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VOL. 129 | NO. 82 | Monday, April 28, 2014

Building It for the Long Haul

Orangetheory Fitness looks to keep members committed

By Don Wade

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Greg and Kelly McGowan are co-owners of the local Orangetheory Fitness franchise. The fitness business, which utilizes interval training, was founded in South Florida.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Minus the cornfield backdrop, the owners of big-box gyms know that if they build it, the line from “Field of Dreams” will hold up and people will come. They most definitely will come.

Unfortunately, the average gym-goer is something of a dream-chaser, too, imagining she will be losing weight like it is merely an extra layer of unwanted clothing or believing he will undergo a Herculean-style transformation in 30 days.

When those dreams are not realized, the health club has a problem. Greg McGowan knows. He’s been in the fitness industry a long time, worked in clubs everywhere from Chicago to Turkey. Now he’s a franchise owner with Orangetheory Fitness, and his first studio is set to open at 9067 Poplar Ave., suite 105, in Germantown in early May. McGowan also is the area developer for the state of Tennessee.

A part of a big-box chain that opened locally in the area a few years ago, McGowan says he’s not looking “for thousands of members, but hundreds of members who will stay with the program.”

“It’s the attrition,” he said of the biggest challenge every fitness club faces. “You can build a nice, shiny club, but if you aren’t giving people results, they’re going to leave.”

Orangetheory Fitness started in South Florida a few years ago, and one of the founders is an exercise physiologist named Ellen Latham. In short, Orangetheory Fitness utilizes interval training. It also takes advantage of society’s obsession with technology by making an interval workout on a treadmill or indoor rowing machine interactive, with your heart rate displayed on flat-screen TVs and showing what heart rate zone you are currently in, with five zones ranging from very light, light and moderate to hard and max.

“Interval training isn’t new,” McGowan said. “The new part is the heart rate monitor.”

Personal trainers aren’t new either, but a trainer oversees all workouts. In fact, Orangetheory is strictly group, or class-based. You can’t go in and out like you would at most fitness clubs and manage – or mismanage – your own workout. You also better like the color orange because the inside of the 3,100-square-foot club is so orange it practically glows.

“You get better results when you have coaching,” said John Driscoll, a trainer and development manager from Orangetheory’s corporate office in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “The workout’s truly built for everyone, for every fitness level.”

No matter a person’s level of fitness, the idea is to harness EPOC – or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. By using the interval training and monitoring the heart rate, it’s easier to keep the workout in a place to maximize post-workout calorie burn. McGowan says the typical Orangetheory workout will burn 500 to 1,000 calories.

The club has a “weight room,” but it’s not the usual weight room. When a club first opens, there are no dumbbells heavier than 50 pounds, Driscoll said.

Classes are 60 minutes long, and participants move from treadmill or rower to weight room and vice versa. Driscoll recently put employees through a workout, and his claim that it’s for every level was evident: During the hardest part of the treadmill workout, one young man and woman ran at 10 miles per hour for 1 to 2 minutes, two women walked at an incline the entire time, and everyone else was running their max at 6 to 8 miles per hour.

As dance music – an energy promoter – filled the air, Driscoll, who is 51 going on 35, strolled around wearing a headset and spouting encouragement, and the employees moved as a group from treadmills to rowers to the weight room.

“It’s all about finishing strong,” he yelled.

Once in the weight room they took out mats and got on the floor for a plank workout that included alternately balancing on one arm while punching the air with the other.

“Keep your butts down,” Driscoll instructed. “Punch like you mean it.”

Orangetheory Fitness, Driscoll says, is currently in 33 states, London and Canada. There are 86 locations open in the United States, with more than 300 others in production. Classes are sold on a package basis and there are many options, with the average cost per 60-minute class around $12.

Scot James, who opened two European Wax Centers in the Memphis area, is a partner in Orangetheory, and he said another location will be opening in East Memphis within a year. James, 45, says doing the Orangetheory workout made him a believer as both consumer and investor.

“You kind of get a ‘wow’ factor from doing it,” he said.

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