Re-envisioning Small Group Training

For Gym Operators

Re-envisioning Small Group Training

According to the American College of Sports Medicine’s (ACSM) "Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2018, published in the November/December issue of the ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal®, group personal training ranks 13th among the top 20 fitness trends for 2018. Small group training (SGT) or group personal training was first recognized by ACSM as a top 20 fitness trend in 2007. Since then, SGT has managed to stay among the top 20 trends in the worldwide survey.

Small group training, an instructor-led, focused group workout for two to eight exercisers, is a mature trend and remains a program staple offered by high-end clubs, mid-market facilities, recreation centers,  boutique studios, and more. Small group training is reported by Club Intel’s 2017 International Fitness Industry Trend Report to have an adoption rate of greater than 38% and an average four-year growth rate of 8% within the product/services sector.

The observance and exploitation of industry trends, and as well social trends, will help club operators and fitness leaders to navigate their businesses for growth and future success. It is important to recognize trends as a movement. Trends evolve from series of events that gain momentum. Trends develop and change as they emerge, grow, and mature over time.

How will small group training evolve to stay on trend and to continue to deliver what members and exercise enthusiasts seek?  Facility, rec center, and boutique operators and owners can look to influential societal and business trends for direction in re-envisioning their SGT programs if they wish to stay relevant and build on their success.  

This article will examine the potential impact on small group training of influential characteristics that drive personal training, group fitness classes, a newly-emerging aging fitness market, and wearable technology. You’ll learn about trends to incorporate into small group training, different program models, and how to keep your programming engaging and innovative for the exerciser.

Influential Fitness Trends – Potential Impact on Small Group Training

We’ve witnessed recently the creativity and ingenuity of health clubs and facilities, which, to remain competitive, harness the best of what powers the boutique studio. So, it’s not unusual that facility owners and operators should keep a watchful eye on industry trends to continually shape the direction of the member experience, fitness programs, and member services offered.

Health clubs and facilities with a group personal training program are exceptionally positioned to grow their revenue center by drawing from these various trends in fitness. It will require owners, program managers, and trainers responsible for developing, designing, and delivering small group training to fuse together key influential characteristics: the personalized distinction and community experience of boutique studios and group training; the fitness education delivered in personal training; and the enhanced performance-driven data with fitness technology.

The Next Level in Small Group Training Programs

The valuable benefits of small group training for health club owners, fitness professionals, and exercisers are well acknowledged. It’s truly a win-win. Exercisers gain the benefits of individualized and personalized training from talented and motivated fitness trainers at a more affordable cost than personal training. Fitness professionals effectively increase their personal income, credibility, and reputation. Club and facility owners improve retention rates and engagement. Club Intel’s 11 Prognostications for the Fitness Industry in 2018 identifies two movements that could influence strategies to take SGT to the next level. One is social fitness, which is based on a desire to pursue experiences with friends. This is significant among millennials, who have a collaborative and collective mindset and who are shaping the way individuals want to engage in fitness. Two is a shift by facility operators from a single focus on sales to purpose in serving their members. The emphasis is on engaging members, building relationship, and fostering loyalty with the intention of monetizing engagement and loyalty.

We should never become complacent with our achievements and comfortable with the experience we’re providing our members. It’s essential to stay aware of local, national, and global trends in the market to remain relevant, innovative, and competitive. 

Four Trends to Invigorate a Small Group Training Program

1. Leverage the Power of Boutiques
Incorporate the influential characteristics of the boutique studio to revitalize your small group training experience. Boutiques do several things right. One of those is customer-centered and results-driven training. Boutique members are uniquely cared for. Make sure your small group program demonstrates accountability to its clients. Know your client’s fitness goals. Work closely with clients and make sure they know you recognize the importance of their contribution to their health and fitness.

Boutiques create a community – a tribe. In re-envisioning a small group training program, create an intimate team environment. Build a sense of support and community amongst participants. Consider aspects of commonality: group types, age, and activity interests.

