Ellen Latham Started Orangetheory Fitness, Now A Million-Dollar Company, As A Small Pilates Studio In Her Pembroke Pines Home

Ellen Latham took the Pilates studio she ran from the spare room in her Pembroke Pines home and made it the multimillion-dollar company that is Orangetheory Fitness.

When Ellen Latham was laid off from her dream job in 1996, it might have been the best thing to happen. Out of work and a single mother to her 9-year-old son, she would have to get creative. So, Latham took her experience working at a high-end spa and fitness facility, her master’s degree in exercise physiology, her Pilates certification and the spare room in her Pembroke Pines home, and began teaching one-on-one Pilates classes. At the time, Latham didn’t know she was beginning what would evolve into the multimillion-dollar company known as Orangetheory Fitness

Participate in an Orangetheory workout, and you might find Latham at the head of class, donning orange workout gear, stopwatch in-hand. Her appearance alone is enough motivation. The 59-year-old tries to fit in two of her specialized interval workouts, two Pilates classes, two spinning classes and a yoga class every week. She needs no incentive to workout; it’s a habit she picked up from her childhood. 

Latham’s father, a physical education teacher and football coach, used to host kickball games on the family’s front lawn almost every day. Latham says her father was always an inspiration for her, and his advice was the push she needed when she lost her job. She channeled his favorite sports psychology method, “momentum shifting,” which she explains means to focus on what you do have, rather than what you don’t.

Nearly a year after Latham began teaching Pilates from her spare room, clients were flying in and out every hour from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Latham says the neighbors must have questioned what kind of business she was running. So, once she had the clientele and
money, she decided to open her own Pilates studio. 

Realizing that many of her clients were also working with a personal trainer or attending additional classes that focused on metabolic work that Pilates lacks, Latham opened an even larger studio with the intention to teach a mixed-mode class involving both Pilates and fat-burning methods, like rowing or spinning. 

“When I went to look at workouts that existed out there like spinning or CrossFit, there wasn’t one that had all the elements I would put into it when I’m trying to consider all levels of people to be successful,” she says. 

So, she created her own system and called it Ellen’s Ultimate Workout. With the help of partners Dave Long and Jerome Kern, the program was rebranded in 2010 to become the budding franchise Orangetheory Fitness.  

Mixing psychological, physiological and behavioral aspects that she has observed during her 40 years in the industry, Latham’s Orangetheory Fitness engages all age groups and fitness levels. By performing intervals of cardiovascular and strength training, clients can burn anywhere from 500 to 1,000 calories during the hour-long workout. A one-of-a-kind heart rate monitor, or OTbeat, uses Bluetooth to display participants’ heart rates anonymously on one of the many flat screens in the gym, an aspect that sets Orangetheory apart from other workout programs. The goal of the exercise is to experience the “orange effect,” which occurs when a person’s heart rate is pumping at 84 percent or higher for a combination of 12 to 20 minutes during their entire workout. When that goal is achieved, clients continue burning calories for up to 36 hours after their workout. 

“Our members love the fact that they’re hooked into technology … and this is what I think will keep people engaged in a fitness program,” she says. 

Soon, Orangetheory clients will be able to track their heart rates from any place at any time, which Ellen hopes will ensure clients’ longevity in the program.

Orangetheory Fitness, with its headquarters recently moving from Fort Lauderdale to Boca Raton, now has close to 1,500 studio locations. Latham says that by the end of 2017, her workout will be performed more than 1 million times in 1,000 studios spread across 20 different countries, including Australia and Japan. And although the workout will be taught in 20 different languages, Latham says the three main intervals of Orangetheory—Base, Push and All Out—will remain the same. 

Even with the growing success and global spread of her business, Latham says the most rewarding part of her job is having an impact on the well-being of others.

“I got into fitness because I have a passion for helping people,” she says. “I didn’t get into fitness to make a lot of money because, typically, you don’t. … I love what my father did and I wanted to do the same thing, so it’s glorious to be in a successful fitness business. But bottom line, the most satisfaction is all these individuals that are changing their lives with [Orangetheory].”

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