Group training sounds like a smart idea on paper, but how do you structure programs and sessions for a group of people all with different fitness levels, needs and goals? And what results can clients expect with only 1/3 to 1/4 of the attention they would normally get from a private trainer?
Although programming for groups and managing sessions is more complex and, yes, a degree of personal attention is sacrificed, these disadvantages are offset by the many advantages of group training.
Benefits of Group Training
The burnout rate in the fitness industry is high. We are constantly giving, inspiring and motivating, and by the end of the day, we’re exhausted. If you've ever trained 8 hours of clients back to back, you know what this feels like. The key to longevity in the fitness industry is creating a career that is varied and diversified. If you're doing the same thing all the time, it can become monotonous pretty quickly. You never want to feel bored as a fitness professional because the minute you do, you cease being a happy, motivated and contributing one. It's a good idea to create opportunities that will allow you to keep your job fresh and exciting. You could feasibly set up a career that includes one-on-one training, at-home training, group training, rehab training, fitness seminars and more. Plus, if you develop a host of various programs, your clients will benefit because it will allow them to continuously introduce change to their programs, which will enhance results. Clients love the variety, and when they feel successful and are constantly stimulated, they are more likely to stick around!
When fitness professionals adopt a career style that is more diversified, they find they have more energy, enthusiasm and focus during all training sessions. This allows them to service all of their clients better and therefore directly improves client retention.
By offering group training programs, many participants will purchase a few additional private sessions to custom design their own programs. This makes group training a solid feeder into private training, so it indirectly enhances that profit stream as well.
Group training also satisfies most fitness professionals' desire to want to contribute and make a difference in people’s lives. Instead of appealing to only one person in an hour time slot, you now can directly make an impact on 3 or more people during the same amount of time.
With group training, the costs are split between 3 or more people, making it more accessible and allowing many to participate who could not afford to otherwise. Other clients will like the more affordable options because it will allow them to partake in more than just one program.
Group training is definitely different than one-on-one training. It offers the high energy level and social interaction of a group fitness class with the intimate level and personalized education of personal training. There is a significant change in the atmosphere and mood of the exercisers. Clients seem to have more fun in this type of group format, even when they are working hard. Clients love working out with others who have similar interests and fitness goals. It motivates them because they are sharing the commitment with a number of workout partners. Many group training participants develop strong friendships among the group, which of course will enhance client retention and adherence. No one wants to skip out on their friends, and when people know the rest of the group will miss them, there are fewer absences.
Dos of Group Training
DO - Study your group.
All clients will complete a client information questionnaire before they enroll in our programs. If you see a new person in your group, ask them if they have any concerns, injuries or medical issues you should be aware of. Ask them if they mind if you review their questionnaire so you know their history and goals. They’ll appreciate that you care and will be more likely to want to return to your programs because you know who they are and what they want.
DO - Be prepared and organized.
You cannot "wing" a group training session. Managing a number of different people all with various goals, fitness levels and needs, requires that you have spent some time thinking through the logistics of the entire session from start to finish. Use a lesson plan to help you design your programs.
DO - Get there early.
Be there 5-10 minutes before the start of the session to organize equipment and circuits. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I have all equipment needed? Is it clean, organized and in good shape?
- Where is my lesson plan?
- Do I have educational topics planned to discuss with my clients?
- Who is arriving, and do I know everyone by name?
- Do I need to introduce myself to anyone new?
- If working out to music, is it cued and at the right bpm?
- Does anyone have any physical problems requiring modification?
- Is everyone wearing the proper clothing and footwear?
Other things to do at the beginning of class include:
- Greet all your clients by name.
- Introduce yourself and quickly explain the workout focus and format.
- Name the type of program to be taught, it's components and any equipment requirements.
- Talk about appropriate modifications and progressions.
- Reassure new comers and beginners.
DO - Teach circuits in a timely fashion.
When it is time to teach the group the next exercises in the upcoming circuit, be sure to do it quickly and concisely. You don't want people waiting around watching for too long. Quickly demonstrate each of the exercises within the circuit, and point out 2-3 key technique points. When the exercisers begin their sets, you can fine-tune technique then. Keep in mind in the beginning, you may take a bit more time teaching exercises. However, as you get more comfortable with the group and as they begin to master proper technique and execution of movement, the time it takes you to teach a circuit should be greatly reduced. For example, if you've done a chest press exercise numerous times in the past with the group, you could literally point to the station and say, "OK group, the chest press is exercise #1. We've done it before. I'll come around and check your technique once we get started."
DO - Distribute your time equally.
Group training is very different than one-on-one training. You must learn to distribute your time equally amongst all participants rather than spending too much time on any one person. Learn how to politely explain to a client who may be demanding too much of your time that you must go and help the others to ensure you've spent equal time with everybody. Be sure to physically make eye contact and spot each person in your program at least once per session.
DO - Facilitate and manage the session effectively when using circuits.
The biggest obstacle for a trainer who is only well versed in one-on-one training is how to practically manage sessions with a number of different clients. It takes a very skilled trainer to ensure that a group training session is not totally chaotic, with one person twiddling his thumbs while another person is getting all the attention. Always be ready. Always know what each client is doing at all times. Always know what's going to be happening next and what equipment you'll need.
DO - Improvise and adjust exercises.
