When I was in the process of getting my Green Card to move to the U.S. it seemed obvious to me that I would do well to have work lined up and ready to roll. Once I had established exactly *where* I would be living, it was a simple matter of scoping out the Gyms & Health Clubs in the local area and assessing which would be a good fit.
There were three main choices, but really it boiled down to just two. You had an Anytime Fitness, a family-run Club (Edge Family Fitness), and finally, an Orangetheory Fitness. Off the bat, I ruled out Anytime Fitness – from my understanding it just had too many red flags that immediately discounted it from earning a place on my radar.
So, I was left with a stark contrast: a thoroughly corporate-heavy, ‘bleed-Orange’, die-hard facility that encompasses some of my favourite types of training (Functional & Rowing)… or somewhere that I had never heard of, which looked like it had plenty to offer, but professionally-speaking, gave nothing to go off in so far as assessing what a future there would look like.
Well, I wasn’t going to put all my eggs in one basket. Therefore, I checked out both!
The onboarding experience at each was polar opposite, and that’s the funny thing – while I ultimately went with Edge, I actually did go through ALL of Orangetheory’s core training. I even spent the time to attend four of the Studio’s OTF Coaches’ Classes to assess them on a criteria that I created that addressed OTF’s “known-for” attributes as well as just their general training standards. (For the most part, they were pretty darn good… with only one exception).
Despite already having earned some of the highest-level qualifications in the Industry, and while the Studio Manager and Site Owner were very impressed with my resumé / accolades, there was still the “due-process” of being moulded into a quintessential OTF Coach myself.
Just to touch back on my article on ‘Master Trainers’, the title of *Coach* was one that I deliberately omitted from my list then because I wanted to save it for this article.
See, the term “Coach” is one that I have heard waved around like crazy since coming to America. It’s almost more concerning than the issue with “Master Trainers” (at least, those who don’t actually train other Trainers), because it seems as though just about anyone can become a Coach…
In my experience, the Industry seems to [mainly] have four types of Coach:
Fitness Coach / ‘Elite Coach’
The first type – the lynchpin of Orangetheory Fitness – are perfectly legit. Essentially, this term is just being used as a synonym for ‘Trainer’. And their Elite Coaches are essentially considered their “Senior Trainers”.
Now, “Health Coaches” are the ones that worry me the most! In most instances, they are people who have wound up becoming part of a Health-orientated MLM (think: Herba-Life), lost a bunch of weight using whatever special diet is being promoted, and then invited into the fold to become a ‘Health Coach’ with ZERO formal training whatsoever. Worse still, they’re provided with plenty of “support”, which is really just a Social Media strategy providing them with dozens of photos of other people who have seen results, but they’re supposed to make it seem like these are their actual “Clients”… when in reality, they’ve never met the people in the photos they’re posting.
In very rare instances, you might find some of these Health Coaches do actually work in the Fitness Industry, and do – in fact – have real qualifications and experience to boot.
But I’m not gonna lie… it p*sses me off because 90% have no real education on what they’re peddling, and frankly, it completely devalues the role of the true professionals: the Nutritionists, Dieticians, and Personal Trainers [especially those who have Nutrition-based qualifications].
Anyhow, then you have Sports Coaches – perhaps the MOST legit that you’ll find! These are professionals who train Athletes!! They have to go through various courses that involve very technical education that is commonly focused heavily on their specific *sport*, though in some cases (where relevant) they’ll also learn about “general training” (like Weight Lifting and Cardio – just not quite as much about the Anatomy & Physiology like Personal Trainers do).
Then you have ‘Life Coaches’. Now, believe it or not, there is actually a qualification for this! In fact, it is even higher than the Specialist-level Personal Trainer Certs you can get; now I can’t call this elusive, as it would only be so if there were more people actively seeking out the qualification, but certainly it could be considered somewhat mythical… There actually exists a “Level 5” in the Health & Fitness Industry, and being a Life Coach is it! (And no, there is no Level 6).
I think the funniest thing about this is that there are scores of “Life Coaches” out there [especially on YouTube & Instagram] who have absolutely NO formal education or training in this field. In case you’re wondering what you could possibly need to learn, it is very *psychology*-laden. Understanding how people’s minds work is crucial to helping them “think clearly”.
