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Inside Orangetheory’s Tech-Forward Approach to Group Fitness

Inside Orangetheory’s Tech-Forward Approach to Group Fitness

While some group fitness brands pay lip service to including technology in their classes, Orangetheory has used tools including heart-rate tracking tech since its inception

To get ahead and help clients meet their goals, personal trainers need to understand how the latest in fitness science and technology can maximize results and retention. 

Orangetheory Fitness, known for its dynamic, one-hour full-body workouts since 2010, employs real-time biometric feedback combined with heart rate-based interval training to boost workout efficiency and effectiveness.

The franchise is one of the biggest brands in boutique fitness, topping 1,500 studios and recently merging with Self Esteem Brands, the parent company of Anytime Fitness, to drive even more global growth.

Ameen Kazerouni, chief technology officer at Orangetheory, spoke with Athletech News about the company’s approach.

Tech-Forward Since Day One

The inception of Orangetheory’s tech-centric strategy began with a simple yet powerful concept: utilizing the rate of perceived exertion to monitor how people felt during their workouts.

This evolved into an impactful experience, allowing members to see which heart rate zone they were in at various points and adjust their exercises in real time to stay within optimal zones.

“Since day one, recognizing the power of technology within the studio has been ingrained in Orangetheory Fitness’ DNA,” says Kazerouni. 

Ameen Kazerouni (credit: Orangetheory Fitness)

This evolution was not just about adding technology into the mix, but about transforming how members interacted with their workouts, providing them with instant feedback on their effort levels.

“Initially, we focused on helping members hit the ‘Orange Zone’—where you work at 84% to 91% of your maximum heart rate capacity and optimize metabolic efficiency,” notes Kazerouni. 

After observing the impact of real-time data, Orangetheory made further enhancements, such as integrating smart equipment like treadmills and rowers that communicate with the Orangetheory system to create a cohesive and responsive workout environment.

In recent years, Orangetheory has reached a milestone with the development of a proprietary maximum heart rate (MaxHR) performance-tracking algorithm. This algorithm marks a departure from traditional age-based methods of determining maximum heart rate, shifting towards a more personalized approach that considers an individual’s unique fitness profile. 

After a member completes five classes within a span of 120 days, for example, the MaxHR algorithm adjusts to more accurately reflect their in-studio performance. Subsequent workouts lead to further refinements, with the MaxHR continuously adapting based on ongoing class data.

This advancement allows Orangetheory to tailor each workout more precisely to the member’s current fitness level and response to previous sessions. By moving beyond generic heart rate calculations and adopting a model that evolves with the member, each session’s effectiveness is enhanced. 

credit: Orangetheory Fitness

A New Breakthrough in Heart-Rate Tracking

Building on a strong foundation, Orangetheory introduced the OTbeat™ system, another example of how fitness technology can enhance personal training. 

The OTbeat system consists of a wearable device that tracks each member’s heart rate throughout the workout, providing feedback and ensuring they stay within their optimal training zones. 

Developing the system presented a series of technical challenges, particularly in crafting a device that could deliver accurate heart rate monitoring under strenuous conditions. 

Kazerouni says that finding the optimal placement for the monitor on the arm was also key. 

“We tested multiple positions to make sure it provided the most accurate readings without restricting movement,” he notes. “After numerous tests and fine-tuning of the technology, we perfected it, eventually allowing us to evolve even further by introducing our MaxHR algorithm.”

OTBeat system in action at an Orangetheory studio (credit: Orangetheory Fitness)

The OTbeat system has since become integral to the Orangetheory experience, transforming the way workouts are conducted and experienced. 

“Members find their sessions more rewarding because they can clearly see the results of their efforts on the connected equipment and monitors in the studio and on their mobile app post-class,” says Kazerouni, adding that, for the coaches, it’s like having an extra set of eyes on each member, empowering them to take their personalized coaching abilities to the next level. 

Using Data To Create Personalized Fitness Experiences

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Orangetheory’s approach makes workout data fundamental. Inside the studio, data helps coaches make on-the-spot adjustments, ensuring that each member is challenged appropriately – without risking overexertion. Outside the studio, Kazerouni says this data is anonymized and fed into a broader strategy for program development. 

“Our team of fitness experts and data scientists constantly analyze workout trends and outcomes,” he says. “Their analysis supports the continuous refinement of our workout.”

Despite the tech-heavy approach, Orangetheory highly values the “irreplaceable human element.” 

“We always remind our team that the heart of our workout is in the personal connection with our coaches, studio staff and the broader community,” Kazerouni says. 

“Of course, our coaches are trained to understand the data, and they’re also trained to be experts at using it to enhance their classes. However, our coaches are the ones with the ability to add truly personal touches for our members that no device can replicate,” he adds.

credit: Orangetheory Fitness

Coaches are also trained to modify moves throughout the class to help everyone safely find their limits and expand their capabilities. This approach, Kazerouni says, promotes safety and personal achievement.

“Each workout is designed to be as inclusive as it is challenging, allowing members to progress at their own pace while still feeling the full benefits of a group dynamic … It’s about more than just numbers and heart rates –  it’s about creating a community rooted in support and a shared goal to improve oneself.”

Expect To See More Tracking Tech

Looking forward, Orangetheory is committed to advancing its tech capabilities even further. 

“We’re particularly excited about further expanding our integrated technology within the studios,” Kazerouni reveals. “The goal is to create an even more integrated tracking system that captures comprehensive performance data, making it even more accessible and actionable for our members and coaches.”

This approach is about pushing the boundaries of what fitness technology can achieve, providing even more precise and personalized workout experiences.

“By enhancing how we collect and utilize data, we can tailor each workout more precisely to individual needs. This means having perfectly calibrated workouts to challenge and motivate each member based on their unique fitness goals,” Kazerouni says.

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