You may have designed an exercise within a circuit that is not appropriate for one member of your group. Be ready and able to make minor adjustments and modifications to any exercise. You may have a group that is able to move through the lesson plan quickly, and you find yourself with 10 extra minutes. In these situations, be ready to improvise and add in additional exercises to use up the time wisely. In contrast, you may have a group that moves through the lesson plan more slowly, and you have to be ready to condense the workout or skip a particular section to ensure you finish on time.
DO - Give permission.
Be sure that your clients know they can modify an exercise if they do not feel comfortable with it. Instruct them to immediately alert you to any concerns they may have with a particular exercise so it will allow you the opportunity to make an adjustment.
DO - Work your clients hard.
Clients like to know you're able to push them a little harder than what they are able to do on their own. This adds value to your sessions because they know they couldn't do it on their own.
DO - Use a variety of personal training tools.
In order to make a group training session look different than a group exercise class, it's important to use tools clients couldn't have access to on their own. This will add value to the sessions and will ensure clients continue training with us for the long term. Use tools like exercise balls, medicine balls, wobble boards, tubes, skipping ropes, boxing bags and gloves, steps etc.
DO - Mix it up.
If you do the exact same program every week, clients will get bored very quickly and will believe that you have taught them everything they need to know. They are then likely to discontinue training with you. However, if you mix up the workouts and always introduce them to new exercises, sequences and equipment, they will see the value in continuing with your program on an on-going basis. This will keep them excited and help them avoid plateaus. It's OK to use some of the same exercises every week, but always be sure you included at least a few new exercises and workout ideas.
DO - Educate.
Every week come prepared with your teaching focus for that session. For example, one week you may teach the group the importance of water and then, the following week, teach them the concept of momentary muscle fatigue. Regularly refer to the teaching focus during the session so by the end of the hour, you are confident your clients have a strong grasp on the relevance of the particular topic.
DO - Make clients accountable.
All of our group training clients meet with a trainer initially to establish a schedule that suits their needs, lifestyle and goals best. They are then scheduled into our group training appointment calendar so we know when they are supposed to be there. If a client does not show up for a scheduled group training session, be sure to call them immediately. Remember not to judge, but it is our job to help our clients commit to their goals. If a client repeatedly misses a session, ask if perhaps you should reassess their schedule and create a plan that would be easier to commit to.
DO - Choose music and volume wisely.
Understand that music is as integral part of the program, as in Indoor Cycling or Cardio Circuits, which requires you to spend some time choosing music that will be energizing and appropriate for the type of people attending your session. Know whether music should be used just for background usage, such as for any of the muscle conditioning programs when clients need to hear your technique tips more than the music. Never have music blaring so that it is harmful or obnoxious. And never choose music that has inappropriate lyrics or bad language.
DO - Start and finish on time.
Time is of essence, and clients really like to know that sessions will start and finish as noted on the schedule. Watch the clock and know the start and finish time of each program you teach on the schedule.
DO - Give homework.
Give each client something to practice or think about before the next session. Bring handouts, and remind everyone what his or her accountability commitment is for the week.
DO - Foster the development of friendships.
Introduce all participants to each other. Remind them that they are in this together. Get them to high-5 each other or pull them in for a group cheer at the end of a workout.
DO - Foster self-esteem.
Regularly point out an individual's improvement to the entire group. Be specific in your praise. For example, point out that a client is lifting 10 extra pounds in comparison to when she first started. Ensure your feedback is quantitative and specific. Tell them exactly how they've improved or what specifically you like in their performance. This will help to develop your clients' confidence and self-esteem.
DO - Be committed.
The first group training session may not be as smooth as you'd like, but you'll get better with practice. You might not finish everything you've planned, or you might forget one thing you were supposed to do. Have fun with it and use humor to help you get through some of the more challenging times. You definitely want your clients to have had a great workout and a good time. Keeping your clients laughing and working hard will go a long way toward keeping them as on-going clients.
DO - Know how to handle too many people.
Be prepared to give up your bike, stretching mat or strap. If someone drops in for a session and the session is completely full, offer them the opportunity to workout on a cardiovascular piece of equipment this once. But then have them review the schedule to ensure they know when they are supposed to be attending and suggest they call ahead to see whether a program is full or not. Also ask them if they’d like to be placed on the waiting list for a full program.
Dont's of Group Training
It's obvious that the dont's will be the exact opposite of the dos:
- DON'T show up late and unprepared.
- DON'T allow clients to be idle with nothing to do at any time.
- DON'T spend too much time with one person.
- DON'T force a client to do something he does not feel comfortable doing.
- DON'T forget to use your lesson plan.
- DON'T forget to regularly distribute educational handouts and teach a topic at each workout.
- DON'T get stuck without a back up plan.
- DON'T do the same thing every week.
It’s also important to keep in mind that, regardless of the situation, group training programs can never be cancelled. For example, if only one person shows up, lucky her. She gets a lot of attention during the workout. What happens when a trainer is scheduled to instruct a program, but they are not there? Someone needs to teach. If a trainer is there training someone privately, let them know you need them to teach the program. The client can attend for free, they will not be charged for that day's session, and their next session is complimentary as well. You must develop a reputation where people can trust that the program on the schedule will be facilitated always! No exceptions!
Adherence to the above dos and don'ts is sure to help you create a group training program that is not only profitable but hugely rewarding for the clients and the instructor. Remember, group training works because everybody wins.