How a studio called Orangetheory is the new green in high-tech fitness

Orangetheory sees green in high-tech fitness
Orangetheory sees green in high-tech fitness

Walk into any one of the 570 Orangetheory fitness studios worldwide, and you'll be struck by how, well, orange everything is.

From the studio lighting to the water bottles to the sneakers worn by much of the staff — the branding is pretty straightforward — but that is not the orange driving most sweat-seekers to work out at this fast-growing fitness company. The so-called orange zone is when you exercise at 84 to 91 percent of your maximum heart rate.

Orange glows on the multiple monitors that line every wall — the technology measuring and displaying heart rates and calorie burn across the class, that has the company seeing green. In just six years, Orangetheory has sold more than 1,000 franchise licenses, more than half are up and running. It now boasts 570 studios in 44 U.S. states and 13 countries. Revenue, according to CEO David Long, is up over 100 percent since 2015.

"It's become this snowball effect where just a couple of years ago we had less than 200 studios; we've crossed 500. We'll be growing in 20 international markets, every state in the U.S., and we'll probably break 900 locations by the end of 2017," Long said in an interview at the company's new, bigger headquarters in Boca Raton, Florida.

Gym goers take part in an Orange 60 class at Orangetheory Fitness in Fairfax, VA.
Matt McClain | The Washington Post | Getty Images

Orangetheory's fast growth is remarkable. To put it in perspective, Gold's Gym has been around for over 50 years and has just under 600 franchises globally. Planet Fitness, founded in 1992, has just over 1,000.

"I do think it's crowded and getting more crowded," said Sean Naughton, an analyst with Piper Jaffray, but he added, "you have people doing low cost gym memberships and then augmenting that with Orangetheory or CorePower or Barry's [Boot Camp] or SoulCycle, whatever your class du jour."

Orangetheory is a class-based workout, not a traditional gym. The technology-based training is the draw. Each person wears a heart rate monitor, and trainers move them from treadmills to rowing machines to weight-training stations, simultaneously moving their heart rates on a color scale. Cardiac output is measured from green to orange to red and participants can watch all their stats, including calorie burn, on the multiple wall screens. The idea is to spend at least 12 minutes per exercise in the target orange zone, while steering clear of too much red, which may be too intense. You also don't want to hang out in the green, or easy, zone too long.

Helaine Reaves joined Orangetheory in Washington in September and said she is hooked on the workout; she credits the technology and the competition it creates for her results.

"I'm very competitive, so you think that you're going to compete with others, but it's really just you and yourself, which I think is what moves you a little bit quicker and makes you dig in deeper," she said. "You can see what you're doing. I have my app at home. I've got all my workouts since September, so I can see what progress I've made, seeing where I need to add more workouts or back off makes it easier."

In a world where fitness offerings are more plentiful and varied than fried foods at a state fair, and words like "boutique" and "core" and "high-intensity" run rampant in the conversation, technology seems to be the winning hook. Tracking every move, every calorie, every heart beat, apparently makes sweating more palatable — and perhaps even more fun.

"I think technology enables the consumer to see results, understand how to work out better and, up until just a few years ago, I think the lack of technology made it very hard for people to hit their fitness goals," said Long. "How are they tracking progress? How are they understanding what things they're putting effort into are delivering results or not?"

And other newcomers are tapping into Orangetheory's success. Chuze Fitness, a much smaller chain based in Southern California, also offers heart rate monitoring. Chuze is a basic gym model, but also offers small trainer-based classes and has movie screens on the walls — showing films though, not heart rates.

"We've added amenities to really include what some of the big box clubs out there are offering, as well as bringing in the boutique studio concepts inside these big boxes, like the Orangetheories and some of these small studio concepts," said CEO Cory Brightwell.

Studio at Orangetheory's Washington, D.C., location.
Diana Olick | CNBC

Chuze opened in 2008 just in California but has now spread to Arizona and Colorado. Its $10 per month price puts it in the discount gym sector, but it still tries to sell itself on cutting edge technology, as well as strong customer service.

"Everything is becoming digital, everything is becoming via your mobile device, so it's definitely an important factor to making sure as you evolve, as the industry evolves you stay current with what technology has to offer," said Brightwell.

Orangetheory's fee is definitely not discount, but not "boutique" either. Participants can get unlimited classes for about $160 per month. That would get you about five sessions at SoulCycle, arguably one of the pioneers in boutique fitness.

"If you don't have a lot of options, you get bored, especially me," said another gym user, who gave her name as Tirsit and was about to take her first class at Orangetheory. "I get bored really easily, so I like the fact that there's a lot more different things I can do to work out."

CORRECTION: Orangetheory has operations in 13 countries.