Orangetheory Fitness: Total Training in 60 Minutes

OTF Makes Training Technical

orangetheory fitness
Orangetheory Fitness

Walking into an Orangetheory Fitness class for the first time feels a bit like walking into Cheers... where everybody knows your name. Except they don't know your name because it's your first time... but they know everyone else's names.

The point is, there's a feeling of community - like the people who attend are regulars, and in time, they'd come to know your name, too.

This is significant.

Camaraderie and social engagement are paramount to a positive exercise experience, and Orangetheory has them in spades.

These factors, among others, help explain the explosion of Orangetheory studios around the country.

At just five years old, Orangetheory now has more than 200 studios, with an expected 500 within the next few years. The business model lends itself to such growth - individual owners can buy rights to certain markets and determine their own business plan within those markets. For instance, some locations are franchises, while others are owner-managed.

Also, since studios are relatively small, they're a quick build. Once a location is determined, it takes just a few months to get everything set up and ready to launch.

The Studio

On my visit to try an Orangetheory Fitness class in Round Rock, TX, I had the pleasure of sitting down to learn more about the company from the Regional Fitness Director, Aaron Keiser.

Keiser has been with the company for four years, which means he's been witness to many of the organization's changes and developments as the company has grown.

Once upon a time, workouts were developed individually by trainers and written on white boards. Studios were smaller and couldn't handle 30 participants per class.

Now, the "15-pack" is the norm - studios have 15 treadmills, 15 rowing machines and 15 strength training stations. This means classes can handle up to 30 participants at a time, with 15 of them on the treadmills and 15 rotating back and forth between the strength training and rowing stations.

Trainers still lead each class to explain the workout, demonstrate exercises and motivate participants, but the workouts themselves are predetermined by corporate and provided for participants and trainers on large TV monitors within the studio.

This solved a major problem: When trainers were developing their own workouts, they weren't always communicating these workouts to the other trainers at their studio. If each trainer individually decided to do a leg workout the day of his or her class, participants might end up doing two or three leg workouts in a row, rather than a more physiologically-sound routine of variable programming.

After receiving feedback from participants, Orangetheory decided to take the guesswork out of programming and streamline the process. Today, you can walk into any Orangetheory Fitness studio in the country and do the same workout as everyone else in the country.

The Workout

I attended class on an endurance workout day. This meant longer intervals and repetitions with a higher focus on cardio.

Newbies like me were asked to arrive about 30 minutes early to get set up with a heart rate monitor and to go through a preview of the class.

The heart rate monitor system is interesting, and definitely a feature that sets Orangetheory Fitness apart. The studio provides you with a heart rate monitor, and your real-time data is displayed on TVs throughout the center to help you track intensity. Heart rate is displayed as a percentage of estimated heart rate max based on age, and calories burned is provided as an estimate based on biometrics. At the beginning of class, the trainer tells you how many minutes you want to accumulate working in the target heart rate zone, and those minutes are displayed on the monitor as points. This type of monitoring system takes the guesswork out of intensity and makes it easy for participants to go at their own pace without feeling pressured to do something that's beyond their personal fitness level.

The workout itself was separated into two segments: treadmill training and rowing/strength work. Half the class started on the treadmills and were talked through a series of intervals based on Orangetheory's own rating of perceived exertion scale. The other half of the class started on the rowing machines to warm up, then headed to the strength training area to do a series of exercises.

Each strength training station includes a step, a TRX suspension trainer, a medicine ball, a BOSU Balance Trainer and dumbbells of varying weights. Exercises are explained and demonstrated by the trainer, and are also displayed on a large monitor. Each person rotates through the exercises at his or her own station at his or her own pace.

The day I attended, we performed a series of six or eight exercises, then went back to the rowing machines, did a 700 meter row, then returned again to the strength training stations to do another round of exercises.

After 30 minutes, no matter where we were in our workout, the treadmill group switched to the rowing/strength training stations, and the rowing group switched to the treadmills.

The Experience and Benefits

After attending a class, I can see why Orangetheory Fitness has become so popular. There's nothing groundbreaking about the workout itself - it's treadmills, rowing machines and strength training, all of which you can find at gyms across the country.

What sets OTF apart is the structure, camaraderie and technology. Anyone can walk into an Orangetheory Fitness and feel: a) welcome, b) confident, and c) encouraged. That's a rare combination for most gyms and studios.

Because trainers are actively involved in each class, beginners have someone to ask questions of and follow along with. At the same time, the technology and TV monitor readouts provide real-time feedback that boosts self-efficacy and confidence. And because most people tend to attend classes at the same time each week, friendships are formed and trainers learn participants' names.

The business model is sound, and its one that gets results.

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