How Orangetheory’s Design Helps You Get Fit

As director of design and construction for Orangetheory Fitness, Rory Ellis keeps members’ health and wellness top of mind when building out new studios

Nina McCamley

The core mission of Orangetheory Fitness, an innovative health club centered around vigorous one-hour group training, is to get as many people into the orange zone as possible. But what exactly is the orange zone? In terms of exercise, it means being at 84 percent or more of your maximum heart rate, which is where the most amount of calories are burned. It could also refer to each Orangetheory studio’s carefully thought-out exterior and interior design, defined by the brand’s trademark orange highlights. These brilliant shades work to draw in passersby and keep members coming back.

According to Rory Ellis, Orangetheory’s director of design and construction, there isn’t one arbitrary element of the studio’s design and construction. Everything promotes the studio, increases the comfort and motivation of members as they exercise, or accommodates the intense exercise regimen.

Because of his personal history with the brand, Ellis is the ideal person to make those decisions. Long before he sought a job at Orangetheory, he was one of its members. After having a child, he had grown relaxed with diet and exercise, which led to him gaining weight. He needed something motivating and invigorating to drop those pounds quickly. That’s when he came across Orangetheory Fitness, which was just opening its first studios.

“I was one of the first members to sign up in Fort Lauderdale,” Ellis recalls. “I remember going to a grocery store and walking through the plaza, and there was this strange orange DJ guy outside the studio promoting it. I signed up immediately.”

A few years later, tired of the job he had at the time, Ellis began searching help-wanted ads on the Internet. One of the first roles he came across was an open position at Orangetheory for a director of design and construction. He applied, but two weeks went by with no response. He persisted in getting his résumé to one of the company’s founders, however, and was eventually hired. Then, the construction challenges began.

The workout sessions at Orangetheory are set to pounding 95-decibel music. The construction plan needs to limit the transfer of that sound so that it doesn’t seep out of the studio. The standard demising walls aren’t sufficient to do that, meaning each studio needs a sound wall with, at minimum, a three-inch air gap, floor-to-ceiling insulation, and two layers of floor-to-ceiling drywall.

With at least 24 members per class, working out together on treadmills and other pieces of equipment, Orangetheory sessions generate an abundance of heat. To offset that, Ellis puts one ton of HVAC per 200 square feet in the workout rooms. To give an idea of exactly how much that is, the rule of thumb for air conditioning a home is one ton per 600 square feet.

Then, there are the elements designed to grow membership numbers. “Our studio is the greatest billboard we have,” Ellis explains. “We bring equipment to the front of the retail space so that even someone who doesn’t know they want a membership will walk by and see people inside a dynamic workout room and say, ‘Let me go in and see what that’s all about.’”

Inside, color and light is managed to fuel members’ workouts. Orange is key, meant to evoke energy, youthfulness, and health, but it isn’t overdone. The color is limited to accent walls in each of the studio’s areas. Also, it may seem counterintuitive in a studio focused on vitality, but the lighting is kept dim.

“We don’t want the inside to be very bright,” Ellis says. “A little mood lighting brings out the orange and gives it a little glow. We want just enough lighting so that you can see what’s going on and be safe. Keeping it a bit dim goes hand in hand with the music to evoke more energy and vibrancy.”

The club uses the group workouts to create a sense of togetherness and up the ante for motivation. Members are on treadmills and rowers, receiving instructions from a coach. The tight group gives a sense of community. There are large mirrors on the opposing wall, and heart-monitoring systems are on display for everyone to see, with each person’s name above their rate as well as how many minutes they’ve been in the orange zone and how many calories they’ve burned. “You can see the angst in the mirrors, which creates a sense of togetherness and competition,” Ellis says. “And there’s instant gratification, because you see direct results.”

That creative design and attention to detail surely has a hand in the 700-studio milestone the company recently reached. It forecasts reaching 900 studios by the end of the year. One of Ellis’s greatest sources of pride is that none of those studios have needed to be shut down for fixes.

“We do have minor issues pop up, but the specs are so sound that we have the ability to counteract those issues quickly,” he says.

Ellis says that one of his jobs when he first joined the company in 2014 was communicating the need to invest more money in construction, even when it might not have seemed necessary.

“It was important to explain why we do the things we do in terms of fitness, marketing, and real estate,” he says. “All of the things we do are pivotal for our longevity and keeping the comfort level fresh.”