Vision Boards – simple psychology. Forming habits to boost productivity – again, psychology. And while it is all quite ‘simple’, it is anything but *easy*; after all, if it were easy, people wouldn’t seek the advice from Life Coaches to begin with!
So anyway, as you can see, the Industry is awry with confusing titles (again – like I covered in my last article). But reeling it in and zooming back in on Orangetheory…
The one thing I understand (and appreciate) about them is that regardless of how many titles and qualifications you have to your name, you still have to learn things the “Orangetheory Way”. Having actually gone through their training and even completed their Elite Coaching course, I am [unfortunately] bound by a Non-Disclosure Agreement, so I can’t go into any details as to what their courses entail.
However, I love that they provide SO much ongoing education to their entire workforce! And while only a certain amount of their certifications are obligatory, there are tons of extra modules/certs that you can do if you’re serious about educating yourself and staying up-to-date with the knowledge that Trainers *should* be well-armed with!
Where I do criticize their “model” though is when it comes to the utter homogeneity that permeates throughout their entire chain. I mean, I get it – they want Members to have the same fun, engaging, and empowering experience no matter what Studio they visit (as they get reciprocal access across all Studios – much like other big names like Virgin Active and Anytime Fitness).
I take issue with two things though:
Firstly – and most importantly [in my eyes] – I hate that all the autonomy and creativity is taken away from the Trainers (‘Coaches’). In my career to date, I have always prided myself on coming up with tough workouts that have tons of thought and thoroughness ploughed into them! Granted, the Members who do my Circuits or Classes likely don’t realize the “method behind the madness”, but I’m okay with that.
It’s like being a Chef – we all [or most of us anyway] want free reign over what we create and serve up; a great Chef will always provide an incredible dish, and the Guests will consistently leave extremely satisfied. But in an environment where the Chef must simply whip up whatever the Restaurant Owner decides is best for the Guests… well, sure – the Patrons may get a “good meal”, but a) the Chef knows that he/she can probably provide better, and b) it’s not likely to be “one to remember” for the Guests either.
Flipping the script slightly… I do – conversely – recognize the amazing convenience that comes with delivering a workout that is “done for you”. No last-minute prep work. No having to come up with new ideas. Quite mindless, really… and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t see some good in that. There are certainly days when I just don’t want to *think* too much about what I’m doing, but rather, ‘Just Do It’!!
Heck, as Metafit Coach, this entails the exact same thing – delivering a pre-designed workout to Clients/Members. However, I utilize it as a tool – one of many in my arsenal. I have several Clients who know too well that I like to “keep things interesting” by injecting new things into our Training; and often times, I might use Metafit as a workout to mix things up a little.
With Orangetheory though… you’re fundamentally going to do a lot of the same stuff every time you step through the doors. You will be on a Treadmill. You will end up Rowing. And you will do some form of Functional Exercise. The parameters of the workout might change – it might be geared more towards Endurance (for example), and for sure, they will try to mix up the order of things, as well as the specific Functional work you do.
So, in “Evaluating ‘Elite’”… I’ve gotta give my raw and honest opinion here (as I always do). While it’s great that Orangetheory do offer career progression through their advanced training – to become an ‘Elite Coach’ – it really is more about the brand and the experience than gleaning any super technical level of knowledge about training people.
Yes, there is a focus on how best to push Members regarding the Intensity of the workout for each individual in the room. There is a pseudo-psychological approach when it comes to being compassionate and empowering. But do these attributes constitute an “Elite Status”? Within OTF… sure! Of course. Outside of the branded workout… I don’t think so. Because I think that when people stick the words ‘Elite’ and ‘Coach’ together, there’s a side of their brain that probably interprets that kind of “in reverse” – i.e. [a] Coach [of the] Elite.
Think about it – when you *generally* hear the term “Coach”, 90% of the time it is going to be in the context of Sports. And in virtually every corner of the globe we refer to Pro Athletes as being Elite. So frankly, I feel like it is a slight misnomer… but again, I get it – in any business, you’re going to use different variants of the same terminology so that on some primal level you are at least distinguishing yourselves from the competition.
Do I, therefore, believe that there is a certain degree of hyperbole surrounding the title… well, a little. But again, within the microcosm of the Orangetheory franchise, it is well within their rights to use whatever terms they like.
