A revamped survey reveals new data that trainers can use to refine programming, plan future equipment purchases and gain a leg up on competition.
To keep pace with the dynamism in this robust and rapidly evolving sector, this year IDEA revamped the annual Personal Training Programs & Equipment Survey. New questions were added to amass information about what goes on within training sessions, and old questions were revised to better understand individual trainers and trainer–entrepreneurs. The results allow us to delve deeper into the training and business practices of our members and afford you the opportunity to compare notes with colleagues on how you excel at your profession.
According to personal trainer members who completed the 2008 survey, training adults one-on-one remains the primary format. The focus within private session time includes strength training, stretching, balance and functional resistance training.
These are the session options offered by over 50% of survey respondents:
99% personal training (adult, one-on-one)
97 strength training
97 stretching and/or flexibility
96 balance training
96 functional resistance training
88 flexibility/range of motion assessment
86 height/weight assessment
86 training for weight management
85 cardiorespiratory interval training
84 personal training (2 clients share)
82 balance assessment
81 body composition assessment
79 cardiorespiratory circuit training
79 resting heart rate assessment
79 cardiorespiratory endurance training
78 circumference measurements assessment
77 muscular strength assessment
76 body-weight-only training
75 cardiorespiratory cross-training
73 back pain prevention
72 senior-specific training
71 muscular endurance assessment
71 activity heart rate assessment
69 speed, agility, quickness conditioning
66 postrehab following injury
66 cardiorespiratory endurance assessment
65 personal training (youth, aged 18 or younger, one-on-one)
61 exercise for chronic medical conditions (e.g., diabetes or coronary heart disease)
61 blood pressure assessment
57 nutrition assessment
57 nutrition coaching
57 sport-specific training
55 outdoor personal training sessions
Trends within the survey show us that even with the consistency of one-on-one training, new formats such as group training sessions and functional resistance training are gaining popularity. As personal trainers become bombarded with the differing needs of clientele, these results reveal that efforts are being made to accommodate them. A plethora of fitness assessments, as well as back pain prevention and postrehab programs, parallel the increase in programming for people with chronic diseases. This underscores not only the market power of Baby Boomers but also the sheer need for servicing aging bodies that are fiercely clinging to youth. Nutrition coaching and nutrition assessments are on the rise as personal trainers recognize the demand for a fusion between nutrition and exercise programming.
Small, portable pieces of equipment continue to be the most popular. Overall, respondents show that they use a variety of equipment in order to meet the diverse needs of their clients.
Trainers say that 85% of their clients stay with the business 1 year or longer. A detailed look inside the survey reveals how they keep clients coming back for more.
Personal training has evolved over the years, but one thing has remained constant: the popularity of one-on-one training. Once again, it is the top program offered by IDEA professionals. However, while 99% of the trainers surveyed offer one-on-one training, only 54% believe it is still growing. Partner training (84% offer), in which 2 clients share a session, is also very strong among our respondents, while only 49% offer sessions wherein 3–5 clients share.
Interestingly, with the rise in childhood obesity, the percentage of trainers offering services to youth is still relatively small. Personal training for youth, one-on-one, is offered by just 65% of the respondents, and only 36% of those surveyed offer personal training for youth in small groups. In addition, less than 50% of respondents who offer personal training for youth feel that the growth potential is very strong.
This year the survey dug more deeply into training issues by asking respondents to tell us more about their client instruction methods.
During training, 54% of the time is spent on resistance training, with the remainder focusing on cardiorespiratory (22%) and flexibility training (18%) as well as other training methods (18%). Strength training (97%) and functional resistance training (96%) methods are the most common resistance training techniques used, while Olympic-style lifting (16%) is used the least. Among cardiorespiratory training techniques, interval training (85%) is used slightly more than other methods, with circuit (79%), cardiorespiratory endurance (79%) and cross-training (75%) following closely behind. Trainers also include specialized options such as balance training (96%) and speed, agility and quickness conditioning (69%).
