At first glance, the workout space inside Omaha’s Orangetheory Fitness resembles that of a Las Vegas nightclub.
Circular orange lights glow from the ceiling, and upbeat music blares from nearby speakers.
But people aren’t there to dance.
“This is not a social environment by any means,” said Scott Brown, an Omaha resident and Orangetheory gym member. “You don’t realize how hard you’re working out because you’re just trying to survive, half the time. I walk out of here with my shirt soaking wet and just wiped out.”
Orangetheory, which was founded in Florida in 2009, opened its first and only Nebraska location in September, across the street from Village Pointe shopping center, near 168th and Burke Streets.
And although there are plenty of gyms and fitness centers around, Kim Lorenz was sure that an Orangetheory location would thrive in Omaha. Lorenz, a co-owner, is a Nebraska native who moved back home from Denver to open the studio.
“It’s definitely its own concept,” she said.
During Orangetheory classes, a trainer leads about two dozen people through a circuit-style workout that alternates among three stations: treadmills, row machines and a strength area with free weights. While the exercises aren’t groundbreaking, they are intense.
Orangetheory members wear heart-rate monitors to track their effort during a workout. Trainers say that if they push themselves hard enough, they should get in shape and continue to modestly burn calories in the hours following the workout.
In the corner of the room, each person’s heart rate is displayed on a television and highlighted with one of five colors.
The gray and blue zones equate to a resting pace or simply walking around, while the green zone represents a normal workout pace — people are a little winded.
Jeremy McQuinn, an Orangetheory trainer, said the orange zone is “challenging and slightly uncomfortable” — people are breathing heavily. The final zone, which is red, shows when people are nearing their max heart rate.
Maximum heart rate is calculated by subtracting a person’s age from 220. A 35-year-old, for example, would have a max heart rate around 185.
Orangetheory wants people to spend between 12 and 20 minutes of an hourlong workout in the orange and red zones.
“It’s getting them out of their comfort zone,” McQuinn said. “Whether you’re trying to lose weight or build muscle, the biggest thing is progression and pushing yourself harder than what you are used to doing.”
Orangetheory advocates say hitting that heart-rate target helps gym-goers burn fat calories for hours after the workout.
Dustin Slivka, an associate professor of health, physical education and recreation at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said the effect is known as post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC.
Slivka said EPOC burns calories once someone ends exercise in two ways. First, when a person stops running and takes a few minutes to recover from breathing hard. The second calorie burn occurs over an extended amount of time after cooling down.
Slivka said the average Orangetheory member is likely burning approximately an extra 50 calories after workouts as a result of EPOC.
So, theoretically, doing a high-intensity exercise like Orangetheory three times a week will burn an additional 7,800 calories a year, the professor said. That’s just over two pounds.
It isn’t much, “but any (extra calories burned) is a good thing,” he said.
Slivka, who has never tried Orangetheory, said the vigorous workouts themselves are more beneficial than the after-burn.
Orangetheory trainers said participants usually burn at least 500 calories in workouts, which vary each day. Slivka agreed with that assessment.
One Orangetheory member, Dana Payne, burned 642 calories during a workout in late October.
Payne heard about the new fitness studio from a friend. She loves how technology is incorporated into the workouts.
“It’s super cool to be able to see your heart rate up on the screen,” said Payne, a 45-year-old who has been a member for about two months. “For me, that was the driving force of making myself go faster.”
In addition to having their heart rates displayed at each workout, Orangetheory members also receive emails after each session that include their heart rates and calories burned.
During a late October session, 20 people in a class were split up into two groups.
The first ran a quarter-mile on the treadmill and then rowed the same distance, before ramping up to a half-mile on each machine. The second group went through a 25-minute strength circuit that included burpees, lunges, jump squats and pushups.
The groups switched stations midway through the session.
McQuinn, the 28-year-old trainer and Omaha native, sported an orange shirt and frequently called out encouragement and instructions to those sweating around him.
“The people in here motivate each other,” he said. “People push each other no matter their workout level.”
Orangetheory, which has more than 300 national locations, is open to people of all fitness levels.
The Omaha location offers more than 50 classes during the week. Lorenz said the studio is so booked that there is a wait list to get into a class. She said there are plans to open three more Omaha studios, but she didn’t have a timeline.
“I think people are ready to try something new,” Lorenz said.