as long as they don’t go onto the gym floor during class times.
8. Personal Training
Even though Orangetheory and CrossFit coaches both usually have personal training certifications, personal training services aren’t common at either gym. The kind of coaching you’re looking for will ultimately depend on what skills you want to learn since the coaches at each gym have different certifications.
Orangetheory coaches are required to have certifications through one of the following:
- American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
- National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
- National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)
- American Council on Exercise (ACE)
In addition, they have to go through a week-long Orangetheory training program before they are allowed to teach classes. They are also required to keep up with continuing education credits.
Note that most Orangetheory studios have rules against members and coaches approaching each other about personal training services. Even if your coach works as a personal trainer at a big box gym, you may not be allowed to work with them outside of the Orangetheory classes.
CrossFit coaches have to complete a 2-day certification course and pass an exam to be certified. There are four different tiers of certifications they can work through over time, which are called L1, L2, L3, and L4.
Coaches don’t have to have personal training certifications in addition to the CrossFit certifications, but many do. Many also have nutrition certifications.
Some CrossFit gyms also offer more specialized classes that focus on gymnastics skills, endurance, or Olympic weightlifting. These classes are taught by coaches who have certifications in those areas as well as their L1, L2, L3, or L4 certifications. These classes also tend to be smaller than typical class sizes, so you can get more one-on-one attention in them.
Neither Orangetheory nor CrossFit offers personal training, but I’d go with CrossFit if you’re looking for coaches with more specialized certifications.
Even though CrossFit and Orangetheory gyms are independently owned, you can still visit other locations that aren’t your home gym. However, the stipulations around that are different at each gym. If you travel a lot or think you may want to try other locations on occasion, knowing the drop-in policies may dictate which one would be better for you.
Orangetheory has more than 1,400 studios in 25 different countries. You can visit any location in the country where you purchased a membership for free, though some studios in large cities such as New York or Los Angeles are excluded.
You can go to an Orangetheory studio in another country, but you’ll have to pay a small drop-in fee that’s around the equivalent of $35 USD.
There are close to 12,500 CrossFit affiliates in the world. Close to half of them are in the US, though you can find gyms in more than 120 countries.
Almost all gyms accept drop-ins as long as you have previous CrossFit experience. Drop-in fees are usually around the equivalent of $20 USD, but you can also buy a gym T-shirt instead of paying the fee.
I recommend CrossFit if you travel frequently. The drop-in fees are cheaper than those of Orangetheory, and it’s nice to also have the option to buy a T-shirt to support the gym.
10. Hours of Operation
Orangetheory and CrossFit don’t always stay open all day like other chain gyms do, as the hours are dictated by the class schedules. A lot of coaches also work other jobs, so they can’t stay at the gym all day.
But both gyms have an array of morning and evening classes as well as open gym time, so you should be able to work out at a time that’s convenient for you regardless of which one you join.
Each studio has different class times. During the week, classes will typically run every hour from 5 AM until 10 AM, then again from 4 PM to 7 PM. On the weekends, they’ll run from 7 AM until 10 AM or 12 PM.
Some studios also have open gym time when you can use the rowers and treadmills for up to 45 minutes. If there aren’t too many other members during open gym, you can also use the dumbbells or do floor-based exercises.
Like Orangetheory, each CrossFit affiliate has its own hours. It’s common for them to have classes from 5 AM until 9 AM and then 4 PM to 7 PM on weekdays and 7 AM until 12 PM on the weekends.
Many CrossFit gyms also have open gym hours, which you can use to work out on your own if you can’t make a scheduled class time.
It’s a tie since both gyms have similar morning, late afternoon, and evening hours and also offer open gym times for people who can’t make scheduled classes.
Who Is Orangetheory For?
You should try Orangetheory if:
- You’re not interested in learning highly technical movements
- You enjoy doing more cardio
- You don’t want to build a huge amount of muscle mass
- You’re looking for a workout that can burn a large number of calories in a short amount of time
Who Is CrossFit For?
You should try CrossFit if:
- You’re interested in learning the Olympic lifts (snatch and clean and jerk)
- You want to practice high-skill gymnastics movements
- You enjoy training with a barbell
- You want to get stronger following a more structured lifting program
Other Gym Comparisons With Orangetheory and CrossFit
About The Author
Amanda is a writer and editor in the fitness and nutrition industries. Growing up in a family that loved sports, she learned the importance of staying active from a young age. She started CrossFit in 2015, which led to her interest in powerlifting and weightlifting. She's passionate about helping women overcome their fear of lifting weights and teaching them how to fuel their bodies properly. When she's not training in her garage gym or working, you can find her drinking coffee, walking her dog, or indulging in one too many pieces of chocolate.