Specialize in a few formats. Popular training formats are sport-specific such as running, strength training, yoga, boot camp-style, and weight loss. Consider any special certifications your fitness trainers may have, for example, kettlebells, boxing, Pilates, etc. in offering unique formats. 

2. Adapt to An Emerging Market
Notwithstanding the attractiveness of capturing the millennial market, any “future forward”-designed small group training program should include a format focused on the active aging market. Ray Algar’s Health Club Industry Active Ageing Report takes a deep dive into the implications of a globally aging society and how the health and fitness industry is responding. Algar argues a longevity economy is emerging, which offers people products and services to enjoy life much longer and includes technology-enabled physical activities that transform the lives of older people.

Aging baby boomers are the fastest growing health club member group and the wealthiest population group. In 2020 the number of people in the world over age 60 will pass one billion. This equates to one in every seven people. On a global scale, by 2050 adults age 65 and older will outnumber all children under the age of 14 for the first time.

According to Algar’s report, not only is life expectancy increasing from advances in healthcare and rising living standards, but the pace at which the population is reaching 65 and over is quickening. One could argue that someone 60 years old today is middle-aged, though 100 years ago, a 60-year-old would be considered a very old person. Or perhaps another way to say it, “60 is the new 40.”  

Considering these two factors, increasingly more of us will hope to enjoy a longer life with more of those years spent in good health. Any health club, facility, or studio that wants to stay relevant and innovative will program a small group training format for this emerging market.

3. Blend Quality Education and Highly Interactive Motivation for A New SGT Experience

Personal training is increasingly focused on experience. Personal fitness trainers help clients understand their fitness physiology and how best . Personal training professionals require more sophisticated skills in identifying an individual’s postural and movement quality concerns to set them on the path to reaching their long-term goals.

Group fitness classes, on the opposite end of the training program continuum, are where exercisers connect with like-minded individuals to get a high-energy workout experience led by a motivational instructor. Group training, though it’s been around for many years, first made ACSM’s top 20 fitness trends in 2017 at number six. In 2018, group training climbed to second place, behind high-intensity interval training. Although unsure of the rise in its popularity, it’s easy to attribute it to the strong growth in boutique studios, which has revolutionized the group training experience.

Facility operators and group fitness directors should look to artfully strike a balance between these two opposing training programs to boost their offering of the small group training experience to exercisers. Consider reviewing your small group training programs with a vision to blend the successful traits of both types of training: the high-quality educational experience of personal training and the fun, vibrant, highly interactive, community-oriented nature of a group fitness class.       

4. Embrace Wearable Fitness Technology

In 2017, wearable technology held the top spot in the ACSM’s “Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends” and continues as a major disrupter in group fitness, witnessed by the global reach of Orangetheory® Fitness studios. Indoor cycling has also taken up the charge with such companies as Spivi® and Performance IQ tracking and displaying a rider’s performance data. Companies such as MyZone™, Heart Zones®, and Fitmetrix offer complete group fitness technology solutions for facilities. Increasingly members are accustomed to putting on a heart rate sensor or using a smartwatch to track their intensity during their workout.  

Studies conducted on the use of wearable fitness technology show a correlation between an exerciser’s use of a wearable device and the valuable interpretation of the data to engage and motivate the exerciser. In a study from Indiana University, 90% of participants said that even though both their activity tracker and their trainer were helpful over a 10-week training period, it was the combination of both that helped them maintain their goals over time. Another study by the University of Pittsburgh on how wearables affect long-term weight loss showed that if simply given a device and asked to meet an exercise quota, there was no noticeable difference between two random sample groups, one of which was given fitness wearables and the other which was not.

Prominent from these two studies is the importance of both the fitness trainer and education when incorporating wearable devices into group training. To facilitate that connection, the fitness trainer needs to know how to interpret an exerciser’s information, explain to the exerciser what the data means and apply it to adjust an exerciser’s workout to achieve their desired results.

When small group training programs incorporate wearable fitness technology and use it to benefit their members by capitalizing on the ability to interpret data and prescribe individualized workouts, it can improve a facility’s revenue, member retention, and deliver new levels in the small group training experience.

