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After Alex Burreson and his wife Kolleen graduated from the University of Montana with business degrees, they moved to Seattle for 11 years to “join the corporate ladder,” as Alex puts it.

“But it was that sedentary lifestyle, a lot of sitting at desks,” he recalled.

They joined traditional gyms to try to keep the weight off, but nothing worked quite as well as a new type of fitness studio chain they found there called Orangetheory Fitness. The boutique fitness studio offers 54 one-hour classes every week, led by a certified fitness trainer, each designed to maximize calorie burn.

“We absolutely fell in love with it,” Burreson recalled. “I lost 25 pounds in three months. We were both like, ‘Holy cow, this really works’ and that was the impetus to start one ourselves. So two kids and five years later, we decided we have to do it.”

When they called to inquire about starting an Orangetheory Fitness franchise, they were told there was only one license left in the state of Montana, and it was in Missoula.

“We took that as a sign,” Kolleen explained. “We loved our own results, and we always wanted to come home. We love Missoula. So we’re going all in.”

Alex grew up in Missoula and Kolleen is from Polson. They dreamed of owning their own business, but it wasn’t until they discovered Orangetheory that they put their business degrees to work. Now, it’s been two months since they opened at the South Crossing shopping center on Brooks. They’ve got 500 members and counting.

The boutique fitness franchise, founded in Florida in 2010, was named by Forbes as the fastest-growing woman-owned company in 2017, and now has nearly 900 locations built or planned across the entire United States and 16 countries. The studio’s approach is to give every class member heart rate monitors for both their arm and chest, so they can see how fast their heart is pumping in real time.

“Each day is different,” Alex explained. “It’s meant to increase endurance, strength and power. Calorie burn is displayed on monitors and on our app.”

Participants use rowing machines, treadmills and weights while a coach leads them through exercises. There are five different heart-rate zones, and the goal is to at least get to the fourth zone, the orange zone, for 12 minutes or more. In that zone, they are between 84 percent and 91 percent of their max heart rate. The red zone is the fifth zone, and that’s fine, too, as long as they don’t go overboard.

“We want you to be in the orange or red zone or a combination for 12 minutes or more because that way you’re going to burn more calories after your workout,” Alex explained. “It doesn’t just shut off once you quit working out.”

Kolleen said they have one customer who is a fitness freak. He told her that he took the heart rate monitors home and tried to burn as many calories on his own as he did in the class, but just couldn’t do it.

“You just don’t get the same results without the coaches,” she said. “Personally, at a gym I don’t push myself as hard because it’s uncomfortable. But here, people are high-fiving each other and connecting with each other and pushing each other. It’s really a community feel.”

Alex said people don’t need to be in great shape to start.

“If you can walk, you can take one of our classes,” he said. “We make sure safety is a top priority.”

They are going to start an eight-week Transformation Challenge, and the top female and male finishers who lose the highest percentage of body weight will win $1,250. The studio is open 364 days a year — closed only on Christmas Day — and is designed for people who don’t have a lot of free time to work out. All locals can try a class for free, and there is a 30-day money back guarantee.

Another large gym called Planet Fitness is opening soon at 2640 North Reserve in Missoula.

Alex said boutique fitness studios are growing nationwide by 18 percent a year as more people look for smaller places where they can get to know other people.

“Big box gyms are built for efficiency,” he said. “We’re a different concept. Not that there’s anything wrong with other places. We’re all about being healthy.”

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