Fort Lauderdale-based Orangetheory fitness grows “like wildfire”
As seen in The Miami Herald
Men and women, gray-haired and millennial, gathered on a sunny Tuesday morning in Doral to feel the burn.
Alternating between treadmills, rowing machines and a weight-lifting station, more than a dozen sweat through an hour-long session at their local Orangetheory Fitness studio. But this isn’t just another boot camp. Orangetheory’s signature regimen combines high-intensity endurance, power and strength training with an “afterburn” — to burn calories and build muscle power long after the workout has ended — and uses a heart-rate zone system to keep participants motivated.
“It’s fun in a class environment, and you get competitive with yourself to see if you can hit the [heart-rate] targets,” said Luann Sanandres, 45, who joined Orangetheory in November to add variety to her exercise routine.
For about $30 a class — depending on the city the Orangetheory studio is in — participants run, jump, pull and push at the command of an instructor in the hopes of burning hundreds of calories, all the while wearing a heart-rate monitor around their torsos to track their workouts. Unlike conventional gym memberships, Orangetheory offers month-to-month workout plans with no contract required.
Its approach to torching calories has taken off. The company that launched its first studio in Fort Lauderdale in 2010 has almost 400 franchise studios in 40 states and six countries, including Australia. The company’s own goal for 2016 is to bulk up, opening one new location a day for 365 days.
“It’s just growing like wildfire,” Orangetheory co-founder Ellen Latham said.
Latham planted the seeds for Orangetheory nearly a decade ago at her Davie studio, Ellen’s Ultimate Workout. She earned a bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology and worked as a fitness instructor for decades, but Pilates proved pivotal. While teaching classes from a spare room in her house, Latham asked herself how she could “blast fat” off her clients’ bodies.
“Pilates doesn’t have any fat-burning metabolic training, so I wanted to open a studio with fat-burning-type routines,” Latham said. “No [existing] workouts had all the elements I was looking for … so I opened a room, and it was called Ellen’s Ultimate Workout.”
A loyal patron of Ellen’s Ultimate Workout sang Latham’s praises to her husband, a Massage Envy franchise owner on the lookout for the next best thing.
“She said to her husband, ‘People are throwing money across the desk to try to get a spot. You should talk to her,’ ” Latham recalled.
The “husband” was David Long — now the company’s CEO.
With Long and Jerome Kern, her business partners, Latham opened a pilot Orangetheory studio in Fort Lauderdale at 1835 Cordova Rd. in March 2010. The address appears on sign-in sheets at Orangetheory studios everywhere.
It’s part of a branding program that developed over time. “We spent a lot of time figuring out our model, our system and all of the details that make up an Orangetheory studio today,” she said.
Since then, Orangetheory has sold more than 800 franchise licenses. Revenue has grown by more than 300 percent since 2015, and it currently serves more than 300,000 members worldwide, with memberships increasing, on a single-studio basis, by 10 to 15 percent year-over-year, the company says.
Whether it’s in Miami Beach or London, each studio follows similar design parameters: tangerine-and-asphalt-gray decor; treadmills and rowing machines in neat lines; a weight-lifting station flanked by dumb bells for strength training and suspension cords for calisthenics; and, most importantly, flat-screen televisions lining the walls. Displayed on the screens are Orangetheory’s color-coded heart-rate “zones” of individual participants — the signature characteristic of an Orangetheory workout.
As participants move to the commands of their instructor — most often a man or woman with muscle tone you see only in fitness magazines — they can track their workout and adjust their intensity to stay in the target orange and red zones.
The goal, Long said, is to experience “the orange effect,” which occurs when a person spends a minimum of 12 minutes, combined, in the orange and red zones. This indicates optimal effort and guarantees an “afterburn” for up to 36 hours, meaning that calories continue to sizzle long after you leave the studio, a scientific concept called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.
“So you burn calories during that hour, then you burn more during the 36 hours after when the metabolism kicks into a higher gear, so that’s the Orange effect,” Long said.
In March, Orangetheory launched an app called OTBeat and a wearable fitness tracker called the OTBeat link that tracks movement in the studio and out, depicting a more comprehensive overlook of clients’ fitness history.
“It’s really what differentiates us from the competition,” Long said.
And of competition, there is plenty.
According to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, a trade group that tracks the fitness industry, boutique fitness studios command 42 percent of market share, and memberships have increased by more than 20 percent since 2013.
“Over the past few years, much of the industry’s growth has come from ‘studios or boutiques,’ ” according to a 2016 IHRSA industry report. “They focus on a particular community of people with similar passions, and provide a high-touch, personalized environment.”
Existing, and better yet, thriving, in a “saturated” industry requires individuality, said Alonzo Wilson, former college football player and founder of Tone House, a New York City-based studio founded in 2014 that models its workout after those of professional athletes. Orangetheory set up shop in Chelsea in the winter of 2015, vying with Tone House to attract those looking for a high-intensity, full-body workout that stands apart from the myriad fitness trends sweeping the city, thanks to boutique fitness-membership service ClassPass.
“I think [Orangetheory] is great. Do I think they’re similar to other things out there? Sure,” Wilson said. “They’re like a Barry’s Bootcamp, [a fitness studio with 22 locations in five states, Norway and Great Britain]. It was a smart idea to use the heart-rate monitors because it was at least a degree of differentiation from Barry’s.”
While heart-rate monitors used in Orangetheory work in tandem to track progress and motivate participants to their utmost potential, there also are downsides, classgoers say.
Sanandres, who has worked out at Orangetheory twice a week since joining in November, said the heart-rate monitors act as a personal trainer for her because “when you think you’re about to die, you see that you can push yourself a little bit more.” However, she added, the heart-rate zone system is inherently one-size-fits-all and does not take into consideration participants’ varying ages and fitness levels.
“You see some of these people, and you think, ‘Holy moly. Someone is about to fall and break their teeth,’” she said, alluding to elder participants and those who are less athletically conditioned. “This emphasis on ‘orange’ [heart-rate zone], I think it’s great, but I also think it’s flawed.”
The demand for fitness tracking nonetheless remains in the result-oriented industry. There is a smorgasbord of options even in the niche-within-a-niche of boutique-fitness-meets-tech.
The boxing mat at Midtown Miami studio The Box, which opened its doors in February on Northeast First Avenue across from Barry’s Bootcamp, is dotted by heavy bags that monitor participants’ “sweat score,” a quantitative metric that tracks how hard and how fast the punches and kicks are coming.
Flywheel Sports, a chain of stationary cycling studios that began in New York City’s Flatiron District in 2010 and later migrated south to Boca Raton, North Miami Beach and Miami Beach, also blends fitness with tech.
After teaching indoor cycling for years, Flywheel founder Ruth Zukerman said she wanted to take the workout to the next level using technology.
“I wanted to take the guesswork out of indoor cycling and help my riders achieve maximum results,” she said.
Each of the spin bikes in Flywheels’ dimly lit and pop-soundtracked studios are equipped with “tech packs” — digital screens clasped to the bottom-left side of the bikes that display rotations per minute, resistance and total “power” exerted during the 45-minute rides. Cyclists can view these numbers, as well as miles ridden, calories burned and other performance metrics, on an app available on iOS and Android. Over time, the app gathers data to craft a line graph, showing how users have progressed over time.
The founders of Orangetheory aren’t worried about competition. They are confident in what they’re offering.
“We don’t have this many studios open … because we’re just orange. We have that because we’re producing ridiculous results for people,” Latham said.
And they’re just getting started.
“With our exponential growth,” Long said, “[Orangetheory Fitness] will be the most impactful fitness brand in the world in five years.”