Candice Campbell, a personal trainer in Long Beach, California, says that using a variety of training methods with her clients ensures that each component of fitness is addressed. “The amount of each component in the session depends on the goal of the client, but the program design should include a foundation for every component. In order for clients to obtain the maximum benefit from their workouts, it is important that they have adequate strength, cardio endurance, flexibility and balance. It is all about balancing the appropriate components to meet the needs and goals of the client.”
One of this year’s survey modifications included in-depth questions regarding client fitness assessments. The most frequently completed assessments reported were flexibility/range of motion (88%), height/weight (86%), balance (82%) and body composition (81%). Surprisingly, there appears to be a disconnect between what is assessed and what is emphasized in program design. While 97% of trainers use strength training techniques with their clients, only 77% assess muscular strength and just 71% assess muscular endurance. The same holds true for cardiorespiratory training: 75%–85% of trainers use some format of cardiorespiratory training, yet only 66% assess cardiorespiratory endurance.
Assessments play a crucial role in designing and evaluating effective workouts; however, approximately 25% of trainers do not take into account initial muscular strength/endurance and cardiorespiratory endurance levels, nor do they reassess clients to determine whether they have improved with training. Jonathan Ross, owner of AionFitness.com and personal training director at Sport Fit in Bowie, Maryland, points out that there are three perspectives on fitness testing, all of which can play a role in assessment and program design: (1) what needs to be tested so that the training program adheres to industry standards of practice; (2) what will motivate the client; and (3) what the trainer needs to know to inform exercise choice and/or intensity.
“Many clients enter a training relationship at such low levels of conditioning that the strength tests themselves are often too challenging to be performed safely and without causing high levels of soreness, thus making a negative experience for the client,” says Ross. “This experience would be a powerful demotivator for the client and is of little usefulness for the trainer (who already knows the client needs to do strength training). Therefore, it is important to know when to assess and what assessments to perform with clients.”
To track clients’ physiological responses to exercise, 79% of trainers measure resting heart rate, 71% capture activity heart rates and 61% assess blood pressure. Such assessments are critical when working with individuals who have various chronic diseases and “should be mandatory for all trainers working with any client,” says Ross. Eighty-four percent of trainers indicated that they work with clients who have special medical needs.
Mind-body activities are offered within sessions by a modest number of trainers. Pilates is still the most commonly offered training regime (37%), while yoga comes in a close second at 30%. Interestingly, meditation, offered by 18%, is more popular among trainers than mind-body fusion (8%), tai chi (8%) or Gyrotonic®/Gyrokinesis® exercise (2%).
Pete Kirchmer, a life coach at Rancho La Puerta, a fitness resort in Tecate, Mexico, believes that some trainers might avoid mind-body techniques because there is a definite learning curve to mind-body training. “Clients can get frustrated after one session when they ‘don’t get it,’” he says. “It takes patience and discipline from both the client and the trainer to slow down and do exercises that build mindful connection to the breath and the subtle movements of the body. We work in an industry that is driven more by quick results than by the integrity of the process and long-term success. I think this makes mind-body a tough sell for many trainers.”
While mind-body formats are not the norm for session activities, survey respondents are optimistic about the growth of mind-body options. While just 34% of respondents offer one-on-one Pilates or yoga training, 57% of them expect to see growth in this area. Among those who offer Gyrotonic and Gyrokinesis exercise, there is the same growth expectancy; however, only 2% of respondents currently offer the formats. Mind-body fusion (a combination of disciplines, such as yoga with Pilates; cycling with yoga; Pilates with resistance training; etc.) is expected to grow by 74% of respondents who offer it, but only 8% currently do. Pilates and yoga fusion, offered by 22%, is expected to grow by 56% of those who offer it.