For prospective “fit-pros” who are interested in a career with OTF, a career path that leads to being able to call themselves ‘Elite’ can sure be an incentive. And much in the same way, for Members coming into a Session and knowing that they have an “Elite Coach” training them – sure has to be a boost in confidence in believing that you’re being trained by the crème de la crème!
But I also feel like to be Elite, you have to be capable of taking the reigns and flying solo. You must embody the creativity and next-level expertise that comes with being truly “Elite”. And that should all entail an enormous amount of autonomy, not dependence.
So, while I am [technically] – on paper – an OTF Elite Coach (with the certs to prove it), it’s ultimately not the career path that I chose, because I believe in a multi-faceted approach to Health & Fitness, and that stretches beyond the confines of a Rower, a Treadmill and a couple of pieces of Functional Equipment.
The true Elite are also incredibly versatile; and with versatility comes a greater range of workout options. And being able to train the body in more ways is going to yield better results.
Orangetheory Fitness is clearly doing something right though – they’re growing the franchise at one of the quickest rates of any business in any industry throughout the entire country right now. And most importantly, they’re getting a$$es off the couch and into an environment that promotes an active lifestyle.
Again, from a business perspective, they’re downright brilliant! I mean, I have been using my MyZone Belt for years now to monitor my Heart Rate and give me a Realtime feed, but one thing that OTF has done is make everything you need available “in-house”. They have literally made their own Heart Rate Monitoring Devices in the exact same available forms (as a belt that you where around the chest, and as wearable tech for the wrist).
You can also buy their branded merchandise – from water bottles to t-shirts, sweat towels to backpacks; and the thing is, by making the Heart Rate Monitor a mandatory part of the workout (you don’t have to buy one – though it is preferable – they have a supply that are “ready-to-wear” which they sanitize before/after every workout)… but the deep-level psychology here (whether intentional or not) is astonishing.
See, you’re already wearing the belt around your chest or the wristwear on your arm… so, why not get a t-shirt… and hey, ya know what… a water bottle is a great idea cuz those workouts are tough, and you gots to stay hydrated! And let’s just get a drawstring bag – it’s convenient to carry my “gym essentials”.
Before you know it, you’ve turned into a free advertising campaign for them… The true genius is in the fact that YOU have actually paid THEM for it! Where most businesses have to stress about Marketing Budgets, OTF have actually turned it into a g*d-damn revenue stream! Bravo Orangetheory! Bravo!
In saying this right now, I’m reminded of a conversation I had with some Members at Edge just a few weeks ago – I was being given a hard time for how I was holding [and drinking from] my gallon-size water bottle (which has the Bodybuilding.com logo emblazoned on either side); a couple of Members were saying that I should be an Ambassador / Promoter, and joked that now they wanted to go online and buy one! I then pointed out how we were all – virtually without exception – walking billboards for companies like Nike, Adidas and Columbia Sportswear, to which we all looked at each other’s attire and laughed realizing how tragic but true that statement was!
But I don’t think there is another gym franchise out there that has mastered their own branding quite as strongly as Orangetheory. So, props to them for that too!
The only areas where I think they could offer more are when it comes to advice and/or resources on Nutrition and Supplements. I actually spoke with the Franchise Owner and Studio Manager about the Nutrition side of things from Day 1, and they said that OTF was working on something. So far, I’ve only seen one very basic blog-like article on the topic (and nothing to do with Supplementation)…
While it’s fair to say that they should stick to their strengths, I also believe that we are in a day and age where all Trainers and Gyms should be competent and well-versed in the basics of these two crucial areas.
But anyhow, that’s all for today. I just wanted to put something out there that shed light on a few things: firstly, one of the big names out there, and what you can expect (on a tip-of-the-iceberg level) if you were to become a Member, or if you’re interested in a career with them. Secondly, I wanted to flesh out the last confusing area regarding the titles that exist in the Fitness Industry and evaluate their validity. And finally, to give you a little more insight into my own experience within this Industry.
So, I hope you’ve enjoyed this one today. Feel free to comment below, and I will catch you in the next article soon!
Yours in Training,
Chris Atkinson | Master Personal Trainer, SDO