Pete McCall by Pete McCall
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We have experienced a major shift in the fitness industry that is creating dramatic change in how the average fitness consumer interacts with certified personal trainers and group fitness instructors. The past five years has seen many changes and new exercise formats, with the one consistent trend being the explosive popularity of group-based workout formats. From CrossFit and indoor cycling to yoga and Zumba, participants are flocking in droves to group-based workouts that are fun, challenging and, most importantly, extremely effective.

The benefits of small-group training have been addressed in previous blog posts by myself and ACE Senior Consultant Jonathan Ross, and one thing is abundantly clear: Small-group training is here to stay and is having a significant impact on how fitness services are being delivered. Not only is the number of fitness studios offering small-group workouts growing exponentially, a number of the largest health club chains are adjusting their business plans to feature small-group training solutions for their members. This has led some in the industry to ask: Is small-group training going to replace one-on-one personal training?

The very short answer is yes.

The longer, more nuanced answer is that personal training will continue to be a service offered to those customers who prefer working independently with a trainer and can afford the hourly fees. However, I believe that small-group training will replace one-on-one personal training as the primary method of how health club companies deliver fitness services to their members. While I do think personal training provides many benefits and is definitely here to stay, here are four reasons why I also think that small-group training will become a more vital component of how fitness services are delivered to the average fitness consumer.

1. Economic. In response to the recent economic environment, many personal trainers began to offer workouts for small groups, which allowed them to charge less money per each individual while increasing the amount of money they earn per hour. For example, instead of a price point of $65 for a one-hour training session for a single individual, a trainer can charge $20 per person for a small-group workout, which allows them to work with six or seven people at a time, nearly doubling their per-hour income stream ($120 for a group of six as opposed to $65 for an individual). From a participant’s point of view, small-group training allows him or her to receive the benefits of working with a qualified fitness professional at an affordable price point. For the larger health club chains that feature monthly membership prices below $50, small-group training becomes a cost-effective solution for members interested in receiving support for reaching their goals.

2. Social. We are, by and large, an extremely social species that enjoys being with groups of like-minded peers. We also know that to achieve the highest level of health and performance from our bodies we need to exercise on a regular basis. This leads to a challenging conundrum: How do we maximize our time for the physical activity we need, while still allowing for the opportunity to socialize and be with our friends? Group-based exercise programs are the perfect combination of a social environment combined with the opportunity to improve health through exercise. While working one on one with a trainer can be informative and challenging, participating in a group workout with friends helps hold you accountable because you know others are counting on you to show up. In addition, your friends add a little competition, which can help push you to work a little harder.

3. Customer engagement and retention. Many club operators are beginning to realize that trainers working with clients in a one-on-one capacity are creating and managing the relationship with the customer. As a result, the customer becomes more loyal to the individual trainer than the actual health club owner. Consequently, when the trainer stops working at a facility they often take clients (and the revenue stream) with them. As a contractor in a gym, a trainer has the right to “own” those clients. On the other hand, if a trainer is working as an employee for a health club or studio, it’s important to acknowledge that the client is purchasing the service from the club owner and the individual trainer is merely delivering the service. To take ownership of the client relationship, many health clubs are turning to small-group training formats, where different instructors are involved in delivering the workouts. The result is that the participants are establishing relationships with a variety of different instructors, while also creating social connections with other members, which can help keep them engaged with the facility.

4. Choices. Many personal trainers tend to specialize in one particular area and, as a result, the workouts they design for clients usually stay within the parameters of their personal comfort zone. Some trainers are good at learning different skills and delivering workouts for each client’s individual needs, but in reality it can be easy to fall into the trap of creating similar workouts for all clients. The consumer, however, wants choices. One reason why studios have exploded in popularity is that each one offers a specialized experience. A customer can do an extremely challenging Olympic weightlifting workout at a CrossFit box on Monday, a restorative flow at a yoga studio on Tuesday, a cardio-only cycling workout on Wednesday and hit the CrossFit box again on Thursday for a heavy strength-training WOD. Drop-in policies at many studios allow customers to show up only for their favorite workouts or favorite instructors (and instructors are often compensated based one the number of people in their classes). This creates an atmostphere of healthy competition that inspires instructors to deliver excellent service each time to retain their participants. The winner is the fitness consumer, because he or she can expect to experience a high level of service delivery regardless of the exercise format or day of the week.

While one-on-one personal training is an extremely beneficial service that will continue to be offered by many fitness professionals, studios and health clubs, I strongly believe that all levels of the fitness industry will transition to offering small-group programming solutions. If you are a personal trainer and not already delivering group workouts, it is highly recommended that you become comfortable with this modality and being to learn a variety of formats so you can continue to expand both your training toolbox and your career.

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