There are definite benefits to using mind-body techniques within client sessions, feels Kirchmer. “Teaching our clients to bring mindfulness to their workouts helps them to experience a greater sense of connection in their bodies. When people can feel their bodies and are more efficient with their movements, they are less likely to injure themselves.”
Survey respondents reported using all types of equipment, with an emphasis on the smaller, portable items. These are the 10 pieces of equipment most frequently available:
97% resistance tubing or bands
97 stability balls
95 barbells and/or dumbbells
91 medicine balls
91 balance (BOSU® Balance Trainers, disks, wobble boards, balance boards)
83 foam rollers and small balls
82 steps and platforms
78 weighted bars
77 pulley equipment
Eight of the top 10 pieces of most frequently used equipment are small and transportable. This preference in small equipment may reflect where IDEA professionals train clients (52% offer personal training in clients’ homes and 25% offer personal training in their own home studio), as well as the cost-effectiveness and versatility of the products.
While pulley equipment and treadmills are the only large pieces to make the top 10, this does not indicate that stationary equipment is disappearing from the landscape. Strength equipment, such as selectorized (pin-selected) and plate-loaded machines, are being offered by 66% and 65% of respondents, respectively. And the majority of respondents offer cardio equipment: elliptical trainers, 72%; recumbent cycles, 66%; and upright cycles, 62%.
The percentage (%) shows the number of survey respondents who answered yes to a given survey question. All percentages have been rounded up at 0.5 and down at 0.4. Percentages do not necessarily total 100, because of multiple or missing responses.
IDEA personal trainer members who gave us permission to use their e-mail addresses were sent three e-mail invitations to link to a Web-based survey in February 2008. The 926 trainers who responded represent 80% personal trainers, 12% owners, 3% fitness directors, 2% personal training directors, 1% general managers and 1% other titles. There was a 10% response rate, with a 95% confidence level and a ±5% margin of error.
On average, the respondents work at two separate facilities. Fifty-two percent offer personal training in clients’ homes, whereas 25% offer personal training in their own home; otherwise, 25% work in fitness-only health clubs, 24% in multipurpose health clubs, 24% in personal training gyms, 10% in Pilates or yoga studios, 11% in parks or recreation programs, 8% in a YMCA/YWCA/JCC, 8% in corporate fitness centers and less than 6% in other venues. Most of the respondents are self-employed (61%), while 38% listed themselves as independent contractors, and 35% as employees. As for location, 27% work in suburbs, 35% in large cities, 34% in small cities or towns and 4% in rural areas. Most respondents live in the United States—37% in the West, 24% in the Northeast, 20% in the North Central region and 19% in the South; 3% live in Canada.
The clientele of the personal trainers surveyed is quite diverse. Our trainers serve a predominantly female clientele (72%), with the most common age ranges being 35–44 years (22%), 45–54 years (28%) and 55–64 years (22%). Most clients are at an intermediate (48%) or a beginner (39%) fitness level, while only 19% are advanced. While 98% of trainers have clients that are apparently healthy, they also train individuals with special medical needs (84%), chronic injuries (83%) or physical disabilities (56%). Amateur athletes (64%) are also a common clientele for trainers, while professional athletes (16%) are clients less frequently.
Survey results show the average cost of a training session is $58 (median $55). Most clients pay for their training sessions either by purchasing a package (76%) or by paying for individual sessions (69%). Only 16% pay a monthly membership fee, and 5% pay an annual membership fee. (More details on trainer compensation will be available in the January 2009 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal in our biennial Fitness Industry Compensation Survey.)
The mean (average) is found by adding together all the numbers and dividing by the number of responses. Very large numbers and very small numbers can create a wide range, which may make an average less representative of most of the people.
The median is the midpoint, meaning 50% of respondents answered above that number and 50% answered below it. A median is useful because it helps eliminate the distortion that an average can cause.
The “health clubs” category in the charts includes multipurpose and fitness-only health clubs and YMCA/YWCA/JCC facilities.