Small Group Training Program Structure

There isn’t one model that is the right way to structure small group training. Different models and a few different formats may work better for different member groups, facility types, or locations. Know your members and understand the dynamics of your location. Offering members a choice in how they participate in their personal fitness program keeps them engaged, exercising, and coming back to the facility. 

Small group training programs structure varies in purpose, format, and the type of fitness training. SGT consists of from two to four people which differs from group training that can have from 5 upwards of 30 people. Small group training programs center around three general areas: equipment-based, technique- or skill-based, or outcome-based.

  • Equipment-based small group training appeals to exercisers who prefer a certain style of training or equipment type, such as kettlebells or suspension training devices.
  • Technique- or skill-based small group training allows for a targeted approach to individuals preparing for an activity or sport, such as a marathon, CrossFit® championship, or triathlon.
  • Outcome-based small group training is for those clients who are looking for a specific physical result or change from the program, with weight loss typically being the primary goal. 

Often group personal training is modeled around a progressive structure of workouts over a given period, typically 8-10 weeks or with a seasonal focus. 85% of most studios, facilites, and premier clubs dedicate their personal group training programs to a progressive model. However, small group training can also take on a structure that resembles group fitness classes in which members attend either an unlimited or a set-number-per-month of small group training sessions offered on a perpetual basis.

Offering both an ongoing “drop-in” model and a progressive model allows flexibility for those members participating in a progressive small group training program to make up a session or two from the “drop-in” scheduled training. Plus, it is a great way to gradually introduce exercisers into small group training who eventually may sign up for progressive small group training.

Katrina Cochrane, Owner/Managing Director of Sports Training Solutions and the Regional Master Coach at the Australian Institute of Fitness, offers some essentials tips in developing and structuring your small group training business.  

A Club’s Best Asset: The Professional Fitness Trainer

Regardless of the direction a club chooses to create a small group training program, it is important to remember that success can lie ultimately in the professionalism and expertise of the trainer. There is an increasing importance within the fitness industry to employ educated, professionally trained staff. These fitness professionals are a critical link in delivering a quality member experience and play an essential part in member retention.

Fitness trainers are the outward expression of your facility. To this end, the degree of professionalism and level of education for a fitness trainer who works with clients one-on-one or in a small group is more demanding than that of an instructor who leads a group exercise class. Facility operators and owners should evaluate their system of interviewing, onboarding, and training for better hiring and retention.  

Fitness trainers are the epicenter of the shared experience. They are the natural “leader of the tribe” and should possess the capabilities to create a community within the small group environment. They not only make it personal for each individual but can play upon the motivations and human nature to bring the group together. Fitness trainers are a facility’s best asset in leveraging the successful tribal nature of boutiques for their small group training program.

Mastering Wearable Fitness Technology

Wearable devices can help fitness trainers easily incorporate into their small group training program the high-quality expertise sought after by their clients. In using heart rate sensors with SGT participants, for example, fitness trainers can measure in real time the functional states of an individual’s mechanical, neurological, metabolic, and psychological systems. By gathering and interpreting the data, a fitness trainer knows how to make recommendations based on each client’s individual baseline, stress loads, and functional states. The use of wearable group fitness technology elevates the small group training experience. It’s a tool that provides the fitness trainer the ability to offer a high-quality educational experience and level of personalization on par with personal training in an energetically motivated group experience.

Keeping Small Group Training Innovative, Relevant, and Competitive

Nothing exists in a vacuum nor should our fitness businesses. Take the complex nature of our bodies for example. The heart, the most significant muscle in our body, continually adjusts to an information network of metabolic systems. It’s constantly busy managing and adapting to underlying physiological functions: food digestion, temperature adjustment, stress, fright, and yes, physical intensity.

Fitness businesses require these same qualities of surveillance, interpretation, and response to remain relevant to their membership and competitive in the market. It’s critical that facilities recognize key movements within the industry, socially and demographically, to enable innovations in delivering the fitness lifestyle experience, and that they consider the potential growth and market positioning in re-envisioning small group training.