Grow Your Business with Small Group Training

For Gym Operators

Grow Your Business with Small Group Training

Small group training is growing at a phenomenal rate within the fitness industry. Independent studios are burgeoning within cities and new franchises are rolling out nationwide. What are some essentials to developing small group training or SGT that can help your gym compete, grow, or retain its membership?

The following is a summarisation of an education session from the 2016 IHRSA Convention, produced with full permission from IHRSA. The full-length video is available for purchase at

About the Speaker

Katrina Cochrane is the Owner/Managing Director of Sports Training Solutions and the Regional Master Coach at the Australian Institute of Fitness.

The Importance of Building Community

If you’ve ever played team sports, you’ll understand the importance of relying on others. Though each team player has their individual role, the supportive inner workings among players is the cohesion, the bond, that builds the team environment. This supportive environment of like-minded players fosters the successes of the individual and of the team. The nature of a team environment is a key underpinning to small group training. 

In establishing your SGT program, look at how you can create that team environment and build a sense of community. Consider aspects of commonality: group types, age, activities people gather around, or places where they collectively socialise. What forms of media do they play on? These behavioural characteristics can help you to identity a potential external market or a specific membership group within your gym. For example, you notice a group of new mums who regularly gather at a coffee shop close to your facilities which might suggest the potential focus of a small group training program. 

What You Can Achieve for Your Clients and Why They’ll Benefit

Small group training programs tap into a multitude of benefits. Of course, the obvious is focused training and improved fitness. But as you build the camaraderie and cohesiveness of your tribe, your members will also demonstrate improvements in their general well-being and quality of life.

Benefits of Small Group Training

  • Extension of community and family – internal network; like-minded group setting
  • Motivation – team bonding; internal support for “showing up”
  • Cost effective – strikes a balance between one-on-one and self-guided training
  • Personalized – focus and attention on the individual
  • Improves mood and changes in mental outlook – shakes off daily challenges, provides coping mechanisms
  • Empowers participants – provides goal-based achievement
  • Enhances self-esteem – develops confidence

Develop a Supportive and Educational Training Program

A small group training program should motivate and educate members. The most successful SGT not only guides members in reaching their training goals, but also educates members over time on how to become healthier and fitter. Your SGT program should build a member’s confidence regardless if they’re just starting back at the gym or at a high-performance level. It is important your training programs deliver a sense of achievement and empowerment.

Planning, Planning and Planning

Develop a yearly plan. Once you’ve established an overall plan, break it down into macro, messo, and micro sections. Consider starting periodisation training during the winter months. Incorporate 4-, 8-, and 12-week challenges within your yearly planning. Fitness challenges engage members and help them monitor their fitness progress.  

Training Program Tips

  • Design a class schedule around different class types, e.g. HIIT, Cardio, Resistance, etc.
  • Give each class a name and description.
  • Keep the timetable to 30- and 45-minute classes.
  • Promote the class schedule 4-6 weeks in advance.

Offer monthly or quarterly workshops on the latest equipment technology, nutrition, or training methodologies. These events create added value, reinforce your commitment to community, and strengthen the inner network of small group training.

Engage and Communicate with Members

Design a systematic approach of communicating with members using tools within your organisation. Communication ensures credibility with your members and fills classes. Send out regular emails to your SGT members to reinforce achievements or program goals. Post a particular playlist or song that energised the group on your social media. Or announce upcoming social events happening at the gym to bring in family and friends – this is a great source for potential referrals.

Without doubt, your members live busy lives. Communicate choice and convenience in booking a class. Scheduling software is a great tool to allow member to check class schedules and availability, to read up on a class instructor, and to book from anywhere! Scheduling software is also ideal for multiple location gym operators in offering options to shift members when classes become full.

And remember, ask for feedback. This is a wonderful mechanism to engage members, show them respect, and establish credibility.

Establish a Point of Difference

It is important to understand how your SGT stands out. What can you offer that will set your SGT apart from others? Conduct research. Put together a competitive analysis. Within your vicinity, for example, a 25 kilometer radius, how many gyms or studios offer small group training. What size are the classes? What style(s) of training do they offer? Attend a class as part of your research. What are they doing to engage with their members? What is their approach to customer service?

You’ll want to review and determine your pricing model and payment system. Typically, SGT is offered in class packs or package groupings based on number of classes or by weekly or monthly membership.  

Fitness Technology

Wearable fitness technology can be thought of as the gamification of fitness. What is important to remember is that any fitness technology you’ll look to use with your small group training programs can offer several benefits:

  • Analysis of an individual’s fitness level and performance
  • Ability to personalise training to an individual’s fitness ability
  • Helps build rapport and establishing a relationship with a member
  • Motivates and challenges
  • And yes – it makes training FUN!

Takeaways on Developing Small Group Training

  • Create and encourage an engaging community environment.
  • Fully understand what motivates and drives your members.
  • Listen to members, communicate with them, and education them.
  • Look at the competition. Consider your specific location and market.
  • If rezoning or redesigning, determine how best to incorporate SGT zones into existing facilities.
  • Incorporate fitness technology to enhance motivation and support, and to make it fun.

Your ability to build a sense of community among small group training members and to establish personalised training relationships with your members is essential to your success. Make them feel strong. Instill confidence and empower members to achieve their goals, whether to improve or to maintain their health and fitness.